New Orleans, La. –
If the mention of food trucks makes you think of carnival-time street food or the regrettable term "roach coach," well, it might be time to take another taste.
We are now witnessing a bona fide boom time for food trucks around the country and here in New Orleans as well. But the modern version - the version generating so much attention among foodies and trend-followers - is much different from those construction site catering vans or downtown hotdog carts of the previous generation.
For starters, the food they serve is usually of a higher caliber, thanks to fresher ingredients, creative recipes and more hands-on preparation. And their operators tend to use social media to broadcast just where people can find them. Offbeat and hip, these mobile kitchens have developed cult followings.
Tap into the network of such trucks in New Orleans and you can find multi-ethnic tacos - from Korean beef to andouille - from the truck called Taceaux Loceaux, which parks outside a circuit of Uptown bars. You can get pressed Reuben sandwiches and vegetarian options from a little red school bus called a Fork in the Road. The Boo Koo BBQ truck mixes things up with pulled pork eggrolls, fried mac and cheese and blue cheese cilantro slaw. The sleek, brightly emblazoned Brazilian BBQ truck grills up skewers of steak and bacon-wrapped chicken. And in Covington, keep your eyes peeled for the truck dubbed Lola Deux, a spin-off from the downtown Covington restaurant Lola, which does street eats like truffle fries and blackened fish tacos.
That's just a sampling of the food truck scene in the New Orleans area. Now that scene is very small compared to other hotbeds of the trend, cities where such trucks number into the hundreds, but they are on the rise here. None of the trucks I just mentioned were operating even a year ago, and more are popping up around town. Recently, a group of food truck enthusiasts launched the Web site NOLAFoodTrucks.com to keep tabs on them all.
Operators of these trucks say the rules from City Hall about where, when and how they can operate are a bit murky, but they're improvising and pushing ahead. What's more, some boosters believe efforts to develop a larger scene here could result in much more than just better street food.
For instance, the city of Portland, Ore., studied the broader impact of street food and determined that food trucks can help with all kinds of urban development goals. They can bring new economic activity to blocks with few functional businesses, and they serve as easy, open places for people to congregate. Food trucks also give prospective restaurateurs a more accessible way to develop their businesses before opening permanent, conventional restaurant locations.
In some cities, food truck vendors have faced increased regulatory pressure and criticism from restaurateurs who view their lower overhead as unfair competition. Here at home, however, the Louisiana Restaurant Association reports no such complaints. On the contrary, this industry group's own chairman, Tommy Cvitanovich, the owner of Drago's Seafood Restaurant, says he's planning to deploy his own food truck around town soon. It will be a Louisiana seafood themed truck. As this trend develops, it seems we'll be seeing a lot more good street eats rolling our way.