The food cart: It’s about as inherent a part of New York as Goth teenagers in Union Square Park or some girl sobbing as her boyfriend breaks up with her on the side of the road. But you’ve probably noticed a whole new crop of carts popping up lately, and these meals on wheels take street eats beyond the wiener that we’re all used to.
Just as those junkies we trusted to watch Tompkins Square Park let the NYU kids take over, the hot dog carts that used to line our corners are being overthrown by schnitzel. And even good old Mister Softee has been thoroughly trumped by big, gay soft serve. This is not one of those “New York was better when the crackheads roamed free” stories, but if all the taxis in Manhattan were suddenly replaced with Maybachs, somebody would say something, right? Take a look at the evolution of street food and decide for yourself if NYC is better off with gourmet-lined avenues.
Mud Truck vs. Waffles & Dinges
It’ll probably take more than crispy waffles covered in chocolate and Belgian cocoa to lure the college students away from the big, orange MUD coffee truck parked on Astor Place where they’ve bought coffee and morning pastries since 2001. Still, the also big (but yellow) Waffles & Dinges truck is a worthy foe. The Belgian breakfast outpost opened in 2007, and has since gained over 5,000 Twitter followers who track the truck’s ever-changing location. The $2 coffee served at MUD by a happy hippie blasting indie rock is a time-honored treat, but the 0dreadlocked crew might need to step up their game when competitors are serving $3 mini-dame blanches for breakfast. Winner: The MUD Truck. We know where it is, and if we’re looking for our first cup of coffee, confusing is not OK.
Halal Carts vs. The Milk Truck
Supposedly lamb gyro meat with red and white sauce, lettuce and tomatoes on a pita… the street sandwich doesn’t get more classic than that. But The Milk Truck, which is not quite yet a truck, is taking the hero-on-wheels to a completely new level. Currently running his grilled cheese operation from a food stand at The Brooklyn Flea, chef Keith Klein will hit the road in June with his modern version of the Divco milk truck. Klein plans to serve artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches like Gruyere on Rye and ham and cheese—not to mention a breakfast version— for around $6 each. Winner: Halal Carts. We can make grilled cheese at home, whereas whipping up a gyro and fries is a lot more difficult.
Hot Dog Vender vs. Schnitzel & Things
Whether it’s summer in Central Park or just lunchtime on the street, living in New York you’ll eventually hit up a hot dog vendor for a $1.50 frank. It’s an essential part of what people consider a New York Experience and honestly, dirty water dogs are delicious. But Schnitzel & Things, the new opponent to the historical dog cart, totally rocks. While the hot dog guy offers, like, zero toppings, the crew at Schnitzel & Things (which parks somewhere different every day) serves complimentary condiments like pesto mayo and ginger, scallion and garlic relish for your $8 chicken, pork or cod schnitzel, served on a ciabata roll— without the imminent threat of indigestion. Winner: Schnitzel & Things. Sorry, franks, but you’re totally out of touch.
Mister Softee vs. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
Is the ice cream, like so many other things, better when it’s big and gay? Well, the toppings are certainly more appealing. Mister Softee, the jingling, cone-dipping, weirdly delicious and ubiquitous ice cream man, doesn’t have wasabi peas next to his rainbow sprinkles. But the real draw of TBGICT—in hibernation until June—is obviously its crowd, some of whom spend their whole summer trying to track the truck around the city, resulting in lines wrapping around a block for those who find it. While the classic Mister Softee attracts obnoxious children and Sad Cathies who have soft serve before going home to their cats, the Big Gay Ice Cream crowd is for the more exciting connoisseur of cream… and the adult looking for someone to share a frosty treat with. Winner: Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Duh.
Where To Find Them
The Mud Truck is at 4th Avenue and East 8th Street, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6, and weekends from 10 a.m. to 6. A second location at West 4th Street and 7th Avenue South keeps the same hours.
Waffles & Dinges changes location daily. For locations, visit twitter.com/waffletruck.
Schnitzel & Things is open only on weekdays. For locations, visit twitter.com/ schnitzeltruck.
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is off the road for winter. For more information, visit twitter.com/biggayicecream.
The Milk Truck is currently open weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 at The Brooklyn Flea, 1 Hanson Pl. (at Flatbush Ave.), Brooklyn, www.brooklynflea.com.