If you work in midtown, you’ve witnessed them steadily rolling into the neighborhood and aggressively staking their claim to white collar lunch dollars. I’m talking about food trucks. Not food carts, which are a different animal entirely, but trucks, which can roll with impunity around the city, appearing at 46th and 6th one day, and in Williamsburgh that evening. Many lavish praise on these trucks – they are “the next big thing,” the dream career for hipsters and oppressed lawyers and bankers alike. People will line up around the block to buy their lunch at these places, then brag about it in their offices. Others deride them as “hipster food trucks,” run by slackers who are making a quick buck off the back of the old school street vendors who have been breaking their back for years to establish their clientele, only to have them stolen by some guy selling waffles off the back of a truck. And yet, they have kept rolling into midtown and all over the City, literally lined up on the sides of the street, dispensing waffles, dumplings, desserts, tacos, falafel and weinerschnitzel. Even truckin’-before-it-was-cool stalwart Mr. Softee has gotten in on the action, sending a veritable fleet of trucks into midtown and offering modern crowd-pleasing flavors like “potato chip chocolate dip” cones.
As shocking as it may seem, this golden age of the food truck has now passed into history. On May 24, New York State Supreme Court Judge Geoffrey D. Wright issued a decision re-affirming a Transportation Department regulation, decades old, which provides that “No vendor, hawker or huckster shall park a vehicle at a metered parking space” to offer “merchandise for sale from the vehicle.” And apparently, the city is now enforcing the regulation, forcing food trucks out of their metered spots, to wander the city aimlessly, uneaten weinerschnitzel growing cold in the back. Indeed, the Police Department has officially announced its intent to enforce the law, not just in midtown but throughout the five boroughs. The end of an era is truly over, as the food trucks languish out of the spotlight, like cretaceous dinosaurs struggling hopelessly in the tar pits that will be their tombs.
Meanwhile, in midtown, life goes on. The line at Moishe’s Falafel Cart went around the block today, and the only sign of food trucks was some sort of pizza truck parked in front of a hydrant and frantically selling slices before New York’s finest showed up. Business was risk at the Biryani Cart, and at Kwik Meal across the street. I did not visit Trini-Paki Boys down the street, but they have some of the most fiercely devoted customers of any cart, so I am sure they were just fine. You see, these carts, as opposed to the trucks, have designated locations on the sidewalk and thus the law does not apply to them. In fact, the cart owners are probably breathing a sigh of relief that their tech-and-media savvy, well-financed and mobile army of competitors has been defeated by the City.
And frankly, while the food trucks have twitter accounts, top of the line equipment, and good publicists, they are, as group, missing something that is the essence of street food: good food at good value. Its not that you can’t get good food from a truck, often it can be good (although just as often, not). But even if it is good, it may be overly expensive. The fact is, there are very few trucks that deliver good food at good value.
If I have to choose between the trucks and the carts, I’ll take the carts, every time.
But for trucks fans, all is not lost. The Parks Department has taken a keen interest in mobile foodstuffs, so NYC parks may soon become a haven for displaced trucks.