THE FIRST TIME I ate lunch at a food truck that sold something besides tacos was four years ago. Our restaurant critic Kathryn Robinson insisted on taking me to Skillet, a few-months-old kitchen operating out of an Airstream trailer already famous for its Kobe-style burgers. (Frankly, she had me at “Airstream trailer,” but that’s another story.)
It was parked in that no-man’s-land part of Terry just off Denny Way that’s more alley than avenue. We had tried to outsmart the lunch rush by getting there at 11:30, but too late.
Since then, our crack team of food writers has gazed longingly at Portland’s 600-plus food carts (compared to our 111 full-service food trucks as of 2008, many of them taco vendors) while cheering on Gary Johnson of the Department of Planning and Development as he worked to ease the city’s street-food laws and help win over anxious restaurateurs who feared the competition. While the rest of the country seemed to be getting all the cool stuff, a few pioneers like Maximus Minimus and Marination Mobile gave us a taste of things to come.
Last July, the rules all changed.
Now the city has designated zones for food trucks and new ones are hitting the streets daily. Don’t believe me? Staff editor Christopher Werner has been tracking the food truck revolution on our Nosh Pit blog and, while writing this month’s cover story, he was visiting new trucks right up until the magazine went to the printer. Yesterday it was Tokyo Dog, and the day before that, Crisp Creperie, and next week it’s Rollin Q. By the time you read this it’ll be Jemil’s Big Easy and My Chef Lynn. And just today we heard about Scratch Deli.
That’s why the time seemed right to do a comprehensive survey of the best ones around. Seattle’s food trucks rove the city, parking in different spots on different days of the week. That has the benefit of bringing some bustling street life to the neighborhoods, but it makes them tough to find. Thank god for Twitter.
Here’s the best part, though. As Werner observes, food truck menus can boldly go where no restaurant would dare. The abundance of artisanal ingredients, family recipes from an infinite variety of cultures, and daring experiments from budding chefs expose us to a whole new way of eating.
Rare is the time when we can recognize that our civic life is evolving while we live it. Usually, the biggest changes happen slowly and are recognizable only in hindsight. Seattle, we’re having a moment.