Tag Archives: food trucks

Biting the Big Apple

If you’re thinking about visiting the Big Apple, your timing couldn’t be better when it comes to relatively inexpensive outdoor dining options. I use the term “dining” loosely here, for I am talking about the growing New York City food truck scene. Spring and summer are fantastic times to walk New York City’s neighborhoods and sample all the different food trucks, captured here in my first Lonely Planet article, which was a blast to report. Plus the timing of this article is perfect because May 4-12 is National Travel and Tourism Week. To quote President Obama: “Tourism contributes to the success of the American and world economies…” And through travel and tourism we learn from each other, about each other, we try new foods, hear new languages, and see new ways of experiencing our world.

New York City offers a smorgasbord of foods, languages and experiences, with dozens of food trucks circling uptown, midtown and downtown, dishing up almost every ethnic flavor out there. You can try several trucks at once at the monthly Food Truck Rally held in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. As the weather warms up, more trucks will be out and about, including Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, which returns for the summer season at Union Square Park later this month.

Many thanks to the folks at the New York City Food Truck Association who helped with this story and who always lend a hand to New Yorkers, whether it’s Hurricane Sandy relief or simply keeping this city a fun, funky place to live. To learn more about New York City’s food trucks, especially how to cook what they cook, check out the newly released cookbook/love letter “New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks” which features how some of these foodies got their starts on the streets. Come visit and have a food truck picnic with eight million of your best friends.

My husband Mike enjoying meat strewn over fried carbohydrates while I…

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…sip a ‘Walk the Plank’ smoothie from Green Pirate Juice made with kale, cucumber and pineapple.

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Garden Delights and Donut Hopping

Yes, snow covered the Big Apple yesterday, but according to the Gregorian calendar, the spring equinox is just 96 hours away. You could spend spring time in Paris or spring break in the Caribbean or you could enjoy spring springing forth here where I call home. There’s plenty to do, more food trucks and ice cream trucks will be out, and the city parks will be in bloom.

If you seek blooms, the New York Botanical Garden is a much welcome reprieve in the concrete jungle. The popular Orchid Show is on until April 22 (aka Earth Day) and will soon be followed beginning May 18 by another fantastic exhibit featuring Philip Haas sculptures titled “The Four Seasons.” The installation exhibits as well as last year’s Monet’s Garden made fantastic day trips, and are perfect for visitors looking to do something outside of the usual Times Square-Broadway-Rockefeller Center lineup. I particularly enjoy returning to the Orchid Show especially when I don’t have a tropical vacation on the horizon.

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Switching gears from garden delights to other types of delights–food! New Yorkers love to talk about food as much as they love to eat food. Pizza might as well be the city’s signature culinary delight, and there’s a guide on who’s pizza is best. (Many of them are good. I like thin-crust pizza with lots of cheese, and, yes, I fold my slice.) You could spend your spring fling just sampling the different slices and deciding which pizzeria got the sauce or the crust or the cheese just right.

The Food Truck Rally at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park returns for the spring/summer season beginning April 7. This is a great way to experience New York cuisine without breaking the bank. Walk around the circle of trucks and enjoy pizza, dumplings, waffles, classic American burgers, organic fruit smoothies, cupcakes, ice cream and tacos. If you’re craving it, chances are the food trucks are cooking it. Two New Yorkers decided they craved food truck food so much they wanted to learn how to cook it at home. So they wrote New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks which will be published April 2. These two foodies, Siobhan Wallace and Alexandra Penfold, hail New York’s burgeoning food truck scene while highlighting success stories and favorite recipes.

Food trucks are a fun way to fuel up for the rest of your sightseeing, whether that takes you uptown, midtown, downtown and all around. I also recommend Pies -n- Thighs which enjoyed some recent publicity from the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, so now lines are even longer to get into this tiny joint in Williamsburg. Get there when the doors open, before the previous night’s party goers wake up and realize they’re hungry. The chicken and waffles are phenomenal and the donuts, I can’t say enough. I loved the donuts there so much I included them in a recent CheapOAir blog post about donut hopping in New York City.

We covered the outdoors, food, so now shopping. Yes, there’s Fifth Avenue shopping where you will find stores that can be found in most malls and big cities. There’s junky souvenir shopping in Times Square. There’s stolen goods shopping along Canal Street, as well as scarf shopping in Chinatown (two thumbs up). And then there’s New York City street shopping, like flea markets and farmers markets and unusual little places where you can find unusual things. My favorite is Union Square Greenmarket open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays where later this spring, you’ll find the Big Gay Ice Cream truck scooping up Bea Arthurs and Salty Pimps parked near 17th Street and Broadway. I’ll be in the line waiting for my Salty Pimp. For those of you who can’t wait two more months, Big Gay Ice Cream has shops in both the East and West Village where the Salty Pimp Cupcake is available.

To get a more complete list of everything that is going on in this whacky metropolis of ours, including street market shopping opportunities, NYCgo offers fantastic roundups of everything across New York, and they are far more in the know than I am. I’m just a tax-paying resident who likes to eat and shop here.

Food Truck Picnicking in New York City

Summer is synonymous with vacation, and when our neck of the woods has those too-close-to-the-sun-Icarus days, I prefer heading to the country or the beach, where it’s cooler, quieter, and less crowded. I’m particularly excited about my trip to Big Sur next month, which we managed to squeeze in between urban jaunts to Los Angeles and San Francisco. More to come on California.

But enough about me, what about you? For those of you in small town USA looking to experience New York City on a budget or for New Yorkers with friends coming in from out of town and are brainstorming ideas on how to enjoy food without having to dress up or leave exorbitant tips for mediocre service, I highly recommend New York City’s food trucks. These roving restaurants are a great way to experience all that’s tasty in the Big Apple without breaking the bank trudging the restaurant circuit. And if you really, really want to go budget and not look like a tourist, enjoy New York City picnic style. You’ll be noshing on your burger and folks will be asking you whether to take the 4, 5 or 6 trains to Lexington Avenue (they all go there). First, the trucks:

As with everything we do in New York City, there are endless options. About three dozen food trucks roam around town and you can get updates on their locations via Twitter. The trucks also convene for the Food Truck Rally at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park every third Sunday of the month at the Grand Army Plaza, which is where I enjoyed a picnic last month and, to date, the best burger I’ve had all year from Frites –n–Meats (I ordered the No. 7 with gruyere cheese—delish!). I’m a green tea -n- green salads kind of gal, so when I sink my incisors into red meat, I like to make it count. I can’t gush enough about Frites –n– Meats and my husband, a carnivore snob, is equally gushy. You can feed a family of four at this truck for about $40-$50, which for New York, isn’t bad, and the quality is superior. Other trucks that convene at Prospect Park include Eddie’s Pizza Truck, Milk Truck, Gorilla Cheese NYC, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck (amazing chicken dumplings!) Wafels & Dinges, which totally took us back to our 2008 trip to Belgium, and Cupcake Crew. A more complete list can be found here.

Interestingly, for an island filled with foodies, the food truck scene is relatively new here. I first started following food trucks when visiting Los Angeles, and was a big fan of the Kogi barbecue truck. Nothing says LA like eating a Korean quesadilla on the hood of a middle-aged Prius in Echo Park while watching the sun set behind the palm trees. Good times. The food truck craze continues its eastward journey and apparently is making waves in Paris, a city filled with people insistent on sitting at tables eating their burgers with knives and forks. What’s next? Food trucks vying for space with food stalls in Beijing? Stay tuned.

Ok, let’s say you’ve found a food truck and you don’t want to dine on the dirty hood of a middle-aged Prius, but would prefer to picnic somewhere “New Yorky.” Want to pretend you’re in a Renoir painting? Visit the pond at the southeast corner of Central Park for some lush ambiance. Or you can lay a blanket down overlooking Olmstead’s sculpted boathouse lake and watch the boaters come and go (or go rent a boat if you need to work off that burger or waffle). I did this with some friends back in 1996 and it’s as lovely and postcard picturesque as it sounds.

One that I keep driving by, but have yet to check out is the Little Red Lighthouse also known as Fort Washington Park directly below the George Washington Bridge. It has picnic tables and is said to be a family favorite; apparently kids enjoy finding “sea glass” along the Hudson River, which, nine times out ten, isn’t sea glass, but shiny shattered plastic tail lights caused from accidents above (not to be a downer, but that does happen). Nevertheless, the Little Red Lighthouse is a charming patch of quiet tucked in the underside of a very noisy place. If you want real sea glass, I suggest you head to the sea; the New England coast has plenty to offer.

To relive that “When Harry Met Sally” arriving in New York moment, the trucks are often found crisscrossing downtown and the famous Washington Square Park is a great spot for urban picnicking. That means spreading your spread on a bench and not grass (although there are patches of grass if you’re lucky). Washington Square Park is near where I used to live, and it’s a wonderful venue to watch people and dogs (and to listen to how people talk to their dogs—oy vey!). Admiring the marble Washington Arch, inspired by the revered Arc de Triomphe, never gets old, and if you’re still hungry after your food truck feast, Greenwich Village dishes up enough desserts to satisfy the pickiest sweet tooth.

Finally, picnic on some of the most beautiful handpainted picnic benches around. The tables are actually converted lunchroom cafeteria tables transformed in canvases decorated by middle school students from 10 public city schools through an arts program called LeAp NYC. Unveiled in June, the tables have been installed in 10 community parks throughout all five city boroughs, and will remain there through August. The tables are located at Central Park and Augustus Saint-Gaudens Playground in Manhattan; Kaiser Park and Detective Joseph Mayrose Park in Brooklyn; Crotona Park and Claremont Park in the Bronx; Juniper Valley Park and Forest Park in Queens; and Silver Lake Park and Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

See ya in the food truck queue!