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101 Best Food Trucks in America 2015

101 Best Food Trucks in America 2015

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Food trucks are more than just kitchens on wheels. Even if the buzz around the food truck renaissance started off frenzied and then cooled a bit, the resilience of these mobile eateries is a testament to the fact that creative, quite literally chef-driven food need not be limited to wallet-busting restaurants with month-long waiting lists. Here is our fourth annual list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America.

101 Best Food Trucks in America 2015 (Slideshow)

In the past, we decided this ranking by combining factors like Twitter followings, Yelp reviews, and Yelp stars into a weighted algorithm, rounded out by an originality score that took into account menu innovation, overall concept, and geography. This year, we made it simple: We let you decide, via a public survey. To compile our list of food trucks for voters, we expanded on our lists from 2012, 2013, and 2014, asked readers for suggestions, took a look at the winners of the Vendy Awards, and tried to find rookie trucks. This year’s ranking is a result of 2,662 responses and a total of 5,634 votes (respondents were allowed to vote for multiple trucks). Thank you to everybody who took the survey — you made our list more reflective of the general population’s tastes. After all, if there’s any type of establishment that is most explicitly for the people, by the people, it’s a food truck.

What makes for a great food truck? "A great food truck has to have a crystal-clear brand statement," shared Tyler Florence, host of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race (season six starts this August). "You can't be vague. If you sell burgers, tacos, ice cream, whatever, you need to clearly communicate that. 'Spice It Up' is not a good name for a truck if it sells curry (it doesn't say anything about the food), but 'Curry in a Hurry' hits it out of the park. The same goes for the design. The trucks that have simple and smart graphics, ones that you can see from down the street, are the way to go. Stay away from dark colors, which can get lost in an urban landscape. Also, the best food trucks specialize in one thing. Do you make tacos? What kind of tacos? Korean? Indian? Traditional ones? Whatever you love, stick with it. Trucks that offer a global menu have a tendency to not be good at anything. And when it comes to the food, you and your team need to become authorities on your obsession."

There has been talk recently that food trucks are a moribund trend. We beg to differ. While trucks have been waning in popularity in New York — where most food trends wane in popularity after spurts of growth — this is hardly the case for the rest of the country. Perhaps it is not a surprise that the cities with the most food trucks on this year’s list are Los Angeles and Philadelphia (expectedly) and Boston (not so expectedly). Boston owes its success partly to city laws: “Rather than limiting the number of food truck licenses,” reports Galen Moore for BostInno, “Boston limits the number of locations on city streets and other public property.” This means more food trucks covering a wider range of the city. However, while some food truck-loving cities benefit from local regulations, others don’t. Raleigh and Providence, for example, are excellent food towns that have been unlucky when it comes to zoning laws.The resilience of these mobile eateries is a testament to the fact that creative, quite literally chef-driven food need not be limited to wallet-busting restaurants with month-long waiting lists.

Last year, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco led the way with the most amount of food trucks on our list, with 16, 9, and 12, respectively. Chicago (6), Twin Cities (5), and Miami (5) had a good amount of highly rated food trucks as well. This year, Los Angeles (11), New York (7), San Francisco (6), and Austin (4) continue to boast having a good amount of food trucks on our list, but Chicago (3) and Twin Cities (0), not so much. There are a few cities that came up strong this year that weren't on last year's list too much, most notably Boston (12), Philadelphia (8), and Cleveland (5). As for Washington, D.C. (4) and New Orleans (4), they continue to have robust food truck scenes.

Korean fusion, lobster rolls, and tacos seem to lead the way in terms of popular food truck cuisines; vegan food, barbecue, and grilled cheese make up a lot of the most beloved meals on this year’s list. A shout-out to the trucks that are serving some more off-the-beaten-path foods: Boston’s Sheherazad, which specializes in Iraqi cuisine; Phoenix’s Emerson Fry Bread, which enhances a staple of much-forgotten Southwest Native American cuisine; and New York’s Snowday, which serves maple syrup-infused grilled cheese sandwiches that are prepared by ex-convicts. That being said, almost every food truck on this list serves something totally out of the box; click through our slideshow to learn what these items are.

Did we miss your favorite truck? There’s always next year. Tweet @thedailymeal or leave a comment below to let us know about trucks that should be on our radar. But before you get too upset, keep in mind that our list only features food trucks, not carts. In other words, if it can’t get a parking ticket, it can’t be on the list. Some cities (especially much-beloved Portland, Oregon) pained us: many of their food "trucks" didn’t make the cut because they weren’t, well, trucks. Dessert or coffee trucks were also not considered.

Without further ado, here are the 101 best food trucks that you ought to travel from coast to coast for. Trust us; it’s worth it.

#101 Swizzler Gourmet Hot Dogs, Washington, D.C.

In 2012, three juniors at North Carolina's Wake Forest University invented a new fast food concept — quality hot dogs spiral-cut lengthwise so they could better hold and integrate their toppings, which fall nicely into the grooves — as part of a class project. The idea was good enough to survive graduation, and in 2014 the trio launched this mobile doggery. The franks are grass-fed beef. The offerings range from the J(ersey) Dawg (sauerkraut, diced onions, and spicy brown deli mustard) to the Acropolis (homemade tzatziki, feta, Kalamata olives, red onion, and cherry tomatoes), with flavors of Italy and the South along the way. We’re almost certain that the only reason this gem isn’t higher on the list is because they are brand new on the scene.

#100 Foodie Call, New Orleans

This cleverly named food truck serves burgers, sandwiches, fries, and a mouthwatering crawfish pie made with popcorn rice, local crawdaddies, sweet corn, and mushrooms in a crispy empanada shell. It’s all in the details: Their original burger is latticed with Cheddar cheese and caramelized onions, and their ham and brie sandwich is elevated by a complex fig mustard. They can call us anytime. Foodie Call made our list of 101 Best Food Trucks in 2012, but dropped off in the following years. Since we opened our votes up to the public this year, we’re guessing fans of the truck have been devoted to their food all along.

Additional reporting by Dan Myers, Arthur Bovino, and Colman Andrews

These Are the 21 Best Food Trucks in America

CREDIT: Alejandro De Los Rios

Going to a restaurant can be frustrating -- you're surrounded by terrible people, you have to wait for a seat, and at the end of the night there's a 0% chance of the building driving you home. Food trucks don't just eliminate all these problems, but they also feature some of the best bites to be had. These 21 trucks take street food to ridiculous new heights, with inventive chefs turning street food into an art form. art that you can eat while sitting on a curb. Not even Banksy can do that!

King of Pops (Atlanta, GA)
Where to find it: Rolling through the streets of Atlanta, but you can track its whereabouts through its website.
The menu: This truck peddles delicious Latin American-style paletas and frozen popsicles ranging from crazy seasonal flavors like pear-vanilla and caramel apple to year-round ones like chocolate-sea salt, Arnold Palmer, and cereal milk, which is killer.

Via 313 (Austin, TX)
Where to find it: 61 Rainey St (behind Craft Pride) and 1111 East 6th (in front of Violet Crown Social Club).
The menu: The best thing to come out of old Detroit since Robocop, Via 313 dishes out square, MoTown-style pies. The crust is thick and fluffy, and the cheese gets a mouth-wateringly caramelized crust. Go with the the Detroiter, and you get all that plus two types of pepperoni.

John Mueller Meat Co. (Austin, TX)
Where to find it: 2500 E. 6th Street, sharing a lot with Kellee's Place.
The menu: A renowned meat master, Mueller smokes out everyone in the BBQ game, which is no small task, considering Snoop Dogg's uncle has a rib truck in Oregon. Out of his trailer setup, he does everything from smoked turkey to pork shoulder to beef sausage. But you should opt for the brisket or beef ribs above all, perfectly smoked by one of the top pitmasters in the world.

CREDIT: Zac Wolf Photography
Roxy's Grilled Cheese (Boston, MA)
Where to find it: Ft. Point, Dewey Square, and Cleveland Circle, plus a bunch of other very lucky places.
The menu: These food-truck pioneers seriously up the grilled-cheese game with a small, fresh menu of fancified sandwiches. Get your hands and mouth on the homemade guac and applewood bacon-packed Green Muenster Melt, and, on a colder day, be sure to pair it with the roasted tomato soup for the best Grandpa lunch imaginable. Oh, and you can add bacon to anything, including, we assume, the Nutella hot chocolate.

10 Best Food Trucks in America

In gas station lots, at midtown curbs, and by parks blocks from your office, idling food trucks serve tacos, lobster rolls, burgers, burritos, grilled cheese, pizza, sous-vide dishes, and high-end French food you'll pay $10 or less for. Food trucks leverage lower overhead, brave (mostly) outdated municipal restrictions, random (and targeted) police ticketing, and misdirected ire of insecure brick-and-mortar restaurants who often stir up trouble. Food trucks are far from the latest food trend, but when it comes to great food made quickly (and by the "little guy"), they're one of the best things. That's right, food trucks are cool (still, though they face a backlash) and whether food is the point of your travel, or what you're grabbing to take back to your desk, there are food trucks in American cities that you should seek out: the best food trucks in America now (Credit: Easy Slider).

Last year, The Daily Meal launched its first list of America's best food trucks -- examining some 300 vendors across this great country. The list was done because as much as food trucks have entered the cultural lexicon, as much as they've been written about, celebrated, and awarded by websites, newspapers, magazines, and local organizations, nobody reliably ranked all food trucks nationally.

There have been best-of lists, roundups highlighting trucks in individual cities, and a few nationally. These were launch points. They featured innovative cuisines and showmanship, but didn't tell the whole story, included carts, weren't geographically aware, and didn't indicate much methodology. Last year, The Daily Meal changed that with a definitive ranking system nobody else has.

The inaugural list of The Daily Meal's best food trucks canvassed more than 30 cities. Added to those were staff favorites, trucks praised by organizations, and national and local publications, both in print and online. Editors consulted popular review sites and critical appraisal. They analyzed trucks' number of Twitter followers and Facebook "likes." For originality, it examined menu innovation, concept, concept relative to inception -- to wit, Asian tacos are as original as truffle oil fries (i.e. not innovative) -- and how that all plays into geography.

That methodology applied in 2013, save some differences. When it comes to food trucks, the social factor is vital. So whereas in 2012, when Facebook was considered only where a Twitter presence didn't exist, in 2013, both Twitter and Facebook followings were factored into a carefully constructed mathematical equation. Secondly, this list benefited from comments and suggestions resulting from The Daily Meal's best food trucks in America for 2012. More food trucks, about 450, were considered in more than 40 cities.

A few notes. Only trucks were considered. Complain if you will, but if it was a trailer or a cart, if it needed something to pull, drag, push, or carry it, if it wasn't on four wheels and couldn't move on its own power from parking ticket to parking spot? Gone. Some cities (especially much-beloved Portland, Ore.) pained editors, but many of their food "trucks" didn't make the cut because they weren't well, trucks. Also, this is a list of food trucks. Food trucks that make just cupcakes or coffee are cupcake or coffee trucks, not food trucks. With the rare exception, it didn't seem fair to include trucks serving shaved ice or ice cream with those doing full menus. (America's best food cart and ice cream truck lists will follow.)

One last thing: The Daily Meal's list reads now a bit like a defense of food trucks. This isn't a business model that should need defending. Many problems food trucks face (including in D.C., Chicago, and even New York), aren't fair and should (at least) be cared about enough by office workers that they should be making noise on behalf of the hard-working folks who make them lunch. Running a food truck is a tough job, one where just being "cool" doesn't pay the bills. As The New York Times' magazine recently noted, some would say "The Food-Truck Business Stinks."

To restaurant owners who have had their ire raised by trucks: yes, there are offenders. But brick-and-mortar establishments who claim trucks feed off them should consider this:

1. Competition breeds better restaurants. Worried about trucks making better food than you? Cook better food! Provide better service. You have a roof, walk-in, and staff. You should be able to.
2. Make customers feel more valued or feel that they're getting more value.
3. Do you pay rent? Respect. That doesn't entitle you to business.

But enough with the rules! What were the results? How did they rank? You'll have to peruse the list, or watch the slideshow for specifics, but this year's list, while including some seven different cuisines or types of fare, was still dominated by Asian fusion, burgers, sandwiches, grilled cheese, and tacos. Pizza and lobster rolls were other predictable leaders, but there were some impressive chef-y menus, too.

Los Angeles (16 food trucks), San Francisco (11 food trucks), and New York City (10 food trucks) still lead all cities. But last year's biggest winners lost ground. Boston, Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle lost 11 total spots. Food trucks in cities like Cleveland, Dallas, Durham, Fresno, Oakland, Reno, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Monica, and Wichita ranked, while Houston, Vegas, Miami, Nashville, Portland, and St. Louis gained spots. Why? Factoring in Facebook altered trucks' social factor (if you don't like the ranking, encourage your favorite food trucks to seek out more likes and followers!). But the biggest reason is that food trucks in more cities are just making better food. And that's a trend you can bet on continuing to see going forward.

So, from tacos considered "the best thing in Nashville since country music" to kimchi kraut and bulgolgi-covered hot dogs in Portland, here's the list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America for 2013, any of which we'd be thrilled to wait in line at for a meal worthy of eating standing up.

Ms. Cheezious

Miami's Ms Cheezious truck came in at number three on CNBC's top 10 food trucks list in 2017. The creative concept focuses on gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches as a delicious comfort food. Available in hearty versions with ingredients like bacon, and dessert variations, the trucks take grilled cheese to a new level. Much like Oink and Moo BBQ, the operation grew from a single unit to multiple trucks and physical locations. The owners' extensive experience in the restaurant industry contributes to the business's success.


Estimated Cost: 8 lb Pre-made Cookie Dough Batter for $20 – $35.

Estimated Retail Price: $1 per cookie or up to $20 for a bucket.

How to make it work: Offering fresh baked cookies to consumers will always be a winner. You can order high-quality cookie batter from any restaurant supply company so all you need to do is bake the product and serve.

Popular ready-made flavors include chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookies. You can doctor these recipes to make them your own by ordering plain cookie dough and adding ingredients. Some options include added Reese’s pieces, M&Ms, nuts, and other flavors commonly found in baked goods.

The 10 Best Food Trucks In The U.S.

I hope you guys are hungry — October 11 is National Food Truck Day! Food trucks have become a staple part of the culinary scene in most cities, dishing out meals that rival even the most highly rated restaurants. Though street food itself is nothing new (it’s been done in tourist destinations around the world for decades), the food truck industry has experienced rapid growth over the last five years. The first food truck was an ice cream truck turned taco dispensary that was opened by Raul Martinez in 1974 in East Los Angeles. Ever since, the growth in the popularity of mobile cuisine has been on the rise. Almost as quickly as we watched hundreds of cupcake shops pop up all around the country, food trucks sprouted up in every city.

Once reserved for summer festivals, you can now find food trucks parked in abandoned lots, lining the streets of the beach, and hunkering down at practically every farmer's market. These mobile nom machines serve up everything from lobster rolls, to cupcakes, to the best darn tacos you’ve ever had. There is literally a food truck for everyone, including those among us who have dietary restrictions. Gluten-free? Vegan? Kosher? Don’t worry, there’s a food truck for that.

In honor of National Food Truck Day, here is a list of 10 of the most popular food trucks from around the United States.

1. Los Angeles — Kogi BBQ

Kogi BBQ is an L.A. landmark that dishes out delicious Korean BBQ to the fine people of Los Angeles. Kogi offers up kimchi quesadillas, along with other street food fit for a king (but easily afforded by the masses).

2. Portland — Phat Cart

Portland foodies can find Asian eats that delight their taste buds at Phat Cart. The popular food truck can be found at two locations in Portland, and has a mission of creating truly authentic cuisine based on the owner's travels throughout Southeast Asia. Phat Cart specializes in bento boxes that boast non-GMO and hormone-free ingredients.

3. Chicago — Cupcakes for Courage

Chicago is no stranger to the culinary indulgence of food trucks. One of its most popular mobile destinations is Cupcakes for Courage, a food truck that supports cancer research. Don’t let the name fool you, though. Cupcakes are served, but so is a scrumptious array of breakfast foods. The sisters who own this conscious cupcakery even appeared on Cupcake Wars!

4. Atlanta — Yumbii

Fusing together Southern cooking and Asian-Mexican flavors, Yumbii has created an entire experience with its gourmet food on wheels. Voted best of Atlanta in Creative Loafing magazine, Yumbii says, “The truck is high energy, inviting, and digital to the core.” I can personally attest to the fact that its fish tacos are mouth-wateringly divine.

5. New York — Wafels and Dinges

Check Wafels and Dinges off your foodie bucket list when you’re in the Big Apple, because New York natives and tourists alike rave about this Belgian-inspired mobile eatery.

6. Miami — Ms. Cheezious

There are lots of famous food trucks in Miami, but a local favorite is Ms. Cheezious. This truck plates up comfort foods with a twist. One of its most popular items is a Crabby Cheese Melt — grilled cheese, not quite like your mom used to make.

7. Houston — The Waffle Bus

Space City is home to hundreds of food trucks, but one of the most popular has a simple, yet delicious concept — waffle sandwiches. The Waffle Bus serves sweet and savory waffle sandwiches with flavors like Nutella and banana, smoked salmon, and, of course, the Southern favorite: chicken and waffles.

8. Washington D.C. — D.C. Empanadas

D.C. Empanadas is a food truck that serves up a smorgasbord of empanada options, ranging from the Executive Order (bacon cheeseburger empanada with grilled Vidalia onions) to the vegetarian-friendly Menage a Trois (brie, figs, and marcona almonds). Rumored to be President Obama’s favorite, this food truck is worth checking out!

9. Seattle — Marination Mobile

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this rainy city lets the weather stop the food truck movement from being a big hit. Home to some of the most innovative mobile food shops around, one of Seattle’s most popular is Marination Mobile. Serving the streets of Seattle with tacos, sliders, quesadillas, and more, Marination Mobile combines Hawaiian and Korean cuisine for some drool-worthy eats.

10. Philadelphia — Prime Stache

This food truckin' machine of a city is no stranger to food on the go. Though Philadelphia has long been known for its one of a kind cheesesteaks, Prime Stache food truck is proof that there’s always room for new flavors in this food-loving city. Spooning out servings of edamame ravioli and grilled octopus, it's grown itself quite the following in Philly.

Looking for amazing food ideas? Check out Bustle on YouTube.

The Fight to Stay Alive

“Food trucks might not be as trendy and new anymore, but it’s part of daily life,” says Shen. They’re also growing apart from their guerilla dining roots, which comes with its own set of pros and cons. On one hand, greater acceptance and popularity mean more things like designated food truck spaces and food truck associations to support and advocate for the rights of food truck owners. On the other, increased awareness means increased scrutiny from the law, with more regulations about where, when, and how food trucks can operate. And it doesn’t always look easy.

It would be disingenuous to say ‘food trucks are here to stay.’ The latest boom has merely capitalized on decades of tradition and innovation. They are an institution born of necessity, whether it was the necessity of cattle herders needing food on a long trek, of people needing cheap food on a lunch break, or of accomplished chefs needing to share their talents in a way that didn’t put them in debt. What has changed, however, is our expectation of what we can get out of a food truck. It’s no longer beans and jerky, or quick tacos, but innovative “gourmet” options. It will shock nobody if you say you got your truffled grilled cheese or lobster roll or vegan quinoa burrito from a ‘guy in a van.’

The 12 Best Taco Trucks in America

Aarón Sánchez is a lifelong student of the taco. His education started while watching his mother cook in her New York restaurant. “From her I learned about the roots of food,” he says. “I became a student of my culture and my cuisine.”

Despite having a wide range of experience in Mexican cuisine, tacos are where Sànchez focuses much of his energy, first as a chef, and now as a host on the Cooking Channel’s Taco Trip. So what is it about tacos? According to Sànchez, the appeal is in their approachability and versatility. “A taco is truly the people’s food. It’s just something that everybody loves.”

Though he prefers his food entrenched in tradition, Sànchez is not a taco purist. “You can have an unadulterated traditional taco, or you can have a crispy shrimp taco wrapped in jicama,” he explains. “It’s all one spectrum.”

In his newest show, Sànchez visits everything from Mom-and-Pop joints to more modern takes, and finds something to love about every taco he’s tasted. In fact, there’s only one deal breaker for Sánchez when it comes to tacos: “Tacos are an honest food,” he says. “When you call something a taco, you’re making a promise. When you call something carnitas and it’s not pork cooked in it’s own fat, you’re breaking that promise. I’m all for creativity and innovation, but just be honest.”

After schooling us in what makes a truly great taco, Sànchez told us about his favorite trucks and shacks. “I’m just your guide,” he says, “These are the people who make it happen.” Below are a few of the best spots from around the country.

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America&rsquos Best Cities for Foodies 2015

When she&rsquos visiting Los Angeles, Las Vegas restaurateur Elizabeth Blau&mdashrecently nominated for a James Beard award&mdashdoes not concern herself with A-list seating at restaurants. &ldquoThe first time I went to Gjelina,&rdquo she says of the acclaimed Venice café, &ldquowe got pizza and salads in the to-go area, then ate them while sitting on milk crates in the alley. It was so good.&rdquo

No surprise, Blau says that she plans her trips around restaurants, bakeries and markets, though many Travel+Leisure readers would attest that you don&rsquot have to be a restaurateur to travel by your stomach. As part of the magazine&rsquos America&rsquos Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 cities for qualities like walkable streets, historic appeal and art galleries&mdashwhich, for some travelers, are just pleasant time-killers between meals.

Readers also ranked the 10 most crave-worthy features of a city, from the relatively low-cost indulgences of street food, coffee and bakeries to specialty gourmet markets, wine bars and high-end, chef-driven restaurants. (And throwing in plenty of burgers, pizza, craft beers and sandwiches.)

Among the winners&mdashsome perhaps boosted in the polls by their enthusiastic locals&mdashwe found a number of James Beard winners and nominees, as well as some fabulously creative twists on classics: &ldquohot chicken&rdquo in Nashville, bison tartare in Minneapolis and pickle tasting plates in Chicago.

Great Bites in the Bluegrass State: What to Eat in Kentucky

Get lucky in Kentucky with these iconic state foods and the best places to try each.

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Bourbon and Beyond

From the eastern Appalachian mountains west to the Mississippi River bottoms, Kentuckians stand united around tables loaded with aged country ham, tender spoonbread (please pass the butter), and handmade sorghum syrup. Oh, and a little local bourbon, maybe before. Maybe after. Ready to join the deliciousness? For everyday, try beloved soupbeans and cornbread and their variations: nationally acclaimed burritos and tacos. Pair with an Ale-8-One, munch a Modjeska for dessert, and share Kentucky's commonwealth.

Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs

Hot Brown

In 1926 Chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel created a savory, creamy, hot, open-faced turkey sandwich intended to recharge the energies of the hotel’s nightly dinner-dance patrons. Schmidt layered sliced turkey on toast, covered it with Mornay sauce, tucked in some Roma tomato halves and toast points, ran the dish under a hot broiler and added crisp bacon slices as the topper. The Hot Brown, still available daily at the Brown Hotel, has its own webpage, which includes the original recipe. It remains popular enough in restaurants across the commonwealth that it has spawned its own best-of competitions.


Kentucky gave birth to bourbon, and Kentucky distillers still make 95 percent of the world’s bourbon today. Kentucky’s bourbon-friendly natural assets include iron-free limestone water, a good climate and lots of corn, which must make up at least 51 percent of bourbon’s basic ingredients — its “grain bill.” Kentucky bourbon lovers who sip at home often choose time-tested Old Forester, introduced in Louisville in 1870 and distilled legally right on through Prohibition. Among many fine bourbon bars in the commonwealth, Henry Clay’s Public House in Lexington stands out for excellent live music and for its location in a building the bourbon-loving Great Compromiser built in 1805.

Benedictine: La Peche Gourmet-To-Go (Louisville, Kentucky)

Jennie Benedict, born in 1860 in Louisville, invented Benedictine, a spread made of cream cheese, cucumber juice, onion juice and seasonings, mashed together with a fork. Benedictine dip or sandwiches appear on many Louisville tables during Derby week. The original recipe — which is widely available — includes two drops of green food coloring, an ingredient that some cooks and chefs skip today. Louisvillians hungry for their signature spread often stop by La Peche Gourmet-To-Go, attached to Lilly's, for famed chef Kathy Cary’s cucumber-rich, crunchy version. Some also order a Benedictine-and-bacon sandwich to go, as fortification until they get their Benedictine home and can whip one up themselves.

Mint Julep

Bourbon-based mint juleps on Derby Day are a Kentucky ritual, for both natives and visitors, and mint juleps are the official drink at the Churchill Downs racetrack. Kentucky mint juleps start with bourbon and include muddled fresh mint, sugar or simple syrup and crushed ice. The drinks are assembled carefully, even ceremonially. Kentucky statesman Henry Clay held both mint juleps and bourbon in high regard. Craft cocktails at many restaurants include year-round julep variations that hold wide appeal. In Louisville, 610 Magnolia adds rose water and rose petal infusions, for example, and Proof On Main stretches out with a Hot to Trot cocktail that includes cayenne, curacao and a bitter herbal liqueur.

Deviled Eggs

To be popular at a Kentucky potluck, bring deviled eggs, and watch your platter empty before all others. While each Kentucky cook makes deviled eggs to suit family preferences, ranging from purely savory to sweet-tart, Kentuckians are broad-minded and enjoy the full flavor spectrum. Although restaurants rarely feature deviled eggs, Dudley’s Restaurant, founded in Lexington in 1981, offers acclaimed daily deviled egg appetizers, with optional Kentucky smoked trout and fried caper toppings. Some Kentuckians resist the “devil” in deviled eggs, perhaps not trusting the late 18th-century British, who began using the term to describe certain intensely flavored, stimulating foods. While Kentuckians claim deviled (or “dressed” or “stuffed”) eggs as their own, versions of this favorite bite appear on tables around the world, and have since the days of the ancient Romans.

Spoon Bread

Sit down in the tranquil dining room at Berea College’s historic Boone Tavern and the famed restaurant’s hot starter dish arrives: crusty gold spoon bread scooped straight from the baking dish, served with fresh butter. James Beard called spoon bread a “heavy soufflé.” It is cornbread’s fancy cousin: eggy, buttery, tender and moist. While yellow cornmeal reigns in some parts of the country, legendary mid-20th-century Boone Tavern manager and cookbook author Richard T. Hougen required white cornmeal for the tavern’s signature dish. Home cooks can choose from many recipes to add spoon bread to the table for holidays, birthdays and, of course, Derby brunches.


Northern Kentuckians cherish crisp-fried slices of goetta (pronounced “GET-uh”) for breakfast, in sandwiches and as part of “hangover cure” plates. Goetta manufacturers mix meat and broth with steel-cut oats and seasonings to make a mush, then shape the mixture into logs or blocks to sell to restaurants and home cooks. Cooks and chefs then slice or crumble it and fry until crisp. The venerable Anchor Grill in Covington — “We may doze but never close” — serves goetta around the clock, 365 days a year, and does not have far to go to buy it. Just across the road, Glier’s Goetta, founded in 1946, makes 1 million pounds of this German-influenced specialty food each year.

Fried Chicken

Even though people around the world love Kentucky’s fast-food chicken for casual meals, it’s the fine-dining restaurants that lift the deep-fried version to its peak. Heirloom Restaurant in Midway offers a memorable, buttermilk-brined chicken breast, serving it over rich mashed potatoes with sawmill gravy and arugula. This restaurant’s fried chicken livers, served with lemon-ricotta ravioli, attract a following so ardent the restaurant cannot replace them on the menu. Kentuckians still pan-fry chicken in cast-iron skillets for special meals at home, often using seasoned flour mix made from Kentucky-grown soft red winter wheat and produced at historic Weisenberger Mill.


Independent Kentuckians have made and sold their own alcohol for at least 200 years, including before, during and after Prohibition. Much of that alcohol could be called moonshine — unaged, high-proof, corn-based, distilled whiskey, often made illegally. Distillers like Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville now produce legal moonshine in the light of day. Master distiller Arlon Casey Jones uses stills built on patterns his grandfather developed in Golden Pond, Kentucky, a town renowned for its Prohibition-era moonshine. Golden Pond ceased to exist when its residents were forced to move in the 1960s to make way for the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.


While trips to Keeneland Race Track in Lexington usually involve betting, another “B” word also beckons locals there: burgoo, a Kentucky staple since at least the mid-1800s. Burgoo has no fixed recipe. Food historian Charles Patteson calls it “a hunter’s stew made from what was available.” Early versions of burgoo included local game, simmered outdoors in large iron kettles. Today, burgoo is a thick, savory dish made with multiple meats and vegetables, spiced to the cook’s taste. At Louisville’s Churchill Downs, Derby-goers find burgoo sustaining on the first Saturday in May. Food journalist Jean Anderson said burgoo is “de rigueur at political rallies, church suppers, and family reunions in Kentucky.”

Shaker Lemon Pie

For nearly 50 years, diners have driven to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg for beauty, history, discovery — and the Shaker Lemon Pie. This double-crusted, intensely tart-sweet pie, filled with faintly bitter, paper-thin slices of whole lemon, makes Kentuckians forget all about the lemon meringue and icebox pies in the world outside. Guests from around the country still come in droves for other Shaker foods as well, and for the rich pleasures of enjoying seed-to-table dining in a lovingly restored setting. Big favorites from the menu include tangy tomato-celery soup, the corn muffins or white yeast rolls that are passed with each main meal, and fried chicken.

Soup Beans and Fried Corn Cakes

Soup beans and cornbread? That’s the epicenter of Kentucky’s Appalachian heritage cooking, enjoyed across the state for the savory, salty goodness of slow-cooked pinto beans seasoned with smoked pork. While bean soups can be based on any dried bean, soup beans are always pintos. The best soup beans and cornbread come from home — ideally from Mamaw’s kitchen — but restaurants across the price spectrum also feature these now-stylish survival foods. Windy Corner Market, a popular country crossroadslocation near Lexington, offers red-pepper-flecked soup beans and fried corn cakes every day, served with raw onion, as they should be. Soup beans and cornbread originated because hard-working farm and mining families needed good food they could afford and cook while managing all the work of self-reliant homesteads. The taste of the foods, the comfort they offer and the sense of connection to tradition and culture moved them into the mainstream, where they bubble along today in frugal families’ meals.

Hoppin’ John

Alfalfa restaurant in Lexington put Hoppin’ John on the menu soon after it opened in 1973, and the dish is still available daily, making generations of Alfalfa fans happy. Alfalfa’s idiosyncratic, vegetarian version of this coastal favorite features brown rice topped with lightly seasoned black-eyed peas, a layer of diced canned tomatoes and a trio of toppings: chopped fresh onions, bell peppers and grated white cheddar cheese. Insiders order the cabbage side salad, invented during the early 1970s lettuce boycott, and ask for Alfalfa’s famous miso dressing on the side.

Bourbon Balls

During the winter holidays and Derby week in early May, home cooks often make bourbon balls with moist centers that include crushed vanilla cookies, somewhat like European rum balls. Several excellent Kentucky artisanal candy companies produce truffle-like versions of these beloved candies: creamy, bourbon-soaked fondant centers dipped in fine chocolate. At 95-year-old Ruth Hunt Candies in Mt. Sterling, staff members top each Woodford Reserve Bourbon Ball with a perfect pecan half. Ruth Hunt also lures thousands of fans with its distinctive Blue Monday candy bar, a chocolate-coated slice of pulled, meltaway vanilla cream candy, honoring a traveling minister who said he needed a little sweet each week to help him through his “Blue Monday.”

Transparent Puddings and Pies

The transparent pies at Magee’s Bakery, founded in Maysville in 1956, have their roots in nearby farm kitchens, where cooks made dessert with what they had: eggs, butter, sugar, cream and a touch of flour. These iconic pies may be first cousins of the better-known chess pies, and second cousins once removed of pecan pies, but fans insist on the distinctiveness of transparent pies: They are made without the cornmeal and flavorings typical of chess pies, and without the nuts so crucial in pecan pies. Aficionados also know that the smaller, personal-sized pies are called “transparent puddings.” Reportedly, George Clooney, Maysville’s best-known native, seeks out and shares the pies with friends and colleagues on his movie sets.

Corn Pudding

Corn pudding, a side dish of baked, corn-filled custard, delights Kentuckians at large family meals, potlucks and holiday dinners. Many Kentucky home cooks depend on a widely shared recipe that stays on the menu at Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, handed down through five generations of the owners’ family. The James Beard Foundation declared the Beaumont Inn an American Classic in 2015, honoring nearly 100 years of family ownership and a commitment to iconic Kentucky foods like country ham and fried chicken.

Craft Beer

Bourbon may take top billing when it comes to Kentucky drinking, but the craft beer scene is thriving too. In 2012, Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing began brewing and serving beer in one corner of a historic bakery building called The Bread Box. The craft microbrewery now offers 15 to 20 beers on tap, and the Bread Box brims over with creative, community-minded businesses and nonprofits, including an inventive indoor farm at the heart of the building. Stores and restaurants across Kentucky sell West Sixth’s signature IPA and many other beers. Soon West Sixth beer will include ingredients grown on a newly purchased 120-acre Franklin County farm, 35 minutes from the brewery.

Tacos and Burritos

In a national competition in 2014 aimed at finding America’s best burrito, Lexington’s Tortillería y Taquería Ramírez missed first place by one point. A judge called the tortillas “essentially perfect.” This modest grocery-restaurant attracts hundreds of patrons daily, for both sit-down and carry-out orders. Many are there just for stacks of warm, freshly made corn tortillas: The Ramirez family buys, soaks and grinds Kentucky-grown corn from local Weisenberger Mill as the main ingredient in the tortillas. Journalist and Mexican food authority Gustavo Arrellano documented the Ramirez family’s story in an oral history for Southern Foodways Alliance, beginning with their coming to work on a central Kentucky horse farm and leading to their owning a block of buildings that includes their famous grocery-restaurant.


Bowman and Zelma Spalding launched Spalding’s Bakery in their north Lexington home in 1929. Their family members still follow the original recipe to make Lexington’s most-famous yeast doughnuts — slightly gnarly, crispy, light, barely glazed, both filling and fulfilling. Other pastries from Spalding’s, particularly apple fritters and filled doughnuts, have their own fan groups. Although plenty of media outlets have affirmed the doughnuts’ wonders, only locals willing to come early, stand in line and carry out — there are no seats — get the full benefits of the bakers’ skills. Once the day’s supply of all the pastries runs out, Spalding’s closes.

Mutton Barbecue

Owensboro, a large river town, serves as Kentucky’s barbecued-mutton epicenter. At least four local restaurants keep mutton on their menus, and frequent church dinners and fundraising events feature this regional specialty of western Kentucky. The Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro serves a legendary daily buffet showcasing mutton, along with other meats and traditional side dishes like country green beans and broccoli casserole. One distinctive buffet item, banana salad, features sliced bananas rolled in a cooked sweet-tart creamy dressing and topped with crushed peanuts. Bananas have a Kentucky tie because early refrigerated railcars bringing the tropical fruits north from New Orleans to Chicago for national distribution had to stop in Fulton, Kentucky, to replenish their ice supply.


At Jack Fry’s, the sultry Louisville restaurant that first opened in 1933, diners can order Jack’s Burger for lunch or dinner. Jack Fry’s chefs put Black Hawk Farms Black Angus chuck on a brioche bun and then add lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and spicy-sweet local pickles. The rest of Jack Fry’s menu soars to fine-dining heights, but the burger never disappoints. The City Pool Hall in Monticello serves up another kind of burger, also a favorite for more than 50 years: a hamburger patty flattened and crisped alongside its bun on a venerable flat-top griddle, all crunch and savor.


In the late 1800s Anton Busath, a French confectioner living in Louisville, worked for years to perfect a candy he named for a beautiful, dramatic Polish actress, Helena Modjeska. Busath wrapped a premium marshmallow in soft, buttery caramel, creating a tender bite of sweet-on-sweet that enjoys dedicated fans today. Muth’s Candies, founded in 1921, acquired the closely guarded recipe in the late 1940s. Descendants of founder Rudy Muth continue to make and wrap Modjeskas by hand today, coating some with milk or dark chocolate. Muth’s now sells Modjeskas and other confections online as well as in its NuLu store.


Kentuckians revere sweet sorghum syrup, which many call “molasses” or “sorghum molasses,” as a favorite way to close out a meal: They mash sorghum with soft butter and apply the mixture to a biscuit or two. Sorghum is a single-ingredient sweet syrup that farm families can produce from start to finish on their own land. Kentucky cooks use sorghum in soft spicy cookies, baked beans and the apple stack cakes that are part of traditional Appalachian cuisine. Premier Kentucky producers include Townsend Sorghum Mill and Country Rock, both of which hold national sorghum championships, as well as Oberholtzer’s, which does not enter national competition. Starting in late summer, sorghum producers press sorghum cane stalks to release their green juice, then cook that down in special pans to yield sweet, dark amber syrup. For many Kentuckians, cooking sorghum is a fun activity done communally with family and friends.

Skyline Chili

Nicholas Lambrinides, born in Greece, started Skyline Chili in 1949 in Cincinnati, relying on a secret blend of Mediterranean spices. Across the Ohio River, northern Kentuckians have enjoyed their own Skyline locations for decades and claim the flavorful sauce as part of their cuisine. Basic chili, called a “3-way,” comes on a bed of spaghetti, topped with grated cheese. Diners can keep adding toppings, choosing beans or onions or both, to reach a “4-way” or “5-way.” The chain’s signature Coneys are sauce-topped hot dogs, with other toppings optional. There are several Skyline Chili branches in Louisville.

Beer Cheese

Kentuckians began eating beer cheese in the 1940s, when Arizona chef Joe Allman invented a cheese spread with four ingredients: cheese, beer, garlic and cayenne. Joe’s cousin, famed restaurateur Johnny Allman, served it as an appetizer at popular destination restaurants on the Kentucky River near Winchester. Today, Hall’s on the River in Winchester serves a popular beer-cheese appetizer with saltine crackers and crisp vegetables. Hall’s spread won the People’s Choice award at Winchester’s 2016 Beer Cheese Festival. Hall’s Snappy Beer Cheese, a commercial version of the restaurant’s housemade spread, can be ordered online.

Derby Pie

George Kern and his parents, Leaudra and Walter, developed Derby Pie around 1950 in Prospect, Kentucky. They trademarked it as Derby-Pie in the late 1960s. Kentuckians eat Derby Pie year-round, not just in early May. Kern’s Kitchen in Louisville produces the custardy walnut-chocolate dessert from a secret recipe, selling it frozen online and to restaurants and grocery stores in parts of Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. When Kentucky home cooks and chefs make similar pies — for example, adding chocolate chips to a pecan pie — they sometimes use names like Racetrack Pie to let diners know the pie is similar to Derby-Pie while also avoiding trouble over the fiercely protected trademark.

Flowerpot Bread

Western Kentuckians and people from throughout the state drive to the tiptop of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area to eat at Patti’s 1880’s Settlement. One big reason is Patti’s Flower Pot Bread. With each entree, Patti’s serves a seasoned clay flowerpot overflowing with tender yeast bread freshly baked from scratch. Plain butter and strawberry butter come alongside it. Patti’s and its sibling restaurant, Mr. Bill’s, serve more than 350,000 people annually, in a town with fewer than 400 residents. Take a walk through the gardens or play in the nearby lake, and come back for a slice of mile-high meringue pie.


In Winchester in 1926, G. L. Wainscott launched Ale-8-One, a new, gingery, caffeinated soft drink. He promoted it as “A Late One” to spotlight its recent arrival on an active soft drink scene. For decades, fans went to Winchester to buy the drink, carrying supplies to friends and family members far away. Now Ale-8-One is available online and its distribution area includes much of Kentucky, along with some Ohio and Indiana counties. G. L. Wainscott’s great-great-nephew Fielding Rogers heads the company today, and he still relies on the founder’s handwritten notes to stay true to the original recipe.

Fried Catfish

While fried catfish appears on menus in restaurants across Kentucky, it’s held in particularly high esteem by diners in western Kentucky. Willow Pond Southern Catfish in Aurora breads catfish fillets lightly and fries them to a crisp brown, serving them alongside well-praised sides, including hush puppies, vinegar slaw, baked potatoes and white beans. Condiments on each table include a sweet red pepper relish that most diners add to the beans — though it can be a dip for other foods as well. Willow Pond of Aurora opened in 1993, taking over from Sue and Charlie’s, a popular catfish restaurant founded in 1947, and it remains known for its warm, skilled service.

Country Ham

Kentucky country ham, now a revered delicacy, was once simply “ham.” Families raised their own pigs, cured the hams in salt — sometimes with brown sugar added — smoked them a bit if they wished, and then hung them to age in unheated smokehouses for up to two years. Nancy Newsom Mahaffey of Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham in Princeton says it’s likely her ancestors began curing hams soon after reaching Virginia in 1642. Today, Nancy uses a recipe written into a family will in the late 1700s to produce stellar aged hams that were praised by James Beard. Available to purchase on the company’s site, they’re impressive enough that a Col. Newsom ham is the only American exhibit in a Spanish museum dedicated to jamon.

Beyond the Food Truck: Six Ideas for Mobile Food Businesses

Even when you don't have a lot of money or time, you still want a tasty meal, and mobile food businesses are uniquely positioned to provide it. Whether serving crepes from a splashily painted food truck, a bacon-wrapped hotdog from a push cart, or Baskin-Robbins ice cream from a franchised kiosk, food is going where consumers are.

Even though street food is enjoying a resurgence, this is a tried-and-true business model that's fed generations of eaters. Today, there are approximately 3 million food trucks operating in the U.S., more than 5 million food carts, and an unknown number of kiosks.

If you multiply the following six mobile options with the myriad cuisines and foods you can serve, possible locations, and the time of day you are open, your options for a mobile food business are endless.

1. Food kiosks
Food kiosks are temporary booths or stands used to prepare and sell foods like pretzels, ice cream and hot dogs. The low overhead, flexibility and ease by which a kiosk can be opened and closed are among the reasons why they&rsquore so popular. Because they are usually operating indoors, kiosk owners typically sign licensing agreements at malls, stadiums, movie theaters or other locations. Many major food businesses such as Ben & Jerry&rsquos franchise express kiosks.

2. Food carts and concession trailers

This style of mobile food business has been around for decades and is a multibillion-dollar industry. Cart owners prepare food in advance or purchase ready-made food like ice cream bars. Then, the food is heated up or pulled from the freezer. Food carts used to focus on simple fare like ice cream and hot dogs, but have expanded their menus in recent years to include dishes like kebobs, gyros, salads, and fish and chips.

Food carts usually either have room for the vendor to be inside and serve food through a window, or they utilize all the cart space for food storage and cooking equipment. Concession trailers, on the other hand, are often found at fairs, sporting events, or other places where they can be unhitched and sit for awhile. Unlike most carts, trailers allow for cooking and have room for two or three people inside.

Carts are less expensive than food trucks, and are usually pulled by a vehicle or pushed by hand. They're fairly easy to maintain and, in many areas, require less licensing than the full-sized food trucks.

3. Food trucks
Larger than carts, trucks can carry more food and handle more business. However, food trucks need more space to park both when doing business and when off-duty.

A food truck can carry more sophisticated equipment for storing, serving, cooking and preparing foods. Food trucks can serve traditional quick lunch fare, be stocked with food from concessionaires, be run by a chain restaurant like In-n-Out or California Pizza Kitchen, or serve gourmet fare by an up-and-coming chef. They can do big business in corporate parks and places that have limited access to restaurants.

There are two types of food trucks: the mobile food preparation vehicle (MFPV), where food is prepared as customers wait, and the industrial catering vehicle (ICV), which sells only prepackaged foods. An MFPV costs more than an ICV, and both cost more than a food cart. A used hotdog cart may cost under $2,500, while a retro-fitted used food truck typically costs $30,000 or more. A new MFPV could cost upwards of $100,000. Complying with additional health department rules and regulations can also drive up food truck costs.

4. Gourmet food trucks
Basically the same as a food truck, the gourmet food truck takes food quality to a higher level. Of the 4,000 food trucks licensed to do business in the Los Angeles area, only about 115 are considered gourmet. They are run by ambitious young chefs who offer cuisine not typically found in food trucks, such as specialty crepes, Korean-Mexican fusion, osso buco or velvet cupcakes. Many gourmet trucks have specialties and themes. In addition, they let their clientele know where they&rsquoll be parked through their websites and social media sites like Twitter. While food trucks need not have kitchens, gourmet trucks are more likely to have food prepared on the spot -- and high-end food at that.

5. Mobile catering businesses
Mobile catering trucks are similar to mobile food trucks, but are hired for specific events. The client chooses food from a catering menu, and the truck then serves the food at the event.

The differences between catering trucks and food trucks are primarily in the manner of doing business. One particular advantage of a mobile catering business is you're not risking as much in inventory because you are cooking and bringing food as ordered for the party. You also have a specific destination, so you need not worry whether your favorite destinations will be busy or not.

6. Bustaurants
As the name implies, a bustaurant is not a truck but a bus, often a double-decker with the lower level for the kitchen and the upper level for customers to sit and eat. This is a new concept and hasn't really been proven yet, especially since the idea tests a rash of licensing issues. They also require more room to park, and are more costly to start because the buses need to be fully refurbished.