Everybody's Truckin': Food Trucks in Mexico City
They roll into town, park, cook, sell, then disappear, vanishing like a gastronomic Brigadoon. They’re those food trucks, ubiquitous in Los Angeles for decades, now common in New York’s hip outer boroughs, but until recently relatively unknown in Mexico.
“A food truck, mobile kitchen, mobile canteen, roach coach, or catering truck is a mobile venue that transports and sells food.” explains Wikipedia. Some form of these rolling kitchens have existed in the U.S. since the 19th century. Here in Mexico City, where automobiles were relatively expensive and space was cheap, the trucks were not a common sight. Puestos, those little homemade shacks, pushcarts and simple improvised tables serve as venues for preparing and selling wonderful and now much celebrated street food. Recently, however, a new breed of industrious culinary-academy-trained restauranteurs have motored into town providing a sophisticated alternative to on-street dining. The new breed of street food is international, schooled and designed.
Trucking to ‘Nam - Ñham Ñham
Few Vietnamese walk amongst us in the Big Taco, and, until now, none of their brilliant cooking, in its authentic form at least, was to be found. The proprietor of Ñham Ñham, a spectacular red and yellow vehicle, which parks in Plaza Rio de Janeiro, studied cooking in Viet Nam and shares her skills with fellow Chilangos. Bánh Mì, the fusion paté sandwich, legacy of the French colonists, have been trendy in North American cities for years. Now they will give our beloved tortas a run for their money. Grilled meat, subtly aromatic with lemongrass, mint and/or tamarind is served on a crunchy roll with fresh vegetables. Pho (pronounced “fuh”), a rice noodle soup which is the classic Viet breakfast is also available as is an Asian salad and those delightful summer rolls, packaged in rice flour ‘tortillas’ and thankfully not fried at all. Vegetarian versions of all of the above are on offer. The $70 tab for a sandwich may seem steep, but quality is high – vale la pena.
(update 2018: this truck no longer circulates)
They Drive By Night - Don Kebab
This purveyor of felafel, kebab sandwiches and other permutations of middle eastern take-away is wildly popular, often attracting crowds. Thursdays through Saturdays they pull up along the Sonora side of Parque México behind the bus stand and sell until they run out, ostensibly from 8 p.m. until midnight. Best bet is the marinated, good quality beef, grilled to tender perfection and served in a warmed pita with salad and pour-it-yourself salsas, one picante the other the classic yogurt-sesame familiar to aficionados of falafel. The combo, which includes fries and a drink costs $70.
Av. Sonora facing Parque México, Condesa
Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m. to midnight
Flying Fish - Tostadería Barra Vieja
Paella at Barra Vieja
This high design four-wheel seafood house, which parks in Pedregal does creative mariscos and, quality-wise is up there with its best stationary brethren. Barra Vieja’s tostadas of ceviche, pulpo and callo de hacha (scallop) are fresh as could be. And there are such creative offerings as tacos of pulpo con pesto de quelites octopus dressed with a wild green sauce, and almejas rasuradas, clams prepared in a soy dressing and served in their own shells. On weekends they pull into the parking lot of a restaurant and do a more than passable paella.
Tostadería Barra Vieja
Camino a Santa Teresa, in front of ‘Pro México’s parking lot, weekends in the lot of Salón 777, Blvd. de la Luz 777, Jardines de Pedregal
Open from 1-5 p.m.
Todd Gastelum July 9, 2013
While I've been happy to see Mexico City embrace other international culinary trends (pop-ups, locavore, etc.), I'm nonplussed by the food trucks. Food trucks arose as a phenomenon in places like NY, LA and SF largely because it provided a way for chefs to start a restaurant in locations where startup costs were prohibitively expensive for a bricks-and-mortar place. Mexico City does not suffer from this problem. Colonia Roma has emerged as the center of a creative, affordable restaurant scene precisely because creative people took advantage of cheap rents. So scrap the trucks already and set up in the neighborhoods that are still short on great food--Centro, Tabacalera, San Rafael, Santa Maria la Ribera--with cheap space aplenty. Enough already with copying the gringos. Mexico City would be much better off as a city of innovative cafes, bistros and fondas than a place with even more vehicles clogging the roads.
Nicholas Gilman replies: Todd, I want to agree with you. I hate the car culture of this (or any other) city. But I see this truck thing as a healthy trend. Anything that gets people to say "si!" to street food is OK with me. Each one of these trucks is taking the place of yet one more enormous SUV that could be parking in its place, and providing high quality food. These are hip, college educated chefs, who are doing a service to the culinary culture of our city/country by bringing in high quality alternatives. I don't see it as malinchismo, imitating gringo fashion - they're not rejecting anything. I think they're just cashing in on the 'coolness' of the truck thing. Why not - it IS a selling point. And, unfortunately, I think it may not be as economically feasible to open a new joint in the 'hot' foodie areas like Roma or Condesa as it was even a year or two ago. Fonda Kelly (see my post) was GREAT but didn't make it. Oh, it was full of 'hipsters' when I went but a couple of weeks later when the dust settled, they just weren't coming out to Tepito. And it closed. Yes, let's hope the Máximo,-fish tacos-Broka phenomena multiplies. And let's hope those old ladies are there forever making their tlacoyos. And let's try to get those fresas into the markets. And onto the streets...
Alec Perkins July 9, 2013
It sounds like the food trucks allow a niche food type a chance to make an entrance when a brick and mortar (or steel and tarp) shop might not get enough customers to be viable. I've been dying for some Vietnamese- thanks for the tip!
Sanza Atr iJuly 10, 2013
Truth be told it is easier to start a food truck, the problem isn’t the rent but to fix the place up, most of the places are not designed to be restaurants, the costs of fixing up the place and half the equipment of the kitchen are the cost of the full food truck. It is true that some rents are cheap considering the place is in la condesa but still it isn’t affordable for someone who is just starting, I agree that if you already have 10 years in the industry you should have save some money to start a restaurant but if you are a fresh graduate who want to start your own business a food truck is a better option.
Nicholas Gilman replies: Thanks for elaborating, Sanza. This is what I suspected. I'm sure it's WAY cheaper and less complicated vis a vis permits, rules etc. to start a food business in Mexico than in the U.S. I worked 'in the life' there, and saw with my own eyes restaurant owners dealing with the Italian mafia, Sopranos style. But little businesses here get 'clausurado-ed' all the time for God knows what reasons, and some stay closed for a year or permanently. At least up there, you fix the problem, pay the fine, and open up again. It must be frustrating. A truck can just drive away.
Anonymous July 10, 2013
I love food trucks!!!! I come from Los Angeles which has a huge culture with food on wheels and foodies. Its great to know that this trend is catching up in D.F since its a better option(and more sanitary)than those pushed ones on on every corner. The other amazing thing is that it gives a great opportunity to enjoy international food without having to pay excesive restaurant prices for service, parking,etc.
Don Cuevas July 15, 2013
¡Increible! I don't know how I could have missed this post, but when our taxi arrived in Colonia Roma last week, I was amazed to see the Vietnamese food truck. It was very tempting, but the sad note is that we were 'way too occupied with other alluring food sites, that we never ate anything from the VN truck. I can hope that there will be another chance. I wish I hadn't wasted the opportunity on a couple of reheated tlacoyos sold nearby. Saludos, Don Cuevas
Anonymous November 6, 2013
Just to let you know something about the law and statements about to sell food in the street in Mexico City. it doesn’t exist. All puestos food or not in Mxcity, pay a bribe each two days to our precious neighborhood administration, of course without a reciept. Well to food trucks is the same story, if you pay an ilegal money permit to park and sell quality food in the street you dont have the right to doit in a drive away mode as Nicholas said. Yep is misserable frustraiting and more than that.