I had the opportunity to visit New York City recently to check out their vibrant street food scene and be a bit of a tourist. Like with many cities, New York has always had street vendors on the corners, but it has been in the last five years that the new model of the gourmet food truck began to dominate the media landscape. Portland is the same. What differentiates Portland that not many other cities have is the fact that our carts can park on private land and vend without the requirement to move on a regular basis. In New York, almost all of the carts and trucks move daily.
I had visions of wandering the concrete valleys of Manhattan and finding hidden gems around every corner. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. While NY has almost 2500 street vendors, only about 1.5% of those are what we see on national TV selling the more unique cuisine. There is a hot dog or Halal vendor on almost every corner in the city, so don’t fret, one can still get street food. You just don’t find waffle carts or gourmet burgers or empanadas easily.
I was able to find some of the famous NY vendors like Wafel and Dinges, The Halal Guys, King of Falafel and Shawarma, Mexicue, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck and a few others. Some were trucks while others were carts that setup on the sidewalk next to the hot dog and nut vendors. I did enjoy a true New York Sabrett hot dog with ketchup and mustard, right in Times Square. One cart, The Halal Guys, just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center setups up on the evening and vends till the early morning hours. They have 3 carts, one for drinks, one to cook the meat and one to do final prep. This may seem like overkill, but the line is usually a New York city block long until they close. Crazy busy.
Portland has it good. We created a wonderful environment so almost anyone can try their hand at what they love and find a following. Also, the carts are easily found in the lots throughout the city. In New York, they move around regularly, so unless you are actively following their Tweets or know their regular routes, you just have to trust your gut and hope to happen upon one or two.
All in all, there really isn’t a comparison between New York and Portland because we are vastly different cities. If you’re being a tourist in New York, you have plenty of options for street food along with thousands of other options ins such a diverse city. I think I had the best Halal and Falafel plates in New York than I have tried elsewhere, yet I know that in Portland, I can get khao man gai or stuffed burgers or fried anchovies whenever I want. If you’re looking to explore New York’s street food scene, check out the websites of New York Food Truck Association or New York Street Food. You will find some excellent nosh.
I would like to thank Daniel Delaney of VENDRTV and What The Food for hosting me on my New York culinary adventure.