New York City Street Food – an Observation

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Wafel & Dinges, New York

Wafel & Dinges, New York

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.

Rickshaw Dumplings in Times Square

Rickshaw Dumplings in Times Square

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.

The Halal Guys, New York

The Halal Guys, New York

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.

The Frying Dutchman, "Get Rich or Die Fryin'"

The Frying Dutchman, "Get Rich or Die Fryin'"

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.

King of Falafel, Brooklyn NY

King of Falafel, Brooklyn NY

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.

Comments

  1. Good article! The very first street food I ever had was a hot dog from a cart in Central Park in 2006. It was absolutely foul so I threw it to a couple of crows nearby and even they didn’t want to eat it. Later the same day I tried a different cart near Times Square and got a vegetable biryani which was excellent. So yeah… there’s definitely a wide range of quality in Manhattan. Here in Portland I think the overall quality is much higher than it is anywhere else.

  2. Whenever I’m in NYC, I always go to the Halal Guys — it’s cheap, filling and delicious (and yes, the white sauce lives up to everything you’ve read). I’m surprised nobody’s tried to bring it to PDX — it would be a natural here, especially at a night-oriented pod like Cartopia.

  3. Was in NYC August of 2010 and saw the crazy lines at Halal Guys… my parents and hubby and I are kicking ourselves we did not fit that into our stay. We stayed at that Hilton across the street, so got to witness the lines several times. Truly those lines were outrageous, clearly the wait must have been worth it, as there were other Halal carts nearby with no wait. Next time, we make a point of hitting that cart!

  4. NYC Resident says:

    As a New Yorker, I will never understand the big fuss about Halal Guys. They make essentially the same halal food you can find on thousands of other corners in the city. Their ancestral cart, Khan’s in Jackson Heights (Queens), is another matter. But for me waiting anything more than 5 minutes for halal food is just ridiculous. I have been to Portland several times and there is really no comparison. Portland has the best street food scene in the US. Just too bad it doesn’t have better weather for eating outside!

  5. Excellent observations. As a New Yorker who moved to Portland, I’m pretty impressed by the food cart scene here, and I agree that the NYC scene is a recent development. Did you have a chance to check out the famous Red Hook food carts while you were there? These carts in Brooklyn feature delicious Central American food.

  6. Just had to check back here to do a little follow-up: was back in NYC this past August, and finally got lunch at the Halal Guys truck pictured above. AMAZING. Got the combo (salad, rice, lamb & chicken with sauce and flatbread); huge portion… got stuffed silly on half of it or less, then saved the leftovers. Later that night after indulging in a bit to much drink, the leftovers did a great job of providing the needed carb/protein/fat/spice ratios, and was just as delicious leftover. Been craving it ever since…

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