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It didn’t take long for food trucks to reserve a parking space in the hearts of foodies. Though selections must be grab-and-go and casual, the best menu items are a marked departure from those found in a c-store or café.
The key question for a food truck—even before checking the tires and finding a good spot—is this: Is the menu road-worthy? Each item must be some combination of bold, original, exotic, comforting, fun, delicious and portable, preferably with a memorable name. And the offerings must appeal to the traffic you expect to intercept. To avoid getting left in the dust, each selection must be a virtual powerhouse. Weak menu items will only weigh things down.
“This is a different type of food operation, so we want menu items that reflect that—it has to be unique and it has to be cutting edge,” says Eric Yung, executive manager for retail concepts at Miami University, Oxford, OH, where the strEATS food truck has had fans following it through campus since last fall (about 1,000 transactions a day).
Planning the menu, a yearlong process, centered around “fun food and different presentations,” but the one thing Yung says was paramount, “we knew it had better taste really good.” Before the menu was finalized, a mobile cart placed in a busy crossroads served as the testing ground. Honest feedback helped to winnow down the offerings from many vague flavor profile ideas to a couple dozen strong signature items. Today, consistency is achieved via Miami’s central production facility, where a lot of prep work is done each morning (for Cuban sandwiches, the meat is pre-measured, for example).
When plotting a food truck menu’s course, it helps to think like a foodie. Foodies are following mobile eateries (both on the streets and on their Twitter feeds) not just for fast convenience. They are seeking authentic global eats, often with a fusion twist. Out-of-this-world burgers and fries. Comfort in the form of a grilled cheese, maybe topped with kimchi. And certain foodies, in certain hours of the night, are looking for fried cheese sticks, chicken fingers, cheese sauce, French fries and marinara—all in one sandwich (it’s called “The Phat Jay” on Elizabethtown College’s Bird Feeder truck. More on that later).
Even if you are not planning on a food truck in the near future, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a limited-time finals week or orientation week promotion featuring “food truck-style cuisine.” One B&I operation even created a faux food truck façade on a permanent concept within the building.
Here, find seven hot categories of winning menu items, the star items on food trucks across the country and recipes that you can try on your own truck.
Street Food Fusion Menu Items
The blending of cultures makes for wonderful food truck traffic. After all, Kogi BBQ in LA, Roy Choi’s groundbreaking food truck, started it all with Korean short ribs tucked into a traditionally Mexican taco. Here are some food truck menu items that roam where they want to.