I love the idea of food trucks; they democratise food by allowing easy access to a huge range of cuisines, which can be sampled in several locations across a city. So when I was in Chicago recently, I made sure to check out some of the city's food truck offerings.
The mobile food scene is a relative newcomer to Chicago, but more and more food trucks are now appearing across the city. However, in Chicago there's a major obstacle that food trucks have to face: it is currently against the law to prepare food in a truck and serve it on the city's streets.
Yup, that's right. In the Second City it is currently against the law to cook food in a mobile kitchen and sell it to someone on the street; everything has to be prepared and packaged in a licensed kitchen beforehand. You cannot so much as slice a tomato and put it on one of the city's famous hot dogs on board a Chicago food truck.
It's a huge restriction, which limits the whole appeal (for me, at least) of food trucks. I mean part of their raison d'être is to serve freshly cooked food. If you can't cook it on-site, you're effectively turning your business into a meals-on-wheels service with a Twitter account. Chicago food trucks are also handicapped by not being allowed to park in the same location for more than 2 hours or park within 200ft of a restaurant, and are not permitted to serve food after 10pm.
In spite of these draconian restrictions, there are plenty of delicious foods that can still be served a few hours after they are made. So, here's a glimpse of a small handful of food trucks that drive round Chicago:
Tamalli Space Charros (Twitter: @tamalespace101)
The Southern Mac and Cheese (Twitter: @thesouthernmac)
The Southern restaurant and bar. It serves a variety of mac and cheese priced at $5 for a small portion and $9 for a large one.
Haute Sausage (Twitter: @hautesausage)
chakalaka; and Moroccan lamb, all served in a bun.
The Meatyballs Mobile (Twitter: @fossfoodtrucks)
Sweet Ride (Twitter: @sweetridechi)
It's clear that Chicago is at a major disadvantage when it comes to food trucks, and the sooner vendors can start cooking on-site, the better. Last year a proposal was put before the City Council to change the food truck laws, but nothing seems to have come of it. However, there is a glimmer of hope. The city's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has tentatively outlined plans to allow food trucks to prepare food on board, but whether the notoriously murky City Council approves it is another matter entirely. So it could still be a while before you're eating a freshly made taco from a food truck in Chi-town.
It's such a shame the city can't embrace the food truck scene the way places like New York, Austin, LA, and San Francisco have. Chicago is rapidly becoming a must-visit destination for food lovers, yet its street food offerings are sadly lacking. Until the laws change, it seems the Chicago food truck phenomena will always be stuck in first gear.