Appetites: A food truck love affair in the Twin Cities

Food trucks in downtown Minneapolis
Food trucks lined Second Avenue near Sixth Street in downtown Minneapolis on a recent Friday.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Food trucks seem to come and go with head-spinning regularity around the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

While we may not know exactly how many food trucks roam the streets of Minneapolis, St. Paul or the surrounding suburbs, folks do seem to love them.

City Pages' food writer Mecca Bos joined MPR News' Tom Crann to chat about the best new food trucks around this season.

There are lots of old favorites, but new ones seem to pop up all the time. Does that seem about right?

They do, and while lots of them are great, others are maybe less so. I've been trolling the streets on foot, on bike and even sometimes in my car in hopes of scoping some out that I haven't seen before. There are a few that have been around probably fewer than two years, and maybe even one, but had some of the best stuff we've tried lately.

What do you look for when it comes to a good food truck?

Sushi Daruma's salmon roll
Sushi Daruma food truck owner Ying Alvarez offered a spicy salmon roll at his establishment parked near Seventh Street and Marquette Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

A food truck is basically a roving restaurant, so personally I look for some of the same things I do when dining out anywhere. Is it clean? Is the staff friendly and engaging? Have they bothered to include clever or interesting marketing and branding? Are the menu items unique? Are they using local or at least premium ingredients? Those kinds of things.

Give us an example of a food truck that you really like right now.

Well, Green and the Grain makes premium hand-tossed to-order salads. We all know that sometimes it can feel a little restrictive to have a salad when all the other trucks are pumping out great smelling burgers and dogs and things. They do a wonderful job and the salads are huge, towering things, piled high with great stuff. I recently had a Cowboy Salad with big chunks of herb roasted chicken, beans, pico de gallo, little julienne radish, cheese and a jalapeno avocado dressing that actually tasted like something. They're so good they recently opened a storefront in the skyway in the Lasalle Plaza too.

What about something a little more decadent?

Vin's Italian is a newcomer with an Italian American chef, who comes from a big, Italian American family. He says his recipes have caused a little family strife because he's tweaked the sacred family recipes a bit by putting lamb into the meatballs that go on his meatball subs. He says the customers love it. He also makes a fried eggplant sandwich with fresh mint pesto. If that sounds a little heavy for summer, you might try their balsamic glazed watermelon. He also makes scratch cannoli.

Italian makes me think about pizza. Do they sell any at Vin's?

No, but Tru Pizza Truck does. This is the only street-legal pizza truck with a wood-fired pizza oven inside of it that we know of. The oven gets up to 1,000 degrees, and they can produce individual pizzas in about a minute. They're using super premium ingredients like locally-milled flour for their dough, meat from local Red Table Meat Company and sausage from Pastures a Plenty farm in southwest Minnesota. The chef says he traveled to Naples on his honeymoon and absolutely fell in love with true Neapolitan-style pizza and he said he just had to start making it himself. He even took part in building the oven and said he had to teach himself how to weld in order to do so.

We've covered salads and Italian offerings. Is there anything out there that's really unusual?

Brooks High Battered just started up a couple of days ago. It's run by a couple of guys who are doing something both classic as well as different. They're using what they call "bespoke" beer batter. So, for instance, rather than using one batter for every single thing, they're going to tailor the batter with different flavors according to the beer they're using and the dish they're battering. For instance, Bauhaus pilsner will get honey and lemon in the batter to bring out its natural bright levity. Not only that, but you can choose your own batter — do you prefer light beer, or dark in your batter? I tasted their walleye and their local Redhead Creamery cheese curds and these are probably the best, lightest curds I've had. They're even doing a few things not battered, like bacon mac and beer cheese. This place is a no-brainer for the brewery scene, and they've got a standing relationship with Bauhaus brewery.

Battered food is an item that Minnesotans are pretty familiar with, especially if they're State Fair goers. Is there anything coming out of a food truck that we absolutely would not have seen elsewhere?

They're not officially running just yet, but Tatanka Truck is one of the most unique ideas we've heard about. It's a food truck devoted to Dakota and Ojibwe "pre-contact" food. The chef behind the truck is Sean Sherman, who goes by the moniker "Sioux Chef." He has worked extensively with Lenny Russo of Heartland fame, who also has a strict devotion to ingredients culled from the upper Midwest. On this truck you will not find any ingredients that would have originated outside of Native American fare. No chicken, beef, pork or refined sugars. You can look for things like buffalo, game and native plants.

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