When it comes to food trucks, we’ve come a far way from hot dogs. These days, in fancy food trucks across the country, you’re likely to find lobster rolls, dumplings, cupcakes, even Korean tacos.
Yes, Korean tacos. Kogi BBQ, a Korean taco truck from Los Angeles that took to Twitter by storm, is probably the most famous. But look to the Vendy Awards, an annual food festival that honors New York City’s street vendors, to find plenty more. (The event has become so popular it’s practically red-carpet status.) And consider this: There’s even a second season of “The Food Truck Wars” coming this summer to the Food Network.
Admittedly, the suburbs don’t have the critical mass of gourmet food trucks that have popped up elsewhere in the last few years. But things are turning around.
Just this week, in fact, one of Westchester’s best chefs, David DiBari, the owner of The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, got out on the road with his mobile pizza oven, serving wood-fired pies with such toppings as prosciutto proscuitto with fontina and tomato jam. He joins a few other industrious pioneers — a Peruvian chef trained at the French Culinary Institute; a veteran with a goal of using farm-to-table ingredients, a local television personality who combines Creole cooking with a creative schtick — who are bringing good food to parking lots around the region.
“The food truck revolution is huge,” says DiBari. “And I really wanted Westchester to pick up on it because it’s a lot of fun.”
What he loves about the concept is that it takes the pomp out of good food, simplifying simplyfing it to just chef, dish and diner.
“We started out as affordable and sustainable,” he says of his restaurant. “And now it’s all about the food. This is just another way of us stripping it down even more.”
And there’s something very democratic about good food from a truck: it’s available to just about anybody.
Raffi Benavides, who owns Raffi’s Hot Grill on Jackson Avenue off the Sprain Brook Parkway, says the beauty of the business is the one-on-one interaction he gets with his customers.
“People don’t mind waiting a couple of minutes for something that’s made to order,” he says. “Because they know they’re going to get something that’s made fresh.”
After the jump is a selection of places where you can do just that. No doubt we’ll have missed a few favorites, so tell us in the comments section where your favorites are and what we should order when we go!
The Cookery’s DoughNation
Specialty: Wood-fired pizza
Who’s driving? David DiBari, the “I-do-what-I-want” chef-owner of The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, is doing exactly what he wants with this mobile pizza oven: making simple food and serving it directly to his customers. The oven, made in Italy and decorated with mosaic tiles spelling out “Laura” (DiBari’s mom’s name), burns between 800 and 900 degrees and can cook a pizza in about 2 minutes. There are six pies to choose among — and don’t try to make any substitutions: on the menu is a list of rules you must abide by when ordering from DoughNation, including “No, you can’t have extra anything,” “You can’t have half pie this, half pie that,” and “You can’t have it extra crispy.
Where you’ll find it: Wednesday afternoons: Irvington Farmers Market; Friday morning through lunch: Dobbs Ferry Farmers Market; Friday evening: Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Elmsford; Saturday morning through lunch: Hastings Farmers Market
What to order: With a dough that’s crispy and charred on the outside and chewy and light on the inside, you might as well just choose the toppings you like best. You know the pizza’s going to be good.
Who knew? DiBari called the truck The Cookery’s DoughNation because he’s also donating a percentage of his proceeds to a different charity each month. (Get it? Do-nation?) He’s starting off with Pets Alive Westchester in Elmsford.
Follow him: Search Facebook for TheCookery’s DoughNation
Speciality: New Orleans-style comfort food with a side of kitsch kitch
Who’s driving? Chef Johnson — whose real name is Gary Ptak — spent some time in New Orleans and came back with a whole bunch of recipes and a crazy accent with a mixed-up way of pronunc-ikating things. (His motto? “Keepin da funk in da food.”) Now he and his sidekick, Lil’ Johnson, are dishing out Momma’s Creole Lobsta Rolls, Chili Mac, Mac n Cheese Johnson, Johnson Jambalaya and Eggplant Parmajohnson. Chef Johnson, who has a funny habit of referring to himself in the third person, says “Chef Johnson uses all-natural ingredients, no funny business, no kinds of chemicals you can’t pronoun-cikate.”
Where you’ll find it: Johnson Food Truck is permanently parked near the water’s edge at Harbor Island Park in Mamaroneck.
When it’s there: Hours are sporadic; we wouldn’t recommend you count on a weekday lunch. But Chef Johnson says he’s normally there between noon and 5 or 6 p.m.
The setup: There are about a dozen plastic tables on a little deck overlooking the harbor. If you’re lucky, Lil’ Johnson might serve as your waiter.
Who knew? Chef Johnson made a local name for himself on the Sound Shore with his former public access television show “Up in Johnson’s Kitchen” and with his prepared foods, which had been sold at Beer Necessities in New Rochelle.
Raffi’s Hot Grill
Specialty: Breakfast burritos served on rolls from Cassone’s Bakery in Port Chester; grilled chicken burritos and cheese steaks made with fresh ingredients.
Who’s driving? Raffi Benavides, who is from Peru, studied at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in the 1990s. He’s cooked all over the world, including several upscale restaurants in London. He makes everything from scratch‚ including his cheesesteaks — which he says are “the real deal. Not that frozen, chopped stuff.” His signature breakfast burrito comes with two eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, black beans and Frank’s RedHot sauce. He sears the wrap so it has a nice crunch to it.
Where you’ll find it: 55 Jackson Ave., near the Sprain Brook Parkway on and off ramps in Greenburgh.
When it’s there: 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
The setup: He’s in a big parking lot, and there’s one small table with four chairs.
What to order: Go on Fridays, when Raffi — who used to work at Q in Port Chester — makes pulled pork. Another specialty is lomo saltado, which is like a Peruvian take on fajitas without the tortillas: marinated beef is grilled and served with parsley, tomatoes and onions.
Who knew? Raffi has been working at restaurants and on the food truck scene for 20 years. He’s a protege of Frank DeNicola at Frank’s Franks, which used to be on Anderson Hill Road in Rye Brook but is now in Greenwich, Conn.
Follow him: Search Facebook for Mickey’s Oasis, the name of the truck that used to park in Raffi’s spot. He posts updates on that page.
Specialty Wood-fired pizza
Who’s driving? Dean Medico used to own a commercial printing company. Then he sold his business to go to culinary school. After installing an outdoor kitchen — complete with pizza oven — at his home, he decided to take his show on the road: in a 1952 Chevy flatbed truck with a wood-fired oven mounted on the back.
Where you’ll find it: Medico, who lives in White Plains, doesn’t have a permanent spot as of yet; he’s doing street fairs and catering. He plans on traveling about a 50-mile radius from White Plains, and will be at the Pleasantville Music Festival on July 14.
The setup: A standup bar alongside the truck gives pizza-eaters a place to rest their pie plates.
What to order: Pizza, of course! Pizza Luca serves four, and they are all topped with buffalo milk mozzarella. Start with the margherita.
Who knew? Medico can trace his family’s Italian back six generations on his father’s side. Luca is Medico’s son’s name.
Sharion’s D’Lish Dish
Specialty: Farm-to-truck cooking.
Who’s driving? Sharion Waithe gets her ingredients from local farms, including Hemlock Hill in Cortlandt Manor, Hilltop Hanover in Yorktown Heights and the Meadows Farm Stand in Yorktown. The menu includes a cilantro-lime shrimp skewer salad, filet mignon taco and burgers with waffle or sweet potato fries. The packaging and cutlery are compostable, too.
Where you’ll find it: At the intersection of Maple Hill Street and Veteran’s Road in Yorktown.
When it’s there: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The setup: The truck is right next to Jack DeVito Memorial Park, so you can take your meal to the benches there.
What to order: The pulled chicken sandwich. “Every time I serve one, I think ‘I would just love to have one of these right now!’” says Waithe.
Who knew? Waithe is a veteran; she served eight years in the Air Force stationed in Europe and Asia.
Specialty: Homemade Puerto Rican and Dominican ishes.
Who’s Driving: Pedro Rojas. After retiring as a captain in the corrections department of the NYPD, Rojas wanted to open a restaurant. His first location fell through, but he found this truck and moved right in.
Where you’ll find it: Route 303 between Bradley Parkway and Erie Street.
When it’s there: 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and some Saturdays
The set up: There is a small parking lot next to the truck and 3 picnic tables with red umbrellas in front of it.
What to order: Don’t miss the stewed chicken. The plantains—both green and sweet—are also a favorite.
Who knew? Rafaela Gonzales, Rojas’s aunt, is doing the cooking. She learned to cook at her mother’s knee in the DR and has worked at restaurants around the region.
Follow him: On Twitter and Facebook: laisla303
The Back Door Grill
Specialty: Shish kabobs, gyros and Philly Cheesesteaks.
Who’s driving: Steven Zovko Was in the home improvement industry and used to go to the Home Depot in Yonkers all the time. One day he was watching a line form in front of the Frank’s Frank truck and thought “You know that’s not a bad idea.”
Where you’ll find it: Route 45 and Pomona Road near exit 12 off the Palisades.
When it’s there: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The set up: A little counter by the window. He used to put out a picnic table but it kept getting stolen. (!)
What to order: Don’t miss the fries. Zovko cuts them fresh for each order.
Who knew: Zovko used to own a textile manufacturing company in Brooklyn and sold clothes to the likes of Kohl’s, Target and JC Penney’s.
Rules of the road
One reason we may not be seeing more food trucks in our area is that some municipalities put restrictions on licenses.
Port Chester, for example, recently declared Abendroth Avenue and Don Bosco Place off limits to vendors, adding to a list that includes Main Street, Westchester Avenue, Regent Street and other thoroughfares. Village trustees say they want to ease congestion and parking problems on Abendroth and address wider complaints that the mobile vendors pose unfair competition to restaurants.
“I think the towns of Westchester should open up to the idea of food trucks. They’re very particular about how they license,” says Sharion Waithe, who owns Sharion’s D’Lish Dish in Yorktown. She says if licenses were easier to come by, she’d like to have a fleet of trucks on the road.
“We all just want to be part of this (great) thing,” she says. “We all want to save money and we all want to eat good food.”
Leah Rae contributed.