Keep on (food) trucking

International flavors are energizing Arizona’s food truck industry. French Vietnamese, Dutch Indonesian, Australian, Puerto Rican, Creole, Cuban, Salvadoran, Mexican, Korean. Many notable chefs are behind the wheel. Foodies are lining up, even in the summer heat.

Expect more flavors to come. Life as a food trucker just got easier with passage of a new state “food truck freedom” law that reduces red tape and restrictions.

A truck owner and state legislator, Rep. Kevin Payne (R-Peoria) pushed for the bill after starting K Star BBQ three years ago. He was surprised at the amount of hassle involved, paying fees and getting special permits in different counties and cities. Signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in May, the law allows for a statewide license from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

It’s one of many laws popping up across the country due to the emerging industry. A national street vending movement is paving the way, challenging outdated regulations that hamper businesses.

Food trucking clearly has moved up from the old “roach” coach. Besides international foods, there are gourmet burgers, pizza, hot dogs, donuts, cookie dough, soul food, Hawaiian food, and specialty coffees. There’s the Maine Lobster Lady truck owner, famous locally for her east coast lobster rolls.

Notable chefs like Adam Allison, owner of the Handlebar Diner in Mesa and Left Coast Burrito Company food truck, and Jennifer Caraway of Joy Bus Diner both won the $10,000 prize on Food Network’s Chopped this year.

Food trucks also are consistent winners at the annual Taco Festival every October at Salt River Fields in Phoenix that features tacos, tequilas, and chihuahua pageants, said organizer David Tyda who produces a variety of food festivals statewide.

“When a food trucker wins a contest against classically trained chefs, it tells you something,” Tyda said.  

When he put on the “world’s first” taco festival in Phoenix in 2010, food trucks were rare. Today, it’s not unusual to have 60 or 70 food trucks at an annual food event like Street Eats Food Truck Festival in Phoenix, he said.

Currently, there are 175 food trucks registered in Arizona. While not everyone can survive this rolling industry, there’s no shortage of replacements, said Nick Helm, the Food Truck Junkie, a voice for the local industry and guide for consumers who has 4,400 followers on Instagram.

“I believe that for every food truck that goes out of business, we seem to get two or more in its place,” said Helm, of Chandler. “These trucks are coming out every month and bringing new ideas and concepts we haven’t seen before.”

A food truck business is similar to running a restaurant with truck maintenance. Personality and showmanship are key, he said.  

“It takes making a dish look good coming out of the window, learning how to prep, and be a sous chef, which can be especially hard in the summer when it’s triple digits,” Helm said.

Finding food trucks and festivals is easy by going online to sites like Food Truck Junkie, Food Truck Familia, Ride and Dine, and Arizona Feastivals also hosts three food truck events every weekend in Gilbert, Mesa, and Queen Creek.

Victoria Harker

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