It’s lunchtime in the city, and you need a quick bite to eat. You’re tired of the standard quick-service giants (sometimes, even Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup gets old), but there’s not enough time to sit down at even a casual eatery. What do you do?
The solution may be parked right outside of your office: food trucks, the modern day meals-on-wheels system that has done the impossible by combining next-minute service with gourmet cuisine (or gooey mac ’n’ cheese and thick burgers, depending on the vendor).
Working in the Loop and hungry for lunch? Here’s a mobile meal option for every day of the week!
Monday: The Fat Shallot – This is where you’re going if you want a classic sandwich and French-fries. The Shallot carries a variety of between-bread options, from grilled cheeses to pulled pork. Don’t miss their famous fries layered with spicy sesame sauce. Clark St. and Monroe St.
Tuesday: Yum Dum - No carts required for this dim sum! Yum Dum offers a special $10 meal with six dumplings or two “baowiches” (think “Wow Bao” but in taco form) with a side and drink. The most popular side, kimcheesy balls, feature rice balls bathed in sriracha and cheese and lightly deep-fried. Adams St. and Wacker Dr.
Wednesday: Eastman Egg Company – If it’s one of those days when lunch food just won’t do–when breakfast calls your name–stop by Eastman Egg for homey egg sandwiches. Stick to the standard Doc sandwich, with thick cut bacon, or the more creative Scoundrel with honey mustard on a pretzel bun. LaSalle St. and Adams St.
Thursday: The Happy Lobster - It seems as if Chicago has lobster roll fever. Everywhere you go in the city, there are signs touting places to buy these East Coast delicacies. The Happy Lobster fulfills Chicago’s need with Maine-imported lobster on a hamburger-style bun instead of the traditional roll. Clark St. and Monroe St.
Friday: Tamale Spaceship – If you want something a little more creative, try this Lucha Libre-inspired truck that specializes in tamales of all flavors, from chicken with mole to Peking duck. Clark St. and Monroe St.
Food trucks are also a fresh and fun alternative to traditional catering. Consider one of these options for your next party:
Louie B. Fresh – The roaming version of Little Louie’s in Northbrook, this truck caters plenty of private events every month. Find out when they’re already booked online, and view their extensive menu of American and Mexican bites. Unlike street-side trucks, you can customize the menu for your own event!
Babycakes - Win most creative catering by making it a pancake party! Babycakes offers more than 100 varieties of pancakes, both savory and sweet. Play it safe with chocolate peanut butter cup, or step outside your comfort zone and try chorizo gouda mac or root beer float.
Sweet Ride – Instead of slaving over the oven making 200 cupcakes for your kid’s graduation party, let Sweet Ride serve up cake pops, whoopie pies, cupcakes and puddings straight from their truck.
Chicago plays host to several food truck festivals that provide opportunities for proprietors to feed hungry crowds in one central location. Get your food truck fix at one of these upcoming events festivals:
Daley Plaza festivals: Semi-weekly, March-October; Find full list of dates here.
Willis Tower festivals: Monthly, March-October; Find full list of dates here.
Wondering how to locate the Chicagoland food trucks on your own? These websites will help you track down your favorite mobile eats:
History of Food Trucks in Chicago
Food trucks have been gaining popularity since 2008 when the first “modern-day” truck, Kogi BBQ, hit the road in Los Angeles. They’ve even been the subject of TV shows (“The Great Food Truck Race”) and movies (“Chef”). Since then, cities like Portland and Austin have come to the forefront of the food truck business, but the rest of the U.S. is not far behind. Nationwide, the food truck population increased by almost 200 percent from 2011 to 2013.
Unfortunately, during that time, interested Chicago vendors had some serious barriers preventing them from growing at the same rate. This is not just because of the Chicago winters, which force many trucks to close shop for months at a time, but also due to harsh city regulations. In fact, before 2013, it was illegal to cook food on the city streets, so any existing food trucks had to sell pre-made goods. That law has since been repealed, but food trucks still can’t park within 200 feet of any restaurants—including 7-Eleven and CVS, which can be found on nearly any block. To make matters more difficult, trucks can only stay in any one spot for a maximum of two hours. That doesn’t include the time it takes to set up and close up shop once they get there.
Despite these restrictions, the Chicago area has a diverse population of trucks, with 104 active ones listed on Food Truck Finder. Many owners attribute their continued success to catering gigs like graduation parties, fundraisers and weddings.
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