Following a national trend, this summer's avalanche of street food -- sold from trucks, carts and stands -- is luring hungry downtowners in St. Paul and Minneapolis out onto the sidewalks. Summers -- and dining while standing -- will never taste the same. A tip: Locations and times change frequently but whereabouts are chronicled on social media outlets, which means it's never been a more delicious time to log into Facebook and Twitter. Here are our favorites:
Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson's pioneering Chef Shack continues to be the genre's gold standard. The pair amassed some serious culinary credentials on the brick-and-mortar side of the business before going mobile, and they have an enviable business model: Work like crazy from May to October, then spend the winter continent-hopping. Those travels are reflected in their condiments station, a fast-food version of the United Nations General Assembly, and its splendors are an accurate preview of coming attractions: bison burgers, a beef tongue taco fit for a monarch, ultra-tricked-out soft-shell crab sandwiches, elaborate farm-fresh salads and ingenious desserts, including what are easily the state's best mini-doughnuts. The affection and skill is palpable in each carefully prepared dish; if it weren't such a chef-driven (literally) operation, Carlson and Summer could have called their three-vehicle mini-empire the Love Shack.
- Mill City Farmers Market (Sat.), Kingfield Farmers Market (Sun.), Fulton Farmers Market (Sat.), St. Paul's Kellogg Blvd./Wabasha St. (Wed.), Mears Park (Thurs.), www.chefshack.org, @chefshack1.
It's easy to find Dandelion Kitchen. Natalie Coleman and Alexander Brand's bright yellow truck is usually parked at the intersection of seasonal ingredients and sandwiches. Case in point: their BLT, a swoon-worthy concoction of Minnesota-made maple-glazed bacon, juicy local tomatoes and avocados, is best washed down with one of their invigorating sodas. No wonder there's always a line.
- Nicollet Mall/7th St., Mpls. (weekdays), Midtown Farmers Market (Sat.), www.dandelionkitchen.com, @dandelionktchn
After just one visit to the insanely popular Smack Shack, a person can't help but ask: Why didn't someone think of this before? Everyone within eyesight of the IDS Tower should be grateful to chef Josh Thoma for unleashing lobster mania on this town. His lobster rolls (and fabulously decadent King roll, which boasts twice as much sweet, succulent meat) are the real thing, and could proudly stand anywhere along the New England coast. A word to the wise: Don't underestimate the allure of a feisty andouille sausage po' boy -- or the thick-cut seasoned fries -- and be prepared to wait.
- Marquette Av. S./7th St., Mpls. (weekdays), 1029 Bar, Mpls. (weekend evenings), www.smack-shack.com, @smack_shack
The co-owners of Hola Arepa, Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen, found inspiration for their teal-green truck while dining at a Venezuelan restaurant in New York City. They zeroed in on arepas, hand-rolled, fresh-baked cornmeal buns the size of English muffins that are split, grilled and filled with a variety of superbly executed taste sensations. These two know how to cook, with combinations that range from slow-roasted, fall-apart pork with black beans and a sprinkling of crumbled Cotija cheese to a cilantro- and pickled onion-studded chicken salad. The chunky guacamole would inspire envy in Mexican cooking authority Rick Bayless, the pickled cabbage coleslaw boasts a snappy vinegar bite, and all meals should be served with the sweet/tart cucumber- and mint-laced lemonade, a nod to Grudem's mixologist days at Bradstreet Craftshouse. Coming soon: a corn-dogged arepa, deep-fried plantains and yuca, and, whether Minnesota is ready for it or not, confit-style guinea pig. "It'll go," Grudem said with a laugh. "It tastes like rabbit."
- Marquette Av. S./9th or 5th St. (weekdays), Uptown Market (Sun.), www.holaarepa.com, @holaarepa
Hot dog stands have been downtown staples for years, but no one does the genre better than Nate Beck. After years of selling local chefs Birkenstock kitchen shoes, the Nate in Natedogs decided to get into the business himself. He's starting small, pulling his compact, custom-made trailer all over town from the back of his 1989 Jeep Cherokee. Beck really gets all the elements right. The delicious all-pork dogs and brats (the brats are hot dog-sized, in a wiener casing) hail from Pastures A Plenty Farm in Kerkhoven, Minn., where the pigs' exceedingly comfortable lives come through in each smoked, uncured bite. He tops them with sweetly caramelized onions, a sharp sauerkraut and a squirt of coarse-ground mustard (handily stored in squeeze bottles holstered on his hip) mixed with Minnesota-brewed beers. Beck frowns upon ketchup, but it's available upon request ("If I have to," reads a sign), an attitude that may change if his experiment in ketchup-making, using Minnesota-made wines, works out. Beverages? Fizzy Spring Grove sodas, bottled in tiny Spring Grove, Minn.
- Hennepin Av. S./4th St., Mpls. (Mon., Wed.), State Capitol (Tues.), St. Paul Farmers Market (Sat.), www.natedogs.com, @nate_dogs
WORLD STREET KITCHEN
The vast majority of food-truck fare enlists some kind of carb as a vehicle for flavor delivery: the taco, the sandwich, the burrito. World Street Kitchen is no exception, but it's exceptional nonetheless. Chef co-owner Sameh Wadi borrows multi-culti ideas from the meals the staff shares at his Saffron Restaurant & Lounge -- and infuses his ever-changing menu with the portable foods he loves to eat -- with results like a panini stuffed with asparagus, leeks and mushrooms or a curried chicken banh mì. But Wadi's leading candidates for the food-truck hall of fame are the rice bowls, filled with seasoned chicken, vegetables, a garden's worth of herbs and a gently poached egg, proving that street food can also be elegant. Dessert? A devine ice cream sandwich composed of tender, dark chocolate cookies filled with salted caramel ice cream.
- Nicollet Mall/5th St., Mpls., (weekdays), www.eatwsk.com, @eatwsk1
128 MOBILE CAFE
Here's everything a person needs to know about the big white 128 Mobile Cafe: The St. Paul restaurant is using it to spread its signature dish to a wider audience. Yes, ultra-tender baby back pork ribs, glazed in a sweet-spicy sauce and just barely clinging to the bone, with a side of expertly prepared slaw. We should all be extremely grateful.
- Kellogg Blvd./Wabasha St., St. Paul (Wed.), 128cafe.net, @128cafe
CUPCAKE ON THE GO
Just as I had passed a cute orange minivan at 10th Street and Nicollet Mall, I heard a woman squeal the word "Frosting!" You'd stop, too, wouldn't you? Turns out the van in question was cupcake on the go, the mobile version of Cupcake, and the featured attraction was 50-cent shots of butter- and sugar-laden vanilla icing, just the right size for those in search of a (really) sweet treat. Owner Kevin Vanderaa, looking for a way to maximize business at his Prospect Park bakery/cafe during Central Corridor light-rail construction hassles, is hitting the streets with a changes-daily rotation of lavishly frosted cupcakes and other baked goodies for dessert-deprived downtowners. Judging from the lines I've witnessed, dessert-deprived downtowners are grateful.
- Nicollet Mall/10th St., Mpls. (weekdays), www.cup-cake.com, @cupcakeonthego
Former Cosmos chef Stephen Trojahn is the creative force behind Gastrotruck, a meals-on-wheels version of the locavore-minded gastropub, minus the beer. The slider, sold in pairs on grilled New French Bakery buns, is the food vehicle of choice, and each one elicits a major case of the You Gotta Taste This: smoked trout blended with wild rice and dressed with red peppers, deliriously tender slow-cooked pork belly topped with butter-braised Swiss chard and tangy pickled daikon, a vegetarian's dream of a barbecued sandwich, done up with black-eyed peas and smoked tempeh. Even the sides -- a wheatberry/feta salad, deluxe dessert bars -- are worth the trip. Ditto the sodas. Seriously, wow.
- Kellogg Blvd./Wabasha St., St. Paul (Wed.), St. Paul Farmers Market (Sat.)., www.gastrotruck.mobi, @gastrotruck
POTTER'S PASTIES & PIES
At Potter's Pasties & Pies, go for Fiona Carter's charming Brit accent, stay for her fiancé Alex Duncan's exceptional savory pasties, single-serving pies filled with all manner of deliciousness, from a potato-carrot-spinach combo tossed in lively red coconut curry sauce to chunks of slow-roasted pork tossed with Granny Smith apples and onions. Duncan, a Barbette and 128 Cafe vet, spent months perfecting his pastry recipe, and the efforts show in each golden, tender bite. Going into the street food business was a no-brainer for the well traveled couple. "In England, food trucks are as old as running water," Carter said. "And pasties are as popular as Subway is here." Want a crack at their chocolate/toffee/banana pie? Arrive early. It sells fast.
- Rice Park, Mears Park ("It depends on where we can find the parking spaces," Carter said), St. Paul (weekdays), @potterspasties
Sandwich lovers will appreciate the gigantic seasoned roast turkey sandwiches at Turkey to Go (weekdays at Nicollet Mall/8th St., Nicollet Mall/6th St., Mpls. and weekends at Cowboy Slim's, Mpls., www.turkeytogo.com, @turkeytogo) and the piled-high pastrami and corned beef at Brothers Deli (weekdays at Nicollet Mall/8th St., Mpls., www.thebrothers deli.com, @brothersdeli). Ditto Fork in the Road (Wed. at Kellogg Blvd./Wabasha Av., Fridays at Mears Park, St. Paul, @forknroadtruck), where co-owners (and social media whizzes) Kari Offerdahl and Amy Frechette skillfully cater to sandwich-craving customers.
Gussied-up tacos, burritos and quesadillas are the name of the game at Vellee Deli (weekdays on Marquette Av. S., Mpls., www.velleedeli.com, @velleedeli) and the tacos you've grown to love at Barrio are available at the Barrio Truck (1st Av. N./4th St., Mpls., www.barrio tequila.com, @barrio_truck). And full-flavored Ethiopian fare -- a subtly spiced curried chicken over rice, stewed veggies over rice with a hot-cha hot sauce -- is what makes She Royal (Sundays at Uptown Market, other locations coming soon, @sheroyalcoco) so seek-it-out special.Coming soon
More trucks are on the way. Ngon Vietnamese Bistro chef/co-owner Hai Truong plans to roll out Didi (www.ngonbistro, @ngonbistro), his two-tone green VW bus, in downtown St. Paul in mid-July, serving caramelized pork sandwiches, taco-style lettuce wraps and pho in ramen-sized cups. Di, by the way, is Vietnamese for go.
When it appears in downtown Minneapolis in the next week or two, The Twisted Sister House of Hunger (houseofhunger.com, @houseofhunger) will focus on smoked-meat sliders, fresh-cut French fries, deep-fried all-beef hot dogs and two desserts: frozen cheesecake on a stick -- produced by Chubby Girl Cheesecakes, which shares the truck's commissary kitchen -- and co-owner Wesley Kaake's mother's chocolate cake recipe.
And when it kicks off next week in downtown Minneapolis (and at its West Bank home base, Nomad World Pub), Mr. Mustachios (@mrmustachios) will concentrate on fresh fish tacos, Belgian frites and burgers simmered in French onion soup. "I wish I could tell it was an old family recipe, but I got it off the Campbell's soup can," said co-owner Kevin Kane. As for the whiskered name, "Part of the shtick is my inability to grow a mustache," he said with a laugh. "I plan to live vicariously."At the markets
Several Minneapolis farmers markets have developed into street-food hot beds, featuring the kind of portable fare that would set new (and much-needed) standards at the Minnesota State Fair.
The graze-and-shop mother ship is the Mill City Farmers Market, where Saturday mornings mean a delectable variety of temptations, including delicate crêpes filled with hyper-seasonal ingredients -- and refreshingly flavored spring waters (above) -- from Crêpes by Spoonriver, apple-filled pancake-popover hybrids at Aunt Else's Æbleskiver, a farm-fresh twist on the Egg McMuffin at Minnesota Valley Organics, jumbo omelets filled with market ingredients at Black Cat Natural Foods, sweet and savory single-serving tarts at Queen of Tarts, spicy dumplings at Curry Lane and, of course, the full complement of goodies at the Chef Shack.
- 2nd St. and Chicago Av. S., Mpls., www.millcityfarmersmarket.org
The Midtown Farmers Market is a Saturday a.m. destination for gourmet hot dogs from the Magic Bus Cafe, filled-to-overflowing steak tacos from Taco Taxi, locavore-inspired breakfasts and lunches via Dandelion Kitchen, hot tamales and hotter coffee from Fireroast Mountain Cafe and newcomer Kabomelette, which, as the name suggests, specializes in inexpensive omelets and kebabs, made to order in a flash.
- Lake St. and 22nd Av. S., Mpls., www.midtownfarmersmarket.org, @midtownfarmmkt
Both the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets keep their south Minneapolis neighborhoods well fed. On Saturdays at Fulton, Big River Pizza cranks out Neapolitan-style pizzas with farm-fresh toppings and Gai Gai Thai specializes in fantastic chicken wings. Chef Shack, too.
On Sundays at Kingfield, Sun Street Breads smothers buttermilk biscuits in zesty pork gravy, Foxy Falafel does gorgeous things with its signature dish (and cranks out smoothies on a showy bicycle-powered blender), Gai Gai Thai comes back for more, Crema Cafe scoops up Sonny's Ice Cream and lines seem to instantly form, with good reason, at the Chef Shack; I mean, have you tried that sweet potato taco?