Eight Great Street-Food Vendors in New York City

Street food is as fundamental and occasionally controversial an aspect of city living as Woody Allen or the Yankees.
nyc street food

The El Peluche truck.

From Melanie Griffith’s scrappy businesswoman in Working Girl, who falls for Harrison Ford because he eats a hot dog as messily as anyone else, to Mickey Rourke’s small-time shyster in The Pope of Greenwich Village, who calls a crony a “wackadoo” for ordering from a cart, people in this city have strong opinions about street food—as fundamental and occasionally controversial an aspect of New York life as Woody Allen or the Yankees. In the October issue of Gourmet, some of our favorite chefs revealed their go-to street-food vendors. Here are eight more that are sure to dazzle locals and visitors alike.

1. El Peluche

Deep in the heart of Dominican El Alto, almost under the shadows of the rickety elevated 1 train, rain or shine, you’ll find the El Peluche truck. You can get your basic fritura, your chicharrónes, your pasteles—but what you really want is the chimichurri. And no, we don’t mean the Argentinean parsley-garlic sauce, wonderful as it is; a true chimichurri is a Dominican hamburger of coarsely chopped beef served with a tangy mayonnaise-ketchup sauce and plenty of shredded cabbage, tomato, and onion on a soft, pillowy roll. Which might lead some to say that it’s not just in baseball where Dominicans know how to improve on the original. Tenth Ave. and 204th St., Manhattan

2. Hallo Berlin German Food Stand

You’ll find the hot dog, the city’s signature street food, sold on virtually every corner; but for the best wurst, head directly to Rolf Babiel’s “German soul food” cart. Babiel, who immigrated to the United States from East Germany in 1980 and has been selling sausages on the city’s streets ever since, was the winner of the inaugural Vendy awards back in 2005, and his panoply of sausages has a loyal following amongst locals and tourists alike. Lines are so long and lively that the odds are good you’ll end up interviewed by a Japanese television crew or have your flirtations with other queuers immortalized on Twitter while you wait. For the uninitiated, there’s a cheat sheet likening the various selections to cars—we’re particularly fond of the Mercedes (Bratwurst) and Porsche (Berliner Currywurst). Fifth Ave. at 54th St., Manhattan (212-333-2372; halloberlinrestaurant.com)

3. BBQ Kebabs

Follow the smoke past the string of fruit and vegetable vendors peddling their wares along the gray curves of the Manhattan Bridge to a humble kebab cart, marked simply BBQ, where skewers of chicken, sweet potato, fish ball, and beef sizzle over hot coals. Skip them—that’s right, skip them all—and go straight for the sweet, juicy lamb kebab, dusted with cumin seed, hot red chile, and the faintest trace of ginger. One taste, and you’ll be transported to Xinjiang, in western China, where lamb preparation is a true art form. And at just $1 a skewer, you can stay transported for a long time indeed. Division St. and Forsyth St., Manhattan

4. Pizzamoto Brooklyn

We knew it was just a matter of time before the foodiest of the five boroughs came up with a mobile wood-fired brick-oven pizzeria. But we could barely have dreamt that the final product would be this good. Given the meticulously sourced ingredients—“00” flour, San Marzano tomatoes, wild Sicilian oregano, and local mozzarella—perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. You’ll wait a minimum of 15 minutes for a classic Margherita, seamlessly rendered down to the basil sprigs, sea salt, and olive oil bedecking the burnished, speckled crust—but it’s worth every salivating second of anticipation. Saturdays at Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene; Sundays at Brooklyn Flea in Dumbo (917-873-4175; pizzamotobklyn.com)

5. Red Hook Lobster Pound

This cart isn’t exactly a one-meal wonder, but it might as well be: We have yet to see a single patron place an order for claws; potato salad and corn on the cob, while decent, are chorus liners whose sole goal is to make the star of the show shine even brighter. And what a star it is, from the soft top-split J.J. Nissen bun, buttered and toasted on the outside for maximum texture, to the sweet lobster salad with chopped celery, minced chives, and the barest hint of homemade mayonnaise. It’s certainly not the cheapest street food we’ve ever eaten, but it just might be the most seductive. Saturdays at Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene; Sundays at Brooklyn Flea in DUMBO (646-326-7650; redhooklobsterpound.com)

6. Red Hook Ball Fields Vendors and Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies

A Brooklyn tradition since 1974, the vendors at these green ball fields in rough-and-tumble Red Hook—a number of whom have been there since the very beginning—have seen their stars, and prices, rise steadily over the ensuing decades. Old-timers are known to grumble that the quality has gone down over the years, but that’s nostalgia talking: The tacos, aguas frescas, ceviche, elotes, and pupusas, just to name a few, continue to make these soccer fields a one-stop shop for the greatest pan-Latin feast in the five boroughs. And while you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to sample that most tantalizing of neologisms, the Swingle (a frozen chocolate-covered miniature Key lime pie on a stick) from nearby Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. Red Hook Ball Fields, near the corner of Bay St. and Clinton St.; Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, 204 Van Dyke Street (stevesauthentic.com; Twitter: @keylimepie)

7. The King of Falafel & Shawarma

It may seem de trop to head out to a grocery store parking lot in Astoria, Queens when there’s decent falafel to be had all over Manhattan, but this enclave of the city’s most international borough has good reason to be proud of its self-proclaimed royalty. The falafel and shawarma are both excellent, but it’s the chicken sandwich, a robust pita filled with moist chicken and savory nuggets of sour dill and pickled beet in addition to the usual shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, yogurt sauce, and hot sauce, that will have you happily and hungrily reverse-commuting for the foreseeable future. 30th Street and Broadway, Astoria (718-838-8029; thekingfalafel.com; Twitter: @kingfalafel)

8. Big Gay Ice Cream Truck

Certain things have a way of walking straight into the Zeitgeist, and this truck, run by perhaps the friendliest street vendor of all time, has done just that. Doug Quint operates a different Mr. Softee truck on every run, supplanting—and subverting—the familiar logos with his own, rainbow-colored ice cream cone (and in the process selling almost as many t-shirts as he does servings of ice cream). But more to the point, he’s managed to liberate soft-serve ice cream from the preconceived limitations of its genre: Try a dusting of wasabi pea dust over vanilla, or a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt on chocolate. And be sure to sample a cartwheel, an ice cream sandwich made à la minute by gently pressing ice cream and the topping of the day (caramelized bacon, anyone?) between two cracker-thin chocolate wafers. Locations vary (biggayicecreamtruck.com; Twitter: @biggayicecream)

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