OP-EDS

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September 22, 2019

Battle of the Food Trucks

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Jessica Xia / The Chicago Maroon

As a first-year, I bought lunch from the food trucks that visit Ellis and University quite a few times. All of the upperclassmen had their own opinions on which food truck is best, but I found that no one had ever made a list of all the options or could give recommendations for more than one or two trucks. Now as a fourth-year, I have made the list I wished I had access to when I first came to campus. These rankings are based solely on the taste of my favorite dish at each truck. The price of a dish as well as any other dishes that the food truck offers are NOT taken into account when deciding where to place a truck in the power rankings. I have, however, included a rough pricing of each dish so you have some idea of what you’re in for. Note that I have not tried every food truck that has visited UChicago, so these rankings cover only the 24 trucks that I have tried. Finally, my opinions heavily favor meat dishes, so please keep that in mind if you are vegetarian or vegan.

$ = <$8                                             $$ = $8–$12                                      $$$ = >$12

24. La Boulangerie – Wisconsin $

La Boulangerie is a French food truck specializing in pastries and sandwiches. One of the employees here recommended that I get any of their sandwich options. I went for the Wisconsin sandwich since it seemed to have interesting filling options such as apple butter, but unfortunately, La Boulangerie shortchanges you severely on these. It’s hard to judge a sandwich that feels like it’s 80 percent bread. 

23. Caponies Express – Panzerotti (basically a calzone) $

Caponies is an Italian food truck that serves Italian comfort food. Overall, it was disappointing. I tried both the deep dish mini pizza and the panzerotti, which is composed of mozzarella, tomato sauce, and pepperoni wrapped in deep fried pizza dough. Both dishes tasted like frozen Italian food one might buy at a grocery store. You can get better Italian food in multiple spots in Hyde Park. I would go to Nella, Pizza Capri, or Leona’s before this truck if I were really craving Italian food. If price did factor into rankings, this truck might place a bit higher as it is very inexpensive.

22. Boss Barbeque – Rib Tips $$

Boss Barbeque serves classic BBQ dishes. I’ve had both the pulled pork sandwich and the rib tips plate. Rib tips are chopped cubes made out of the remaining meat when cutting whole spare pork ribs down into St. Louis cut ribs. Both the rib tips and the pulled pork sandwich were “watery,” which occurs when a failure to seal in the moisture of the meat results in a diluted taste of the meat and the sauce. I love BBQ, but the juiciness of the meat as well as the flavor of the sauce both left a lot to be desired. I’ll admit I’m a tough judge of BBQ since I’ve lived in Kansas City for most of my life and have tried excellent BBQ spots in other major barbeque cities in the U.S., but I could not bring myself to rank this truck any higher. 

21. Pierogi Wagon – Beef Pierogi (add sour cream + bacon) $

There are some die-hard fans of the Pierogi wagon on campus and honestly, it’s not for me. I’ve had both the beef and spinach/cheese pierogies and they were just okay. A pierogi is a Polish dish made by wrapping unleavened dough around different ingredients and then boiling and pan-frying the Polish dumpling. The pierogi at this truck are a bit on the bland side, and nothing really stands out about them. The sour cream and bacon sides definitely help, but not enough to raise it out of the 20s.

20. Haute and Ready – Buffalo Chicken Sandwich $$

Haute and Ready is a sandwich-based food truck that frequently comes to campus, but is inferior to Fat Shallot in taste, texture, and portion size. The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich is the best option here, and it comes with grilled chicken, bleu cheese (I prefer it without), cheddar cheese, and a bed of lettuce and tomato. A fine sandwich, but again, it lives in the giant shadow cast by Fat Shallot’s Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. The latter features fried chicken, a superior bun, delicious aioli, and a far more unique and flavorful buffalo sauce. Haute and Ready would have placed higher if it were not significantly outclassed.

19. Beaver’s Donuts – Small (9) batch of donuts $

Beaver’s Donuts sells donut holes in packs of four, nine, 15, and 35. They have many different toppings ranging from traditional options like chocolate and powdered sugar, to more unique choices like pistachio and cannoli filling. I have a difficult time recommending a topping as personal preference is so varied with such a wide selection, but I tried a s’mores topping that was pretty tasty. The reason this truck is ranked so low is due to the actual donut holes having a lackluster texture and flavor, which is a problem for donut holes in general when compared to regular donuts. The donut holes also quickly become cold, especially in typical Chicago weather, but that might be my fault for not eating them within a minute of getting them. This is another truck I plan to try one or two more times to see if I should bump it up in the ratings based on different toppings.

18. Cajun Connoisseur – Lobster Mac $$$

The Cajun Connoisseur is a seafood food truck. One of their employees recommended that I go for the Lobster Mac n Cheese. The lobster was solid, but the mac n cheese left quite a bit to be desired. The cheese did not have much flavor and the noodles had a texture that was slightly off of what I expected. This truck is on the more expensive side, so I haven’t gone back in a while. I’ll give another dish a try in the future.

17. Mina’s – Chorizo Burrito $

Mina’s is the first of the Mexican food trucks to appear on this list. It’s inexpensive, fast, and tasty, but it doesn’t have anything on its menu that sets it apart and puts it above the other Mexican food trucks. The chorizo is my favorite meat here. 

16. Da Pizza Dude – Pepperoni Pizza $$

Da Pizza Dude serves solid pizzas at a reasonable price. It’s good and I love pizza, but the pizza just isn’t special enough to rank higher. To be a bit more specific, the crust was a bit plain, and even though the sauce and cheese were good, they were nothing to write home about. The pizzas are Neapolitan style, but they lack the extremely noticeable fresh taste of each ingredient that makes this style so beloved. They have a few more adventurous pizzas, like one with arugula and prosciutto, but I liked their classic pepperoni the best. 

15. Aztec Dave’s – Aztec Burrito $$

Aztec Dave’s is a Mexican food truck specializing in tacos and burritos. I know Aztec Dave’s is a favorite of many students, so before you hate me for placing it at No. 15, hear me out. I like Aztec Dave’s a lot, and the Aztec Burrito is a full meal coming with two meats, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and sour cream. If La Patrona and Flying Tacos weren’t on this list then it would probably place higher. As it stands, I just believe there are better options for Mexican food.

14. Dönermen – Currywurst Box $$

Dönermen specializes in German street food. The currywurst box consists of pork sausage, fries, and sauce in a box; what’s not to love? Admittedly, I do feel sluggish the entire rest of the day after eating this heavy dish.

13. La Cocinita – Pork Arepas $$

This is a Latin food truck specializing in Venezuelan dishes, including arepas. For those not familiar with arepas, they’re disks made out of cornmeal that are either stuffed or topped with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. I grew up with my dad making me fresh arepas from mix my grandma sent from Colombia, so my high expectations probably played a large role in keeping this truck out of the top ten. The pork arepas were still delicious though, and if you have not had arepas you should give La Cocinita a try. 

12. Izakaya Yume – Yumerrito $$$

Izakaya Yume serves sushi and “sushirritos” which are essentially sushi burritos, for those not familiar with this fun fusion food. The Yumerrito comes with spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, and green onions. It’s a bit pricey, but that doesn’t play into the rankings. While Izakaya Yume doesn’t crack the top 10, that’s because other options are a bit better, not because I have any complaints about the dish.

11. Yum Dum – Korean Chicken Baowich $$

Yum Dum is an Asian fusion food truck that specializes in dumplings and bao sandwiches. All of the “Baowiches” are great and have a  fantastic, pillowy texture, but the Korean Chicken filling is definitely my favorite. Strangely, the kimchi/cheese/rice balls are what made this truck famous, but I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be. The flavors of these “Kimcheesy rice balls” were muted rather than being the explosion of flavor I hoped for.

10. Lucy’s – Spicy Chicken Sandwich $$

Lucy’s is an American food truck that specializes in burgers, chicken sandwiches, and mac n cheese. While some will swear by the mac n cheese with beef brisket, I recommend the spicy chicken sandwich. This sandwich is enormous, and comes with three pieces of spicy fried chicken inside. Lucy’s would be higher if they used some kind of extra sauce on the chicken sandwich though, as it’s just a bit plain. If you BYOSauce (like some honey mustard) you can definitely bump this truck up a few spots.      

9. Mediterranean Express – Chicken Shawarma + Cajun fries $$

Mediterranean Express is a food truck that serves classic Mediterranean late-night food. All of the main entrees are good, but the fries are incredible. I’m not sure what exactly is in the sauce or seasoning, but I know it’s kind of sweet, salty, and has a tiny bit of heat. The fries are the reason to hit up this food truck, and they’re even better when eaten together with the chicken shawarma.

8. Flying Tacos – Plantain Taco $$

Flying tacos allows you to mix and match different kinds of tacos. The reason this food truck cracked the top 10 is absolutely the plantain taco. The main ingredient in these tacos is maduros (fried sweet plantains) topped with cinnamon, and the taco itself is sweet, savory, and delicious. Good maduros are not readily available in Hyde Park, and if you have not tried fried sweet plantains, then this is a convenient way to do so. Their menu changes often, though, so if the plantain option is not there, you can bump this food truck down a few spots.

7. Shrimp Shack – Jumbo Seasoned Shrimp $$

Shrimp shack serves shrimp in a whole bunch of different ways. I was not sure what to expect from a seafood food truck so far from any ocean, but I was incredibly impressed by some SERIOUSLY flavorful fried shrimp. Probably the most underrated food truck on campus.

6. Lunchbox – Beefy Korean BBQ Rice Box + Egg $$

Lunchbox is a Vietnamese food truck that serves each of their dishes as either a banh mi sandwich, tacos, or a rice box. While all three forms are delicious, I really love the rice box option. The Beefy Korean BBQ includes pickled daikon and carrots, cucumbers, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeños and comes with a slightly spicy garlic mayo and sweet house sauce. The Viet contains delicious grilled pork, but I slightly prefer the Korean BBQ beef. No matter what, top your dish with an egg, it’s so worth it.

5. Fat Shallot – Buffalo Chicken Sandwich $$

Fat Shallot is the king of the sandwich food trucks that roam UChicago. Their buffalo chicken sandwich is absolutely incredible. This sandwich uses fried chicken, blue cheese aioli, shaved celery, and a buffalo sauce that is perfectly tangy and spicy. The brioche bun that the buffalo chicken sandwich comes on compliments the ingredients well and has a nice texture. As a personal touch, I replace the bleu cheese aioli with truffle aioli and it kicks the sandwich up another notch. 

4. Bruges Brothers – Croque Madame $$

Bruges Brothers specializes in thick cut frites (fries) served in a paper cone, and on cold days there is absolutely nothing that hits the spot like this. While all of the original cones are incredible, the Croque Madame is the clear winner for me. With ham, a swiss cheese fondue, hollandaise sauce, and a sunny side up egg, trying this dish is a must. 

3. La Patrona – Al Pastor Burrito $

La Patrona is a Mexican food truck that serves tacos, tortas, and burritos. All of the meat is incredible, but the Pastor is perfectly tender and has a delicious slightly sweet and slightly smoky taste. The burritos and tacos are so good that they made me knock all of the other Mexican food trucks down a few spots. With a burrito for only $7, this truck offers one of the best deals, too.

2. Bob Cha – Pork Belly Burrito $$

Bob Cha is a Korean-Mexican fusion food truck that will always have a long line of students from the medical school. The Pork Belly Burrito is my personal favorite, but a close second is the Spicy Pork Bowl. The rice, egg, and veggies are all delicious, but the meat is the real star here no matter what option you try. 

1. Cheesies – Tenderizer $$

The one true king of UChicago food trucks, Cheesies serves—you guessed it—grilled cheese sandwiches. The Tenderizer has two kinds of cheese, fried chicken tenders, bacon, and Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce on Texas toast with ranch dipping sauce. While it’s probably the least healthy dish on this whole list, it tastes absolutely incredible. The slightly crispy, buttery Texas toast contrasts with the melted cheese for a great texture. The chicken tenders, bacon, barbeque sauce, and ranch flavors hit all at once for a flavor that meets every human need as far as I’m concerned. Cheesies usually will only come to campus on Fridays, but that makes getting the “Cheesies on Ellis” text that much more special.

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