Everyone agrees that, where food trucks are concerned, nothing’s better than having a whole flock of them at one location. Competition not only improves the quality of the food, it prompts these rolling lunch wagons to lower prices and offer specials, too. One of the city’s best collections is found just south of Wall Street at Hanover Square. In the two blocks running east from the 1870 New York Cotton Exchange (now called India House) lurk over a dozen vans and carts, the success of which owes much to both the lack of cheap cafes in the neighborhood, and the abundance of outdoor seating in the immediate vicinity. The selection of vehicles varies by day, but there are always at least a dozen parked between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Here are the best things sampled on several recent visits. Favorites are marked with an asterisk (*).
Luckyim Thai – In Siamese, "luckyim" means dimple, and this cart specializes in dumplings, fried rice, basil stir-fries, spicy red curry, and noodles, ranging in price from $4 to $9. Shown are the exceptional drunkman noodles: chow-fun with shrimp, garlic, onion, basil, and plenty of hot chiles – a dish originating in Chiang Mai said to be good for a hangover.
*Old Traditional Polish Cuisine – In New York, Polish trucks are scarce as hen’s teeth, though Polish food lends itself well to outdoor vending. This truck offers a handful of set meals gauged to feed large appetites and priced at $10. The hilariously named "lite combo" presents four bulging potato-and-cheese pierogi, pickle spears, slice of rye, and a giant length of grilled kielbasa with a delicious smoky flavor. Engagingly, the truck looks like a cabin in the woods.
Frites ‘N’ Meats – This yellow van does few things, but does them well. Center of attention is a half-pound angus burger grilled over gas flame. There are several configurations available, including the bite back ($9.50), featuring jalapenos, pepper jack, and bacon, but budget diners will go with the stripped-down model, which includes raw onions, tomatoes, baby lettuces, and your choice of bun, a comparative Wall Street bargain at $6.50. Belgian-style fries ($3.50) could be a separate meal.
*Soulaki GR – Sure, the Greek fries dusted with oregano, sea salt, and crumbled feta are grand, but pick instead the bargain ($5) pork pita. In that wonderful sandwich, those same french fries are rolled inside a bouncy flatbread along with smoky pork souvlaki; garlic-flavored yogurt is squirted all over the inside for one of the city’s most pungent taste sensations. This wrap totally rocks!
Langos Truck – What’s a langos? A deep-fried flatbread from Hungary something like a Navajo fry bread, glove-soft and greasy. It’s fried to order, and a limited number of toppings are available, running to chopped ripe bell peppers, cheddar, and sour cream in the "pepper lovers" ($7, shown).
Camion Modern Mexican – You might be a little disappointed to find this truck doesn’t have the "fish dog" advertised on its short menu. As described, it seems like a corn dog made of fish; instead go for the battered-cod tacos, two to an order for $8, served with purple chips and an admirable cilantro-lime mayo. Not bad!
*Schnitzi Schnitzel Bar – At $12, the schnitzel heroes can’t be called cheap, but the humongous length and inclusion of four chicken filets in each almost guarantees you’ll have some left over for a midafternoon snack. The truck is kosher, the array of potential condiments vast (chimichurri sauce recommended), and all schnitzels are fried to order, so your sandwich is handed over piping hot.
Banh Mi Cart – How can three people fit inside this shiny silvery trailer? But they do, turning out 10 Vietnamese sandwiches ranging in price from $6 to $8, plus spring rolls, summer rolls, and iced coffee. The #1 "special baguette" comprising pickled vegetables, pork roll, and cilantro (shown) is the most popular and the cheapest, but a surprise favorite is the version stuffed with canned sardines.
*Desi Express – Of the two vehicular Indian choices, this one’s the best, a deep-red van with a distinct Punjabi bent that offers vegetable and vegetable-meat combos over rice, big feeds as cheap as $7.99. Really, the vegetarian choices are some of the best, as in this pairing of Amritsari chole (Sikh-style chick peas) and baingan bharta (Mughal eggplant stew). There are garnishes galore, including a fresh mint chutney, incendiary bird chiles, yogurt raita, and raw onions.
Tuareg Grill (aka Asian Express) – Don’t bother asking why this cart is called Tuareg Grill, referring to a Sub-Saharan nomadic tribe – while the offerings are confined to pan-Asian stuff. Skip the Japanese selections, in favor of the Chinese stir fries that are the bedrock of the menu. The spicy pork (shown, $8) proved quite voluminous, and every bit as spicy as its Sichuan antecedent – but no Sichuan peppercorns, alas!
Domo Taco – The purview of this greenish van is tacos from a Japanese perspective, in addition to quesadillas, burritos, and bowls. The most interesting shows an additional Middle Eastern bent: Behold the falafel taco, perhaps for the first time in town. The sriracha mayo ramps up the flavor, while the cheese mellows it out, and there’s plenty to chew on in this $3, nearly-a-full-meal wonder.
Mysttik Masaala – Don’t be deterred by the stuttering name or the size of this tiny cart. It turns out some formidable and very spicy chicken curry, which comes on the omnibus platter shown with a choice of vegetable curry, raita, chick peas, and tamarind chutney for $9.