The 10 Best Food Trucks In Chicago
Chicago would be an ideal city for food trucks to thrive, if not for the reams of red tape proprietors of mobile restaurants have to slice through. Where they, we and proponents of food trucks see as added diversity and depth to Chicago's A-plus restaurant scene, Ald. Tom Tunney (also owner of Ann Sather's restaurants), the Illinois Restaurant Association and their ilk see as unnecessary competition.
But then, Chicagoans have always marked their territory when feeling threatened.
Undaunted, those food truck operators who followed in the wake of pioneers like Matt Maroni and Phillip Foss have not only worked through the Byzantine maze set up by the city, they've thrived on the streets and even established brick and mortar restaurants. Restaurateurs have not ignored this and are jumping on the food truck bandwagon in the hopes one day the city's food truck ordinance will loosen slightly.
When that happens, we'll have these 10 food trucks, and many others, to thank. This is a significant expansion on last year's list; put the two together and you have an idea of the healthy state of Chicago's food truck scene.
The Roost Food Truck (Photo credit: Lisa White/Chicagoist)
The Roost Food Truck
The location of my last corporate job forced me to become a food truck connoisseur (tough life, I know) since it was located near three sad excuses called dining options and one tiny little cafeteria. When you rely on food trucks, you end up finding some incredibly delicious meals and some overpriced mediocre bites at the same time, creating an allegiance and loyal customer base for those trucks that go above and beyond. So much so that I kept up with my favorite food truck long after I left that job, craving the delectable, perfectly fried chicken from The Roost. I attended the Roost’s holiday dinner and I even profiled their storefront that opened earlier this year. I still miss being able to pick up for breakfast their buttery biscuit topped with a slab of crispy chicken and cheese, the perfect hangover food to ever exist, but thankfully I now have options when it comes to getting my chicken fix. Owner Joe Scroggs learned how to fry up chicken from his family in North Carolina and in a city of Northerners with many a mediocre fried bird, his is the real deal. And his Nashville Hot is one of the only truly acceptable versions I’ve found in Chicago. Whether you spot the truck or stop by the restaurant, make sure to grab a handful of napkins and dive into The Roost. — Lisa White
The Salsa Truck
The Salsa Truck has a wide ranging and ever-expanding menu inspired by Mexican street food. A huge selection of house-made salsas, succulent braised meats, beans with tantalizing bits of pork belly, their own chorizo cured with chilis and apple cider vinegar. Plus you can get it ever when not scouting for trucks at their Garage (116 N. Aberdeen St.), which also incubates several other up and coming food trucks. — Melissa McEwen
Husky Hog BBQ
Husky Hog was one of the nascent food trucks I discovered at The Garage. Now they have a brick and mortar location in Bridgeport (335 W. 31st St.), but their truck is still on the road. Either place will serve you up genuine Southerner Joe Wooddel’s genuine Southern-style BBQ. My mouth is watering just thinking about the crispy burnt ends and perfect juicy chicken that’s supposedly injected with butter. The sauces are great too, offering both Memphis and Carolina styles. When he’s not serving Chicago, Joe is contender on the tough competitive BBQ circuit. — Melissa McEwen
One of The Fat Shallot's sandwiches (Image courtesy The Fat Shallot)
The Fat Shallot
Readers screamed until they were hoarse (virtually and literally) when this truck didn’t make the cut on our food trucks list last year, so I made a conscious effort to remedy that. Oh, how right you were, readers. Fat Shallot’s sandwiches are out of this world. I can’t get enough of their Buffalo chicken with its spicy, tangy strips of chicken set on a challah bun and served with a celery salad. This was a life saver during Lagunitas’ beer circus a couple months back. The Fat Shallot also serves a mean BLT, an acceptably gooey grilled cheese sandwich, which is given added texture with the addition of caramelized onions and sautéed spinach nestled between sourdough. Their chicken banh mi sandwiches is one of the best not found on Argyle Street. Don’t hunt down their truck solely for the sammiches. Order some of their fries, tossed in rosemary salt. Or order them topped with truffle aioli or double down and get the spicy sesame fries with sesame aioli and more black sesame seeds than you’ll know what to do with.—Chuck Sudo
The Doughnut Vault
It’s a truck, it’s a van, it’s the Doughnut Vault come to see the light and make a parade path of its confectionery route. Even if you’ve never seen a van as cute as this in your life and never had a salted caramel old fashioned to cut it a bit short, everything about this faux vintage van reminds you of better times you’ve never actually had. I’ve encountered it again and again this summer outside Green Street Smoked Meats, when I’ve arguably eaten enough barbecue and baked beans not to need a strawberry cheesecake doughnut for dessert. But fresh as they are, they’ll keep for breakfast next morning heated up. And the Doughnut Vault coming to you beats standing in line. — Melissa Wiley
Soups In The Loop
Chilly weather is right around the corner (*sob*) and Soups In The Loop yields perhaps the most worthwhile payoff to waiting in line for food once the temperature dips below 50 degrees—or maybe even before that. A rotating cast of hearty characters fills Soups' menu on a day-to-day basis (vegetarian and vegan options are usually available) but I alway go straight for the lobster bisque.— Katie Karpowicz
The Slide Ride
Burgers seem like a fairly obvious food truck menu item but The Slide Ride does them best, in this writer's humble opinion. Don't let the mobility of TSR turn you off, burger snobs, these pint-sized patties are consistently seasoned and cooked to near perfection. If you're looking for recommendations, the Guinness Burger (Angus beef, provolone and Guinness caramelized onions on a sesame bun) has never let me down!— Katie Karpowicz
Pleasant House Bakery
What can I say about the wonderful things Art Jackson and Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson have done with a simple menu of Yorkshire-style meat pies that hasn’t been previously uttered. True success comes to those who work for it and Pleasant House has become a cottage industry for the Jacksons, who are busier than ever between storefronts in Bridgeport and Three Oaks, Michigan, a production facility at the Back of the Yards vertical farm known as The Plant and their truck. Pleasant House’s truck is more roach coach than actual truck, but the pies and specials are made in house and kept warm so they go into your belly with gusto and satisfaction. —Chuck Sudo
(Image courtesy of The Salsa Truck)
It was just a little late at night when I stumbled upon Döner Men’s truck serving up German style kabobs and sausages. The guy in front of me was so enthralled by the made-in-house curry sauce that I thought he might have to change his drawers, so I ordered up a currywurst. The combination of a mild, sliced up brat with the spicy curry sauce really was good. They also offer chicken kabobs and plenty of vegetarian options. — Casey Moffitt
Cupcakes for Courage
There are many cupcake options in the Chicago food truck scene, full of of different creative cakes, frostings, stuffings and toppings. But my favorite option I’ve found so far on four wheels is Cupcakes for Courage. It doesn’t hurt that part of their sales go to great causes as well, with 10% of their proceeds donated to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Ride Janie Ride Foundation. It hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, but I’m pretty sure cupcakes taste even sweeter when supporting a worthy cause. But the charitable aspect is just icing on the cake, the real reason I keep coming back for more are the moist, rich cupcakes in a variety of flavors. If you like creative cupcakes, Cupcakes for Courage has a bevy of options for you to enjoy from their rotating menu. Two of my favorites are the mint chocolate chip, both the dense chocolate cake and the creamy frosting infused with the cool kick of mint, and the chocolate bacon beer cupcake, a oatmeal stout chocolate cake with stout infused Swiss meringue and garnished with stout glazed bacon. The cupcakes are rich and decadent but not heavy or overly sweet, a perfectly balanced sugar rush for your afternoon workday slump. Find their truck out on the streets or hit up their bakery if you are out in Elmhurst. — Lisa White