With options like escargot, crème brûlée, and sustainably harvested fish tacos, New York City street food has come a long way from pretzels and knishes.
With thousands of food trucks proliferating on New York streets, they've also found themselves embroiled in a food fight with City Hall -- a fight with deep roots in Big Apple history.
In the last several years, food trucks have gone from novelties to urban fixtures. The phenomenon of haute casual food was popularized with television shows like The Great Food Truck Race and further legitimized with food trucks' inclusion into books like Zagat's 2011 New York City Restaurants guide.
It was amazing to see how a small collection of trucks captured people's imagination, David Weber told the International Business Times. Weber is the President of the NYC Food Truck Association (NYCFTA), a founding member of the Rickshaw Dumplings trucks, and author of the upcoming tome The Food Truck Handbook.
Weber uses phrases like culinary incubators, discriminating public, and differentiated branded food, to describe food trucks' boom in popularity.
To underscore their popularity -- and as an indicator of the tech savvy of truck operators -- the combined amount of Twitter followers for NYCFTA members is greater than those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The NYCFTA formed in January and acts as both public liaison and advocate while reinventing food truck vending in a way that is beneficial to New Yorkers, New York City, food truck entrepreneurs, and their patrons.
It's often said that food trucks are a fad from the West Coast that took a road trip East over the last five years, but Weber said he cringes every time he hears that.
I think about it all the time, he admitted. It's like 'Ahh, the West beat us!' but it's not true.
He argued that food trucks are part of a much larger evolution of the New York City social fabric.
We've had street vendors for hundreds of years, but the mainstream media picked up on the Kogi Truck out West at this perfect moment in history, Weber explained. Twitter was on the rise and people were figuring out how to monetize Twitter and here was an example of how someone could channel this new social media into a money-making opportunity.
Weber noted that the modern New York food truck is a descendent of the late 19th century's ubiquitious pushcart.
When Scribner's Monthly profiled The Street Vendors of New York in 1870, it highlighted a curious cast of picturesque immigrant street merchants of the humbler class engaged in tedious labor in the ghettoes of lower Manhattan.
By the end of the 19th century, so-called pushcart street markets rose to popularity and in 1936, New York's Commissioner of Markets, William Fellowes Morgan Jr,. proudly reported the successful conversion of the pushcart peddler to a small merchant with self-respect and banking relations.
Daniel M. Bluestone notes in the Journal of Urban History that this announcement by Morgan was just the latest approach in a decades-old effort by various civic, political, and business interests to conquer the 'pushcart evil,' regulate street commerce, and extend Progressive Era crusades for a beautiful, clean, and efficient city.
Fast-forward 75 years and a new breed of street vendors faces many of the same problems.
You gotta have balls, Frankie, the owner of the Cupcake Crew food truck, told the International Business Times. Cause it's a gamble every day.
Frankie said he gets about six tickets a week, but I fight 'em as best I can.
Frankie said the police monitor Twitter to find out where the trucks will be in order to shut them down.
One cop even came up to me one day and said, 'What's the matter Frankie? Forgot to get on Twitter this morning?'
Every day he has a Plan B or a safe spot in case the so-called peddler squad comes calling.
One NYPD officer, who asked to remain unnamed, admitted that he was a frequent customer at the food trucks, but declined to comment on the metered parking regulations.
Dennis Kum, owner of Big D's Grub Truck, said choosing a spot is a matter of trial and error.
I try a spot out once a week for three or four weeks and see if it works.
As a rule of thumb, you don't want to go to close to another hot food truck and never park in front of a restaurant, he said. Most people play by the rules, but they are a few a-holes out there.
Kum thinks a new law should be passed to allow food trucks five hours to park in metered parking. These days, he has to park his truck at its location by 7:30 a.m. just to secure a spot - and his spots rotate around the city from Monday to Friday.
The act of selling street food isn't easy. Staffing a truck requires entrepreneurs to navigate a daunting and expensive process of certification. Then, to begin selling food cooked in a truck, one must possess a vendor license - and there are nearly as many people on the waiting list as there are permits available.
New York City grants 3,000 year-round permits and 1,000 additional seasonal permits for the summer months.
With up to 4,000 food-slinging four-wheelers on city streets from May through September (including about 75 branded new wave food trucks), age-old issues of congestion and aesthetics arise.
Summer is when all the food truck drama happens, Weber said.
NYCFTA is fighting the No Vending from Metered Parking law enforced in May after a ruling by the New York State Supreme Court.
As it stands, the food trucks are subject to daily closures by the police when they park in metered areas. Because the demand for mobile food options is heaviest in central business districts like Midtown and Lower Manhattan, where parking is metered, NYCFTA members' revenues have dropped from 30 percent to 70 percent since the new interpretation of the 1965 law went into effect, according to the organization. It argues that street food is bought, but not resold; therefore it's not a commodity and shouldn't be interpreted as such.
NYCFTA argues that food trucks generate tax revenue, boost tourism, and act as incubators for up-and-coming culinary talent. Of the 28 members of NYCFTA, Weber claims 11 have or are in the process of opening brick and mortar establishments.
So how does NYCFTA plan to fight the current legislation? In an odd twist of fate, the organization is reappropriating an idea used to marginalize pushcarts nearly 100 years ago.
In 1913, New York City officials designated specific areas as pushcart markets where street vendors could shelter from police sweeps. In their heyday in the 1930s, some sixty markets operated around the city.
As NYCFTA fights the metered parking code, it's also working to establish a series of vending lots where gastronomes of the grab-and-go sort can frequent their truck of choice.
Today's food truck vendors may have changed the battle, but the battle ground remains the same.
CLICK HERE for a look at some of NYC's famous food trucks.