The aftermath of a night parade last Carnival season found our group of revelers outside the Kingpin Bar not ready to go home, definitely ready to eat and mulling which nearby restaurants were still open.
That's when the Taceaux Loceaux (@TLNola) food truck pulled up. A spontaneous cheer arose, and a few minutes later we were eating tacos filled with crusty, juicy brisket, thin coins of fresh radish and dashes of crema. It was exactly what the post-parade moment required, and this year similar scenes should be more common thanks to a thriving new crop of food trucks.
These homegrown enterprises tend to specialize with short menus of inexpensive, distinctive dishes, and they augur a delicious improvement for Mardi Gras street food. Finding the good stuff still isn't always easy, however.
City Hall awards prime spots along New Orleans parade routes to vendors through an annual lottery system. Somehow, most of the winners each year are those garish carny carts selling Polish sausage, fried dough and the like, and that remains the case this year too.
La Cocinita (www.lacocinitafoodtruck.com; @LaCocinita) is the only example of a new-generation New Orleans food truck to score an actual parade lottery spot this year. You'll find this bright red truck in the CBD at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Gravier Street for the parades, serving its iterations of South American street food. Pulled pork, a slice of hard Spanish chorizo, bits of queso fresco and pickled onions fill Venezuelan choripan sliders, for instance, or revelers can get roasted beets and black beans stuffed into arepas, which are dense, griddle-crisped cakes made from white cornmeal.
During the parades, more trucks will be parking near friendly bars or in other pre-arranged spots. Without a lottery-awarded spot, vendors must stay at least one block off parade routes, and websites and Twitter feeds are the best ways to track them down.
The prize is usually worth the hunt. For instance, the Fat Falafel (www.thefatfalafeltruck.com, @fatfalafel), new to the scene since November, is slinging some of the best falafel in town. These crunchy, herb-laced orbs are either stuffed into pita along with grilled eggplant and crisp fries or loaded into generous paper platters with beet and carrot slaw, smoky hummus and a bracing side of zhug, a thick, green Israeli hot sauce.
Though the Foodie Call (@FoodieCallNOLA) truck is short on visual appeal, its crew makes the type of food you might find at a spiffy gastropub — boudin patties with biscuits and white gravy, duck empanadas and poutine, an especially gooey version of cheese fries with roast beef debris. Meanwhile, NOLA Girl Food Truck (@NOLAGirlFood) functions like a rolling, modern New Orleans soul kitchen, with bowls of Creole gumbo, stuffed bell peppers and a surprisingly light grilled eggplant and fresh spinach po-boy.
There's been some debate lately about just where food trucks belong as City Hall mulls regulatory changes. For Carnival revelers who aren't ready to settle for carny cart chicken on a stick, the answer probably is: The closer, the better.