By Eric Ruth and Sydney Kerelo
Ever since humans have been able to simultaneously walk and chew, we’ve loved food that’s on the move.
We started out chasing down the occasional alarmed wildebeest, and soon found ourselves in pursuit of less elusive outdoor fare. Food carts were as common as nervous Christians around the Colosseum of Rome; medieval unpleasantries were mitigated (somewhat) by street vendors hawking meat pies baked right on the cart.
And so, it would roll on, from prairie chuck wagons to bilge-water hot-dog carts, from peanuts to pierogis—even the humble ice cream cone was the brainchild of a savvy street vendor. Food carts helped fuel our economic ambitions and fulfill our desire for fast food at fair prices. That happy dynamic has rumbled through the centuries and onto the streets of Delaware today.
Up and down the state, in parking lots and festival grounds, at gas stations and breweries, brightly colored food trucks have become a symbol and source of inventive cuisine, providing out-of-the-ordinary meal options to frazzled workers with neither time nor inclination to eat at restaurants. In fair weather, Wilmington’s Rodney Square buzzes with happy lunchtime food truck mayhem. At Peco’s Liquors in Penny Hill, the parking lot sizzles all summer at Food Truck Fridays, the trucks’ generators clattering wearily in the hot sun.
“Right now, the scene is very oversaturated,” says Chef Wit Milburn, owner of the Kapow food truck. “It will soon be survival of the fittest. Everyone’s trying to do it.”
And so far, most everyone seems to be doing it pretty well, thanks to consumer mindset that’s been drifting away from sit-down meals and craving more on-the-go options. Sensing the shift—and seeking more independence—more Delaware chefs are deciding to take their acts on the road with food trucks of their own.
That’s the way it was for Steve Ruiz, who started his popular Mojo Loco truck after a decades-long career cooking at some of Wilmington’s top kitchens. When he lost his job after taking time off to tend to his sick mother, he decided to set off on his own. “I started off with a hot dog truck and an idea, and that turned into an explosion,” he says, giving a nod to his mom for fostering his cuisine-spanning inclinations. “My mom was all over the spectrum. She taught me how to do it.”
And he’s never looked back. These days, he’s winning converts every day with his snappy, fresh-as-can-be shrimp tacos and lush steak-and-crab quesadillas.
Many other chefs say they are lured into the business by the thought of a simple, less stressful path to food-industry success. Often, it is anything but.
“I bought a food truck thinking it would be less work than the catering business,” says Melissa Ferraro, chef at Outlandish Catering/Food Truck, and owner of the recently opened Sonora at the David Finney Inn in Old New Castle. “I ended up working harder, working many more hours.”
“Delaware has come a long way in the food truck scene. It’s all about the quality now. If you do quality, then the quantity is right behind.” —PaulLauprasert, KOI on the Go
Her labors are driven by surging demand, fueled by a peculiar business dynamic—a symbiotic relationship between the trucks and businesses in need. At the microbreweries that dot Delaware business parks, food trucks are brought in to provide sustenance to patrons and supplement the charm. At business parks where the big banks have been busy rehabbing offices, Delaware’s food trucks have been serving as lunchtime reinforcements. “That really did a lot,” Ferraro says. “People really made money off that for the past year and a half.”
Local vendors have also thrived by way of cooperation—helping each other in a pinch, and ultimately, banding together to form the “Rolling Revolution,” Delaware’s Mobile Vending and Food Truck Association, which serves as a booking agency of sorts for members. “It’s a tight-knit group,” says Paul Lauprasert, a former food-and-beverage pro now known for the fish tacos he serves at two KOI on the Go trucks.
But perhaps the biggest driver of success is the food — chef-crafted, freshly made dishes that are miles removed from soggy hot dogs and “roach coach” reputations. Today’s trucks brim with farm-fresh ingredients and elevated execution, embracing the same haute-cuisine standards that fine-dining restaurants like to believe is theirs alone.
So, when Ferrara heard about that chef who derided food trucks as “carnival vendors,” she bristled. “The day I read that, I served duck confit tacos on my truck,” Ferraro says. “I was like, ‘Really, dude?’”
The enlightened know the truth: Seriously refined and remarkably affordable food is served up daily from the cramped kitchens inside local food trucks. At Mojo Loco, Ruiz stands ready to knock some socks off with those gooey, lush steak-and-crab quesadillas.
“Delaware has come a long way in the food truck scene,” Lauprasert says. “It’s all about the quality now. If you do quality, then the quantity is right behind it.”
That dynamic is clear to effervescent Chef Javier Quereguan, a restaurant pro who helped run many a corporate kitchen in Delaware, but finally relented to his many fans’ requests that he open a place of his own. At his Doggie Style truck, the tweaked-up Latin-style recipes he concocts with wife Aurea are so unpretentiously artful no local restaurant competitor really compares.
To the people who line up at his truck, that fact is becoming clearer by the day.
“On Facebook, they say, ‘Your chicken and rice is my life,” he says with a twinkle of pride in his eye.
This roving incarnation of Casapulla’s Subs stays mainly down around the beaches but offers real-deal Italian subs, ribeye cheesesteaks, oven-roasted turkey subs and chicken cheesesteaks.
Dan and Megan Hurst have quietly built a frigid-but-refreshing empire out of “New Orleans-style Snoballs,” doused with more than 100 different flavors and offered alongside homemade ice cream sandwiches and other chilly treats.
Thanks to the ambitions of Chef Billy Hayes Jr., this hometown catering company has taken its act on the road, offering gut-busting Polish favorites like house-made kielbasa with kraut and, of course, pierogis. Fans also adore the sweet and hot Italian sausages with peppers and onions and the smoked beef brisket.
Perpetually perky Chef Javier Quereguan and his wife Aurea deliver a hemisphere-spanning mashup of Latin homestyle love doused judiciously with his sassy sauces.
Keep up with the lively eats on Doggie Style’s Facebook page.
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Rob and Erin Bradley opened this Hawaiian shave ice food truck out of a blue Volkswagen bus with a bright glowing sign on top. Located at 36773 Lighthouse Road, it offers delicious flavors like Bahama Mama, Red Velvet Cake and Pina Colada.
Follow the truck on Instagram (@fenwickiceco) for more information.
Owners Petra Heiss and Gisela Grammel (a.k.a. “The Gelato Sisters”) abandoned the corporate hamster wheel and signed up for some serious gelato schooling, resulting in some delectable and enduring favorites, from Oreo and chocolate to wine and blueberry with goat cheese. Folks needing dairy-free or vegan options can dabble in the selection of sorbets.
Up to eight flavors of mac and cheese, ranging from pesto shrimp to bacon cheeseburger are available at Julian’s. Follow the truck around the First State by checking for updates on Facebook.
Dine on some delicious authentic halal as well as Middle Eastern-style kebabs, lamb chops and gyros at this food truck. Check the Facebook page for updates on daily locations.
The omnipresent Chef Wit Milburn (a.k.a. “The Thai Guy”) seems decidedly discontent to relax, opening two restaurants (Ubon Thai, Kapow Kitchen), yet somehow finding time to man his beloved food truck, where he has won many devotees of his “Delaware original” Kimchi Taco and the Kapow Roll, filled with turkey, shrimp, crab and veggies.
Delaware food truck veteran Chef Paul Lauprasert now has two trucks roaming northern Delaware, but the native of Thailand knows not to stray too far from his Asian fusion sweet spot: his ever-popular popular fried fish tacos with a spicy drizzle, and crab cake sandwiches (again, with a spicy edge).
Koi on the Go updates its Facebook page every week with its schedule.
Known for all-natural, smoothies made with real fruit, Maui Wowi does it right with the ever-popular Tropical Sunset or other crowd favorites like the mango-orange, piña colada and the black lava beach. The folks at Maui Wowi serve their own brand of coffee, sourced mainly from Hawaii and roasted exclusively for them in small batches.
After a career cooking at some of Wilmington’s top destinations, Chef Steve Ruiz reaches back to his Latin roots to deliver some of the state’s most inventive and lovingly executed tacos, quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches. Ruiz’s Steak-and-Crab Quesadillas ($12) are very nearly as life-altering as the vibrant and fresh Asian Shrimp Tacos with spicy mayo ($12).
Mojo Loco’s Facebook page updates visitors on its next location.
Three words really say it all: “Authentic Pig Roasts.” That and smoked beef brisket, BBQ chicken, even baby back ribs. Get the latest on all things barbecue from Mr. Bar-b-Que on the Facebook page.
Michigan-born Chef Melissa Ferraro has been working her way into Delawareans’ hearts relentlessly, first with Outlandish Catering, then the Outlandish food truck, and now with her restaurant, Sonora at the David Finney Inn in Old New Castle. One thing stays constant: fans lining up at her truck. Tune into the Facebook page to learn more about the daily eats.
There’s some serious Pittsburghian sandwich sorcery going on here. Consider the curry chicken or the burrito bowls for fare so scrumptious you’ll be raving about it to your friends days later. Check the Facebook and Instagram (@theplumpitfoodtruck) for daily updates.
Helen Houser started her truck with the hope of delivering memories of meals cooked by Polish-American moms, aunts and grandmoms. Her pierogis, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and placki (Polish pancakes) are all scratch-made.
Find out more about this food truck’s stops on its Facebook page.
As Delaware’s uncrowned (but seemingly unchallenged) King of Sausages, Chef Billy Rawstrom of Maiale Deli & Salumeria knows how to make a good thing better. By taking some of the choice bits from his Wilmington shop and launching this porcine-themed truck, then offering breakfast sandwiches and a lunchtime menu full of sausage-centric goodness, he sells visitors in a single bite.
Sassy, slow-smoked Southern barbecue favorites with soul food sides, all served somewhat perilously next to rumbling freight trains and madcap Wal-Mart-bound traffic make Russell’s a must-visit.
Made-to-order donuts have a different sort of magic altogether and are moist, luscious and sinful. They’re especially magical when made with such flair as Sandy Pony delivers. Try a Sea Foam made with honey and coconut shavings or a blueberry pie with graham crackers for a wow-worthy treat.
Specialty cupcakes reign supreme here, but the cannoli cheesecake cups, cookies and seasonal desserts are just as delicious. Try the strawberry shortcake crunch and lemon coconut cream cheese.
Follow the Facebook page for updates on where the food truck will park next.
It’s well worth conquering the beach traffic to hunt down Chef Billy Lucas and his upscale Mexi-comfort food, from his Carne Fries (waffle cut potatoes, beef short rib, queso and salsa) to the ancho-braised Beef Shorty taco (with tomatillo-arbol salsa and pickled red onion), to the improbable Danger Dog, a bacon-wrapped beef hot dog loaded with black beans, cheese, mustard, spicy mayo and cilantro.
The Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese has them lining up, and the Brisket Wrap keeps them coming back at this barbecue-scented Brandywine Hundred regular. Visit the Facebook page for the latest updates on the location and menus.
Co-owner Joe Giubardo roasts three single-origin coffees each day to three different depths of flavor: city plus (dark), city (medium), and cafe (light). “Our customers can choose a single origin or mix and match to create their own blends,” co-owner Mary Giubardo says. Belgian waffles come in three varieties: sweet, savory and sloppy.
Your perceptions of a humble Asian dumpling’s potential will be forever elevated by the sauce-drizzled, supremely savory masterpieces. Also consider the Lo Mein Vegetable Bowl (with choice of chicken, lamb, steak, blackened flounder or tofu), or the chicken Chinese dumplings tossed with fusion sauces that won “Best of Delaware” in 2020.
Notable as one of the few trucks with brick-and-mortar locations as well, Wildwich continues to impress with creative sandwiches like the crab cake sandwich, filled with a scratch-made cake with 100-percent crab meat and special remoulade sauce.
These burgers are big, but not too big to go right on ahead and top them with a crab cake. Go for the “Fat Boy” chicken sandwiches, wings in six styles and the Original Smyrnadelphia, which is surely one of mankind’s most notable innovations. Follow the Facebook and Instagram (@woodysonwheels302) pages to find where the truck will be next.