By Heather Wagner
If you’re like most Texans, then likely your first experience with food trucks was picking up breakfast tacos from the local taco truck in town. (And if you call them ‘tacos’, then you’re most certainly from ‘round here.)
The best tasting tacos, I’d argue, are those that are made from fresh ingredients, rolled into a homemade tortilla and served hot, all from a restaurant that has wheels. Typically, the taco truck doesn’t travel, so even in a just-woke-up-but-I’m-starving state, I know just where to find the perfect start to my day.
While taco trucks have been around for a while, the history of mobile food trucks dates back to the late 1800s, and it’s no surprise that the original was conceived here in Texas.
Charles Goodnight, often referred to as the “father of the Texas Panhandle” was one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the American West. A former Texas Ranger born in 1836, he owned the first cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle, the JA Ranch.
He helped to create the Goodnight-Loving Trail, which was the route on which he led cattle from Texas into New Mexico and then Colorado.
In 1866, Goodnight converted an army surplus Studebaker wagon to create the first chuckwagon. The wagon served to feed those on the cattle drives, carrying food like black-eyed peas, beans, corn, beef and bison, and spices. It was fully equipped to handle the storage, preparing and cooking of meals.
Another notable figure in the history of mobile kitchens is Walter Scott, who opened his food truck in 1872 outside a local newspaper office in Providence, Rhode Island. He would sell sandwiches, pies and coffee to the journalists and pressmen who had to work late.
Food trucks and carts popped up around larger cities, selling hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and more from the street. While they’ve become a popular trend today, it wasn’t always that way.
City regulations and stationary businesses weren’t always welcoming of the mobile eateries, and for years the food trucks struggled to be able to operate.
By the 1960s, food trucks were a staple at construction sites, where blue-collar workers could grab a quick lunch. Oftentimes, these sites were located too far from regular restaurants, so food trucks were a welcome thing.
The 1970s saw an insurgence of the beloved taco trucks, and breakfast on the run became a treat.
As the years went on, however, food trucks developed a reputation for not being the cleanest or safest place to grab a meal.
Fast forward to 2008, when it all changed.
A marriage between Korean BBQ and Mexican tacos by chef Roy Choi resulted in the Kogi BBQ truck, the mobile restaurant that is credited with starting the craze that changed the food truck industry.
Born out of desire by consumers to experience tasty cuisine at a fair price, food trucks benefited from both the recession and the rise of social media.
There are memes everywhere joking about the need for today’s diners to snap a photo of their dinner to share on social media before digging in, but those posts helped to increase awareness and popularity of the mobile kitchens.
Stepping away from the traditional American fare and Mexican tacos that early trucks provided, modern food trucks began upping the ante, with chefs creating one-of-a-kind dishes and transforming good old standbys into mouth-watering and unique treats.
Everything from gourmet grilled cheeses to tasty cupcakes can be found.
In order to help these business owners be successful, cities are working to revise regulations to allow for their growing popularity. The solution for a lot of metro and surrounding areas, and now beginning in smaller communities is the development of food truck parks.
Food truck parks provide an area where several trucks can set up shop, which has provided a spin on the mall food court, where hungry people can have many options to choose from, without having to go farther than a few feet from their table.
According to Roaming Hunger, based on the number of food trucks per 100,000 people, Austin ranks number 5 in the nation of having the most trucks.
Currently, Austin boasts a fleet of 156 of the mobile eateries.
Torchy’s Tacos was one of the first, and since it first slid open its window for business, the taco trailer has now branched out with several brick-and-mortar locations as well. Whether you visit the mobile version or the stationary version, be ready to wait. Lines are often out the door, and seating is at capacity.
The National Restaurant Association estimates that revenue for US food trucks will reach about $2.7 billion dollars in 2017.
Twitter has played a huge role in promoting the popularity of the trucks. Owners and operators use the social media app to ‘Tweet’ out their location and specials. Former President Barack Obama did his part by tweeting that his favorite food truck to frequent in Washington DC is DC Empanadas.
There’s no doubt that these restaurateurs have tapped into a genre of food that pleases the masses, and luckily, for those of us who live and travel to the Hill Country, the trend is popping up all around us.
The best thing about food trucks, I think, is that they offer everyone the opportunity to sample a huge range of different types of food, and with the advent of food truck parks, a lot of the times you can do it all in one place!
Following, you’ll find just a sampling of the great offerings we have in the Hill Country and what to expect. There are so many more out there!
The Hitch: A Mobile Eatery
312 E Hopkins St
San Marcos, Texas
Located just off the square in San Marcos, The Hitch was the first food truck park in this bustling city. Picnic tables offer plenty of seating and the variety of food will please everyone in your group.
Heavenly Good Eats
Owned by Rachel and Matthew Buchanan, who also own and operate The Leaning Pear in Wimberley, St. Pita’s offers fresh wraps at their unique food truck in downtown San Marcos.
Thomas Suanders, manager of the food truck, said that all of the food is prepared fresh each day in the kitchens of The Leaning Pear, and each dish is made to order on site.
He and Taylor Rich suggested that we try the special the day we visited, the Holy Avocado. They were spot on. The fried avocado wrapped in a fresh pita with crisp romaine lettuce, red onion, jack cheese, spicy sriracha and cool house-made ranch, was surprisingly delightful.
They also offer falafel and a beef and lamb kebab as well as hummus.
Open Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm, the name will draw you in, but the food will make you want to return!
El Sabor de mi Tierra
Owned and operated by Sandra Sarmiento, El Sabor de mi Tierra offers up authentic Columbian food, made fresh on site.
In a world where Tex-Mex rules, it was a nice change from the traditional Mexican dishes we are accustomed to here in Texas.
The menu offers some unique dishes, such as fried yucca, Paisa, Campesina, and Rola. Fried plantains are also served fresh and are light, yet filling.
A variety of homemade sauces come with your dishes, and are delicious.
Open 11am-7pm, Monday-Saturday, this is a must to add to your list.
Opened in June of 2012, chef Wendy Wan and Sous Chef Jacob Booth have been serving up gourmet sandwich and sliders to crowds of hungry people for a while now.
Featuring Porchetta, an Italian pork roast, the popular eatery also serves Asian noodles. They also offer a smoked salmon sandwich on a ciabatta bun, a slider with Porchetta and kimchi, and a three-cheese grilled cheese.
The Patty Wagon
Since 2011, Owner and cook Fred Varela has been making delicious handmade burgers.
Varela offers a variety of burger options, including a mushroom swiss burger and turkey burgers. He also prepares tasty chicken fajitas, supreme nachos, and for the kids, grilled cheese.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 11am-8pm.
Smoked Out Barbecue
Open Monday-Saturday 11am-9pm, this food truck offers “Big Chopped BBQ” sandwiches, your choice of pork or brisket.
Not in the mood for a sandwich? They also serve loaded baked potatoes or cheese fries – with the option to add pork or brisket. Sides include fries, bleu cheese salad, baked beans, and corn on the cob.
The third of four locations for this local family of food trucks, MamboFreeze’s legacy began in 2008 with the original food truck, Mambo Berry.
With over 200 shaved ice flavors, MamboFreeze something for everyone. The vast menu includes Banana Cream Pie, Nutella Cream, Cappuccino, Cake Batter, Tamarind Coconut and Silver Fox flavors, just to name a very few.
What makes them unique, however, is that all of the syrups and cream toppings are homemade, all natural and use pure cane sugar! There are also sugar-free options available.
In addition, they serve Frozen Yogurt made with Austin-based White Mountain yogurt and offer your choice of more than 30 toppings.
Smoothies are another favorite, and are all-natural, made with real fruit and non-fat frozen yogurt.
And if you’re hungry, try their Corn in a Cup or Tamales. Their tamales are vegan and come in three varieties – Mexican Style, Sweet Potato Pecan, and Chipotle Mushroom.
They are open for the season daily, 11am-9m. Visit mambofreeze.com for more information.
128 Guadalupe Street
San Marcos, Texas
The recipe for success for this mother and so partnership comes from the handed-down recipe of Javier Mendez’s grandmother, Magdalena.
Today, Virginia and Javier offer up the tasty treat usually reserved for the Christmas holidays, year round from a small trailer located on Guadalupe Street in San Marcos.
Together, they serve tamales for plates or by the dozen. The tamales are known for their authentic taste, perfectly filled masa, and just-right seasoning.
A favorite is the spicy version, served up with chili con carne. All made from scratch, with family recipes.
They also serve Menudo sometimes – like their Facebook page to find out when, as well as pumpkin empanada, Tamale Frito Pie, and Migas.
Stop by Tues-Sat between 11:30am and 6pm and fill up!
Chunk Deuce BBQ
Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, chicken…all barbecued just right.
People rave about the brisket, but the most notable item on the menu is probably “The Fabe Dawg”.
A hot dog, wrapped in bacon and served topped with sautéed onions, guacamole, chili verde, cheese, AND your choice of pulled pork or chopped brisket? That’s just crazy – and delicious!
Specials get posted on their Facebook page, so like it and follow them!
Hours are Tuesday, 6pm-2:30am, Thursday, noon-6pm, Friday-Saturday, noon-6pm and 10pm-2:30am.
Check them out!
The Food Truck craze is just getting started in Wimberley, where there is only one truck, open just one day a week…for now.
14306 Ranch Road 12
Folks wait all week to get in line to get their taste of Kelly Evers’ award-winning brisket.
Currently only open on Saturdays, Creekside Cookers opens at 11am and routinely sells out of 400 pounds of barbecued goodness by 12:30pm.
There’s good reason; Kelly, who has been on the BBQ competition circuit for about seven years, has won over 25 Grand and Reserve Champion titles, including placing first Brisket at the 2013 San Antonio Rodeo.
He and his wife, Melody, are school teachers by day and barbecue wizards on the weekend.
Using pecan wood and custom built, offset smokers, the duo has won over a lot of people, making them the favorite go-to in the area for barbecue, even after being open for less than a year.
Don’t worry; if you can’t make it in the hour-and-a-half window soon, starting in June, they will be open Wednesday-Saturday. It’s Kelly’s hope that he can make the switch to doing barbecue full-time in the near future.
Creekside Cookers also caters, and has their award-winning rub available for purchase! Visit their website at www.creeksidecookers.com for more information!
Freida’s Sweets and Meats
Tracy Davis, Director of the Texas Game Warden Training Center raves about the food that Nicole Davenport, owner and chef of Freida’s Sweets and Meats provides for their facility.
Based in Jonesboro, Nicole says, “we go where want to go, and cook what we want to cook!”
Davenport made her debut as a chef in a very big way – she was on the hit TV show BBQ pit masters in 2010, participated on the competitive Food Network show, Chopped – Grill Master in 2012.
Since then, she hasn’t stopped cooking.
Freida’s Sweets and Meats use fresh, local produce and meats, with about 85 percent of what they prepare being farm and ranch to table. They cater special events and dinners, using produce that is in season. Their beef is grass fed, and local.
They don’t have a set schedule, so Facebook is the best place to find out where they are – they regularly pop up in Hamilton, Comanche, Waco and beyond, so be on the lookout!
Top choices on the menu include Waygu tacos fresco, penne pasta with Pedersons bacon and sunflower microgreens, a doughnut burger and the pecan smoked brisket salad with Freida dressings.
Her favorite? The pasole with heirloom pork or the smoked pork belly slider.
Nicole is passionate about her cooking; but if she weren’t enjoying that, she’d be playing polo with friends.
Find Freida’s Sweets and Meats on Facebook today and find out where she’ll be!
Saint Jo’s Picnic
658 Main Street
Located in downtown Utopia, the paradise of the hill country, former Austin chef Chris Chism has brought the best of two worlds – the novelty and goodness of the food trucks so popular in Austin, and small town charm.
The laid-back atmosphere welcomes diners Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-8pm with a menu that is mouth-watering.
Gumbo made with shrimp, crab and duck; macaroni and cheese; poblano and pistachio hummus…those will get you started. Texas Muffaletta, Pimento Cheese, and Mexican Press are sandwiches that will delight your palate.
What about Sundays? Well…every Sunday, Chef Chris cooks up some of the best fried chicken in Texas. It’s served starting at noon…but do. not. wait. It only lasts until its gone, and that doesn’t take long!
Spring specials have been added to the menu – check out their Facebook page to see what’s new.
Visit www.saintjospicnic.com and then visit Saint Jo’s Picnic! You will not be disappointed!