The trusted food-truck formula of offering fast, filling, and affordable food is just a starting point—today's vendors stand out by marketing via Twitter, operating 24/7, and even cooking with gourmet techniques. This month's Vendys—the Oscars of street vendors—will honor New York's finest food trucks. But as our obsession with street food grows, mobile chefs nationwide have earned culinary star status among their city's foodies.
1. New York
It's not easy being one of the 3,100 food vendors on the streets of New York. They're held to the same health-code standards as restaurants, and the same fine—$15.8 million total in 2008 and 2009 (though less than $1 million has been paid). Still, trucks such as Vendy-winning Souvlaki GR soldier on, serving authentic Greek fare (try the pork pita souvlaki) to Manhattan's hungry masses.
2. Portland, Oregon
Food trucks aren't going anywhere in Portland—literally. Almost all of the city's street-food facilities are stationary, with several clustered in semipermanent locations called "pods." Another common theme: Thai food, which is served by 15% of the city's 610 street vendors. Try Nong's Khao Man Gai for a tasty Thai take on this classic Chinese chicken dish.
The Texas capital's food-truck scene has adapted to the city's fun-loving ways. Mike Krell of austinfoodcarts.com says sales regularly spike in March thanks to SXSW, and more than 90% of the city's 2,500 vendors operate during the late, and liquor-soaked, hours of the night. But those with a more sophisticated palate needn't worry: gourmet spots, such as Bryce Gilmore's Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, abound as well.
4. Los Angeles
Here's one more reason to celebrate Twitter: since 2008, the social-networking service has enabled 15% of the city's 2,000 street-food sellers to market their culinary goods to local food-truck aficionados. Chef Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ may have earned a cool $2 million during the truck's first year, but it's his 88,000 followers who are driving his business today.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.