In 2011, the City of Cleveland eased long-standing restrictions that made owning and operating a food truck within city limits nearly impossible. The positive effects of those changes were felt almost immediately. And in the short while since, Cleveland’s food truck scene jumped from being one of the worst around to one of the best.
It’s only natural that a thriving food truck scene would arise given Cleveland’s progressive and robust dining scene. Having a bumper crop of excellent restaurants not only cranks out culinary rock stars, many of whom go on to launch food trucks, but also fuels an ever-growing base of adventurous diners.
Much of the food truck momentum can be credited to chef Chris Hodgson, who burst onto the scene at the outset with his rolling kitchen Dim and Den Sum. His adventurous cuisine and infectious personality not only ignited a trend, it landed him a spot on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, where he almost won.
These days, some two dozen food trucks call Cleveland home, dishing up everything from freshly fried doughnuts and pulled pork sandwiches to crawfish jambalaya and small-batch ice cream. While rigs are always coming and going, some of the most consistent operators (and their Twitter handles) include: Umami Moto (@UmamiMoto), StrEat Mobile Bistro (@streatmobile), The Nosh Box (@theNoshBox), JiBaro Gourmet (@JibaroWorldEats), and Hodgson’s new rig, Hodge Podge (@HodgePodgeTruck).
One of the easiest ways to track down food trucks is to attend Walnut Wednesdays, a weekly food truck roundup that runs May through September in downtown Cleveland (E. 12th and Chester Ave.). At least 10 food trucks sell food 11:30am to 1:30pm, attracting upward of 2,000 diners on a nice day. A nearby park provides live music and plenty of seating.
Pop Up Party at the Plaza, an alfresco happy hour featuring food trucks and beer lands at Perk Plaza (E. 12th and Chester Ave.) third Thursdays 5 to 8pm during the summer. Even the City of Cleveland gets in on the action with Food Truck Friday, which takes place downtown 11am to 2pm on Fridays June to October at Willard Park (601 Lakeside Ave.).
Here are some tips that will help you navigate the food truck scene:
- Check Facebook and Twitter. These are the best sources of information when it comes to seeing which trucks will be where.
- Do your homework. Most trucks post what they’re serving online ahead of time so you can decide long before you walk up to the rig.
- Get there early. Food trucks run out of food all the time.
- Make the rounds before ordering. Lots of trucks mean lots of options.
- Know what you want. Don’t waste everybody’s time by being unprepared.
- Expect to wait. Large crowds mean that diners wait in lines to order, then wait for their food.
- Don’t stray too far. You should be within earshot of the truck while waiting for your food.
- Preorder via email. Most trucks will have your food ready if you email ahead.
- Bring cash. Because cash is king.