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Meals on wheels: Food trucks are rolling across Florida

Winter Park Fish Co
Upscale and quick, Winter Park Fish Co. takes its food on the road.

Food trucks are rolling across Florida this year spreading joy, wasabi and taco sauce and spilling crepes, arepas and pad Thai across a hungry new millennium.

The modern food truck is not a sign of hard times, but a hearty bite of an alternative menu. The trucks underscore an emerging truth of 21st century dining: Good food, lusty and hand-made, trumps decor and formality. The informality of standing in line to eat in a park or a parking lot add authenticity and no-fuss fun, emphasizing that food comes first.

In a tough dining market, a movable kitchen with no rent, no dining room and no waiters appeals to high-end chefs and ethnic cooks looking for independence and imaginative customers.

Even on paper plates, though, sushi, ceviche and overstuffed burritos sell for $5 to $15, a step up from hot dog and ice cream prices.

A handy alternative trucker can reinvent an old step-van or school bus for $20,000 to $30,000; a smart custom rig kitted out with ovens, refrigerators, triple sinks and on-board power can cost $150,000 to $200,000.

Today, south Florida has the widest menu with several food truck rallies and rodeos every week. Orlando has almost as many trucks and events. Tampa truckers are slowly reaching critical mass with a 12-truck roundup in tony Hyde Park that led mayor Bob Buckhorn to sponsor a food truck fiesta to show his downtown can be hip too.


Freshley's Cafe in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood serves sandwiches and multiethnic tacos out of an Airstream. [Photo: Lara Cerri/Tampa Bay Times]

Food Truck Sampler

» Red Koi, Coral Gables — The burgundy and pink Red Koi, a mobile spinoff of a Thai and sushi lounge in Coral Gables, serves up south Florida fusion munchies like fried wontons with guava jelly and cream cheese cheekily called "Wontonamera."

» Winter Park Fish Co., Winter Park — Some traditional restaurateurs oppose trucks; George Vogelbacher, the grand eminence behind Le Cordon Bleu, isn't one of them. He runs Winter Park Fish Co., a rolling outpost to reach new markets.

» Brick & Fire, Orlando — Brick & Fire takes its pizza oven on the road.

» Audrey's Punk Kitchen, Orlando — Audrey's Punk Kitchen serves up vegan goodies with all manner of empanadas, curries, jerk and cheesesteaks in between.

» Fat Tortillas, Tampa — Serious newcomers include fish-taco maven Glenn Nagle, a veteran exec who started Fat Tortillas last year after months of Food Network dreams and hard business plans.

» Bus'In Your Chops, Jacksonville — Offerings range from corned beef empanadas to pineapple fritters.

» Nosh Truck, Naples — Chef Scott Sopher (ex Cin-Cin, Olio) cruises southwest Florida with Korean BBQ sliders.