Perhaps food trucks hit their cultural apogee a few years ago, when Jon Favreau’s Chef was doin’ stuff like this (jeepers), and every food-bro from Brooklyn to L.A. was busy searching out the most bangin’ ethnic flavors. (Cultural appropriation!)
But Cincinnati’s food truck game is still strong -- and growing. Now, whether you work in Blue Ash or spend your days traipsing around Downtown, you can get a totally un-ironic mouthful of deliciousness from one of our many tempting vehicular kitchens.
Some of the food is ethnic, some of it’s confectionary, and some of it’s pure Cincinnati. But it’s all great, and it’s coming to a public space near you.
Note: Food trucks are always an adventure, so if you see a truck and you’ve got the hunger pangs, try it out whether it’s on this list or not.
I took six years of French so today I could confidently tell you "C’est Cheese" means "It’s Cheese." (And you know what? ... I just got the pun. Don't judge.) C’est Cheese is Cincinnati’s most well known food truck, serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, and homemade pickles. Its truck (which you can see in the gallery above) is delightfully designed and impossible to miss.
Get: The Bee Sting -- mozzarella, pepperoni, basil-infused honey on Tuscan pane (bread) with chili-flaked butter.
Food trucks are all about creativity, and it doesn’t get much more creative than a Korean-Mexican fusion. The yellow truck, licked with red and black lettering is a mainstay at all the local festivals, and it’s a favorite stop for those who like things spicy.
Get: Two Korean tacos and mini quesadilla combo.
The empanadas at this green food truck are authentic. You know because Dadnitri Johnson, one of the truck’s proprietors, is from Caracas, Venezuela. And when I say "authentic," I mean super crispy, savory, and delicious. The ultimate -- and some would say, original -- street food.
Get: Spicy Beef -- shredded steak simmered with pepperoncinis and hot cherry peppers.
I’m a sucker for a good catfish po’ boy. And jambalaya. And cheese grits. Actually, if you could just wrap up all New Orleans street food into a doggy bag, I’d happily be on my way. That’s what New Orleans To Go offers: Surprisingly, deliciously authentic New Orleans cuisine. How they create all that delicious creole flavor from a food truck, I’ll never know. Voodoo is my guess.
Get: Catfish po’boy with fries. Yes.
Urban Vistro is the answer to people who say food trucks only serve greasy, inelegant fast food. Not so. The menu here has a 10-oz. New York strip steak next to patty melts and Thai honey ribs. What you might call incongruous, I call genius.
Get: The Chef’s Cubana -- spice capicola with pork and cheese, topped with relish and stone mustard mayo. (Or the meatball stroganoff sandwich... Holy cow. Literally.)
Alabama native Dwan Ward founded Alabama Que in 2008, with the food truck launching in 2014. It wasn’t long before the truck was a hotspot for locals and celebrities alike. Must be the turkey tips, which account for 90 percent of Alabama Que’s business.
Get: Turkey Tips with hot sauce (... I don’t know what they are -- and I didn’t ask. But they’re great).
So... do food carts qualify? I’m gonna say yes. Especially because Kaimelsky’s has some of the best hot dogs in the city. (Note: best hot dogs, not the best coneys. Calm down people.) They have sausages and burgers too, but their Chicago-style dogs are killer. And though I loathe Chicago, I love their dogs, and Kaimelsky’s does them better than 99% of the joints in the city.
Get: Chicago Dog -- Vienna beef natural casing hot dog in a steamed poppy seed bun topped with genuine Chicago condiments (get extra peppers).
For the adventurous hipsters newly populating East Walnut Hills, Fireside Pizza is something of a late-night watering hole with delicious pizza. The wagon takes that formula around Cincinnati, and boy are we glad it does. The pizza is every bit as delicious as the real thing -- fire-grilled New York style with loads of flavor.
Get: Redlegger -- red sauce, fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, red onion, roasted red peppers.
This is a standout food truck, both in terms of its vibrant green paint job and its organic, locally sourced ingredients. The options are light and delicious, perfect for the festival atmosphere, when you don’t want to be loaded down, or a work lunch, when you can't afford to be in a food coma the rest of the day.
Get: Veggie Delight -- onion bun, hummus, mixed greens, tomato, celery, cucumber, fresh herbs.
As I keep telling you, frozen yogurt and soft serve are as Cincinnati as chili and baseball. Better still if Rhino’s froyo and soft serve, together with their 25 different types of toppings, can come to you. (Six different colors of sprinkles!)
Get: Anything and everything. Load that shit up. (But beware, this is the definition of sticker shock.)
The food here is made from scratch using family recipes, resulting in sandwiches that are on point. This is the sort of food you see in magazines and on the Food Network -- mouthwatering BBQ, delicious sausage goetta, marinated flank steak... it’s all here.
Get: OTR Club Sandwich -- sausage goetta sliced and grilled crisply, served with Applewood smoked bacon, cajun mayo, tomato, and topped with a fried egg on a Brioche bun.
The keyword here is variety. Frankly, I don’t know how they cook so many things in such a small space. But they do, and it’s great food. From soups to tacos to flatbreads to sandwiches, they’ve got everything you’ll want -- and more.
Get: Crispy duck taco -- marinated duck breast on tortilla topped with veggies and ginger sauce.
Think Chef's grilled cheese was life changing? Try this. (I like that movie a little too much.) Then, take that Cuban sandwich, turn it up to an 11, and you have Cuban Pete's cubanos. Crispy and delicious, these sandwiches take things you wouldn’t normally think work together (pickles and Swiss...?) and fuse them into a pressed miracle of Cuban culture.
Get: El Cubano -- Bolo ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo, and mustard.
Not all food trucks purvey dubious combinations of various ethnic cuisines. For some, it’s enough to be all American all the time. These guys agree. The menu offers meaty wings, classic burgers, and an array of sandwiches, soups, and salads. Though the food is sometimes multicultural (tzatziki, gumbo, taco salad), Renegade is still quintessentially American grub. And the wings might be the best in town.
Get: Wings. (Pick your poison, but I love the Hot and the Chipotle 562.)
Panino made headlines recently when the proprietors decided to open up a permanent location in OTR. Good for them, but I still love the experience of lining up outside a food truck for some charcuterie that tastes like it should be in a really, really good restaurant... Then devouring it without regard to manners or politeness. (I believe the technical verb is "nom.") Panino’s salami alone gave my vegetarian habit a swift kick in the ass.
Get: Duck Confit.
Cincinnati’s waffle obsession is, by this point, well documented. But Marty’s are different -- not batter-poured, but handcrafted and dough-based just like those originating in Belgium. It makes all the difference, as these waffles are extraordinarily delicious. I recommend the sweet options, but the savory items are just as good.
Get: My personal fav is the tiramisu waffle, but I’d recommend going for one of the seasonal fruit options first.
Can’t find any food tucks around you? Try out these helpful sites: Roaming Hunger, Food Trucks In, and the Cincinnati Food Truck Association. Current locations are often updated on the trucks’ websites, and if all else fails just use Twitter.