Meals on Wheels: Our critics review Orlando's best food trucks 

Mobile eateries have come a long way. We combed bazaars, pods and parking-lot lunch stops - and sampled more than a hundred dishes - to bring you critical reviews of some of Orlando's best food trucks

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5 Gastronomy

@5gastronomy

facebook.com/5gastronomy

5gastronomy.com

The menu looks promising at this sleek, shiny truck, which says it offers innovative menus, seasonal ingredients and “chef driven” food. The day we visited, the options were mostly heavy, meaty and hearty - a lamb meatball sub, a burger, half a fried chicken. Bucking the trend, we selected crispy coconut tofu ($7), which featured wedges of lightly fried (though not quite crispy) tofu, which tasted only mildly of coconut or curry. The jasmine rice cakes served alongside, however, were crisp, buttery and downright decadent. A heaping serving of mac & cheese, made with local ricotta, Gruyere and Parmesan and studded with earthy bits of mushroom ($7), did not disappoint, unlike the crispy fries with herb-and-spice oil ($3), which were about as interesting as the kind you buy frozen in a bag.

Big Bruno's Bites

facebook.com/bigbrunosbites

At first, the menu doesn't really seem all that unusual: A pork egg roll, fries with various toppings, hot dogs, falafel. But then - then! - you get to the specials. A royal red banh mi taco is a hit: succulent little grilled shrimp nestled into a bed of crispy sweet pickled carrots, cabbage slaw and fresh cilantro, topped with sriracha mayo and wrapped in a warm, soft tortilla. It's a surprisingly refreshing interpretation of the classic Vietnamese sub. Falafel, that old warhorse of takeout joints and festival tents, is often dry and hard, but Bruno's is just like it ought to be: crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and served in a pillow of soft pita.

Big Wheel Truck

@bigwheeltruck

facebook.com/bigwheeltruck

bigwheeltruck.com

“It's an honor to have had this spill onto my pants,” I said to my apologetic wife after her failed attempt to feed me a spoonful of creamy chickpea ragoût spiced with ras el hanout. The sauce was a unifying component to Big Wheel's Moroccan-style seared Titusville octopus ($8), so after a customary swipe-and-lick off my pantaloons, followed by a proper tasting of the complexly rich sauce, my focus turned to the octopus. While the cephalopod was a far-too-rubbery chew, that won't stop me from singing the praises of chef Tony Adams' mobile creations. In fact, the truckies I've spoken to all seem to hold Big Wheel in high regard, and the consensus is this conveyance of comestibles is the finest in the city. I can't recall ever enjoying baby artichokes more than I did the crisp pesto-Parmesan numbers ($6.50) done here. Ditto with the grit cakes ($5). The four-cheese-and-chive wedges also came in handy for sponging up leftover chickpea ragoût, but as far as stellar Southern delicacies go, I'd whistle “Dixie” for more duck cracklings ($6) or another taste of the buttermilk biscuits holding slow-roasted Angus short rib ($7.50). Big Wheel's ingenuity isn't confined to the kitchen, either; they've found a way to get around the city's ordinance outlawing tables on a sidewalk - they set up ironing boards instead. Oh snap!

Bistro Babe's Café

@bistrobabescafe

facebook.com/bistrobabescafe

Brenda Brown and Tracy Barks are keeping it classic, as illustrated by their stark-white, no-frills truck, adorned only with a caricature logo of the two chefs. The homemade Bleu & Balsamic chips ($4) started the meal with a crunch, the potatoes heaped with pungent bleu-cheese crumbles and an acidic drizzle of balsamic. After about 10 minutes we got our 4-ounce Bleu Bayou Burger ($5), a juicy, perfectly medium patty sitting on what appeared to be a store-bought bun with a slap of chunky bleu cheese dressing, loaded with crispy bacon and a big panko-breaded onion ring. The Bangin' Shrimp taco ($3) disappointed, with tiny grilled shrimp and a tepid flour tortilla, yet the pineapple-papaya salsa and mango barbecue sauce held their own in spice, an amiable contrast to the cool-and-crisp radicchio slaw.

C&S Brisket Bus

@csbrisketbus

facebook.com/csbrisketbus

Bacon swag: The bus has it and I got to bask in its glory after trying “the Special,” a massive sandwich containing C&S's signature brisket, homemade bacon jam and grilled onions. I wasn't sure at first about the beef and pork combination, but then remembered that cheeseburgers and bacon are good friends and the Special definitely makes all the sense in the world. Another of their menu stars is the Black & Blue, a brisket sandwich served on brioche with bleu cheese and roasted garlic. You'll love it if you want lots of really big, standout flavors that don't overpower each other.

Café Rouge Express

@caferougeexpres

facebook.com/caferougeexpress

The mobile offshoot of the Sanford-based bistro, the Café Rouge Express truck is a British-French mashup with bistro classics right alongside bangers & mash and other U.K. hits. The specialty is fish & chips made with haddock, the traditional catch for the British national dish, and it's well worth ordering. Pass up underseasoned, underwhelming shepherd's pie ($9) and choose a seafood dish - the scallops in leek churrasco sauce ($10) are a bit pricey (you only get three and some greens) but plenty succulent.

Chimi King

11937 S. Orange Blossom Trail

We can thank the Latin club kids on South OBT for spawning the food truck mania in this city. Those old-school “roach coaches” have been feeding late-night revelers for years, but Chimi King may cause a reversal of that cause-and-effect. Eating just one of their Dominican hamburgers ($5) - “chimichurris,” or “chimis” for short - had me wanting to hit the clubs to get my dembow on. Even a stern warning from a Dominican friend of mine (“It'll rip you up,” she said) only served to fuel my desire for the chimi and, dare I say, it's my new burger of choice. I stood on the driveway of Pondtastic Water Garden Store chowing down on that grilled manwich one blustery Friday night wondering why the King doesn't serve it every night (and day) of the week. It's sauced with salsa rosa, crunched with a heap of cabbage and served on crisp pan de agua, but only available in Pondtastic's parking lot Thursdays through Sundays 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. (The chicken version, at the same price, is just as good.) I also sampled the quipes ($2) - the Dominican version of kibbeh - but they don't hold a stick to the chimis. BTW: Chimi King isn't technically a food truck at all, but rather a trailer hitched to a white van. That's the easiest way of differentiating it from the Chimichurri el Primo food truck parked nearby.

The Crooked Spoon Gourmet Food Truck

@thecrookedspn

thecrookedspn.com

To be one of the most lauded and popular trucks in town, the Crooked Spoon keeps a secret ingredient on hand: panache. Sure, the menu is mostly sandwiches and burgers, but add chunky stoneground honey mustard aioli, pineapple relish and candied bacon to a cheeseburger and you've got the 420 ($8.50), a savory treat unworthy of the moniker “food truck fare.” Similarly, the six-cheese mac & cheese ($8.50) is zapped to life by hunks of red and yellow peppers and pushed over the top by aromatic seasoned breadcrumbs. The food moves fast and comes packaged for the walking patron, making the Spoon an easy must-try.

Eclectic Kitchen

@t_eclectic

One of the few trucks where vegans and vegetarians can get their fill, Eclectic Kitchen's southeast Asian-inspired cuisine is fresh and straightforward. Though they occupy a semipermanent spot at the corner of Ferncreek Avenue and Michigan Street, it's best to check ahead on Twitter to make sure they're serving lunch. If they are, count yourself in luck. Vegan spring rolls ($5) sing with the crunch of green papaya and silky marinated tofu; the cucumber relish accompanying grilled chicken satay ($8) is cooling and tempers the soy-heavy peanut sauce. Chicken-basil stir fry ($7) is a favorite, but it sells out quickly (consider yourself warned).

Fantastic Hummus

@fantastichummus

The best Middle Eastern food is a combination of fresh vegetables and lots of spice. Fantastic Hummus serves up of the classics - like spanakopita and shawarma, or, on their menu, “spinach pie” ($2) and “shwerma” ($6). The spinach pie was attractively served open-faced, like a quiche, and the shawarma meat was griddle-cooked and served on a warm pita with a tart yogurt sauce. (Best of all, each had loads of spice.) There are lots of options for vegetarians without having to resort to something fried - although the falafel looked excellent.

Feast Beast

@feastbeastfood

facebook.com/feastbeastfoodtruck

feastbeastfoodtruck.com

Serving classic Brazilian comfort dishes, the Feast Beast's ferocious truck design doesn't upstage the fierceness of the food. The creamy shrimp stew Bobo de Camarao ($8) is a treat, dotted with tiny, tender shrimp, coconut milk, tropical palm oil and just the right amount of acid for balance, served over white rice. Don't miss their signature marinated, grilled chicken hearts ($5), which practically explode in your mouth like little flavor bombs. Feast Beast doesn't neglect the classics, either - Brasileiros are assured of getting their fill of feijoada, cod fritters and pão de queijo no matter what.

Fish Out of Water Sushi Truck

@fishoutofwater8

The prospect of eating raw fish prepared inside a mobile canteen may lead some to think that the wheels are coming off this whole food truck craze, but try telling that to the hordes clamoring for a taste of FOOW's corpulent rolls. Yeah, sriracha and spicy tuna seemed to be the dominant ingredients in most of the rolls and, save for octopus, sashimi was entirely nonexistent, but at least truckies are afforded a full view of sushi chef Al Ruiz (formerly of the Globe and Funky Monkey Wine Co.) doing his thing. If the truck is a-rockin', Ruiz is likely rollin' such creations as the tempura Ring of Fire ($13) and the volcano roll ($12). Spicy tuna and cucumber forms the core of the former, while krab and goat cheese comprise the latter, but both are assaulted with a mess of spicy krab, eel sauce and sriracha. Stellar? Hardly. Satisfying? Absolutely. How FOOW obtained the title of “Floridas No. 1 Sushi Food Truck” is a bit of a mystery, but the dearth of sushi food trucks in the state may have something to do with it (Red Koi in South Florida is the only other one I know of). However, if the title were based on pork potstickers ($6) and avocado fries ($6) alone, it'd be no contest. I loved those avocado fries - restaurants should follow their lead.

The Flattery

@theflattery

facebook.com/theflattery

Classic combos of fresh ingredients, baked on a super-thin multigrain crust that stays crisp even when taken to go, are served searing-hot, melty and big enough for two to share. Flat-Me-Q features shredded chicken breast, cheese, caramelized red onions and apple-coffee BBQ sauce ($8). Say Cheese is for the cheeseheads: goat, mozzarella, fontina, Romano, Asiago and Parmesan sprinkled with herbes de Provence and truffle oil ($7). Save room for dessert - a mini flatbread with Nutella, bananas, thick-cut crispy bacon and white chocolate drizzle ($4).

Fork in the Road

@forkintherdlive

facebook.com/eatforkintheroad

forkintherd.com

Chef Bryce Balluff, veteran of countless upscale restaurant kitchens, takes his show on the road with this mobile gourmet eatery. While we have to give points for ambition, menu items don't always stick the landing - a recent dish of handcut fries topped with fresh mozzarella and a truffled wild-mushroom ragout was rife with so many competing bold flavors that they canceled each other out. The jackfruit BBQ sandwich, with strands of the meaty-textured fruit standing in for animal protein, was drizzled with a blue-cheese cream that clashed with the jackfruit's durian-adjacent aroma. However, the Shorty, a menu standby, is perfectly executed: 72-hour-braised short rib harmonizes with aioli and shaved fennel on toasted baguette. Desserts, like perfect strawberry shortcake and the deep-chocolate “peanut butter cup on steroids,” don't fail to please.

Gastro-Truck

@gastro-truck

facebook.com/thegastrotruck

gastro-truck.com

Gastro-Truck hit the scene last year calling itself “the grilled cheese truck,” but ironically, grilled cheese is the least successful item on the menu. They seem to be moving away from that specialization, and it's a smart move - the naan chicken panini ($8), an open-faced, Indian-inflected grilled flatbread, was studded with chunks of absolutely amazing juicy, spicy roasted chicken thigh, laced with delectably salty bacon aioli, scattered with plump, meaty sundried tomatoes, and crowned with peppery arugula. Total win. The apple harvest grilled cheese ($6.50), though - cheddar, apple and honey on multigrain bread - comprised two slices of warmed-but-not-melted cheese and large chunks of apple between slices of dry, dense multigrain at least an inch thick - difficult to eat, and utterly lacking in the advertised “cheesy goodness.”

Gokudo

@gokudoorlando

facebook.com/gokudoorlando

You won't see the new Gokudo truck at bazaars or pods - the owner, who quit his job to make a go of this truck, sticks to his Hunters Creek spot by day and serves at the food truck stop on 17-92 (next to Tom & Jerry's) by night. His stated ambition, to fuse multi-Asian flavors with Euro and Latin techniques, is evident in the Chinese five-spice tofu tacos ($7), slathered in pico de gallo and herbal aioli, and the specialty “OG” ($10), a buttery Malaysian roti stuffed with marinated steak, shredded red cabbage and parsley, caramelized onions, and drizzled with “citrus yum-yum” sauce, salsa and aioli: savory, salty, greasy-in-a-good-way stoner food of the highest order.

Hard Wok Rock 'N Roll Food Truck

@hardwok

iwannawok.com

Some trucks shoot straight for the overserved beer gut. The friendly cooks at Hard Wok know what a drunk belly wants and fashion each of their rotating rock & roll-themed dishes accordingly - and then pile on the cheese. The (incidentally vegetarian-friendly) Fleetwood Mac & Cheese Eggroll ($5) crams creamy, cheesed-up noodles into a sweet deep-fried pastry shell atop loads of seasoned fries, finished with a mountain of shredded cheese. The cheese-heavy, soupy-thick chicken pot pie Appetite for Destruction ($5) favors ladling the buttery, cream-sauced chicken onto fries instead of into a shell, making the savory-salty hot mess irresistible to your alcohol-addled palate.

KBurgers

@kburgers

kburgers.com

Longtime chef Jeffrey Kerutis brings a little Manhattan to Orlando with breakfast bagel sandwiches like sunshine in your mouth. The Mari sandwich is for cream-cheese lovers ($6) with thick-sliced bacon, eggs the way you like them and whipped schmear on any one of seven different bagel flavors. Every Thursday at the Edgewood Farmer's Market, the KBurgers truck serves up juicy burgers and dogs with a gourmet twist. Locals love the extra juicy Lopez KBurger ($8). Served on a hoagie roll, it drips with sour cream sauce and a little-used, underappreciated sucker-punch ingredient: jalapeño jelly.

Kona Dog

@konadogfl

facebook.com/gokonadog

gokonadog.com

An island-inspired scene first draws you in - a white pooch in a hula skirt, surfboards stuck in the sand - but a look beyond finds limited menu options: three types of hot dogs with mix-and-match toppings. A friendly face swiftly handed out the first combo - spicy sausage, mango fruit sauce, garlic lemon “hula” sauce and yellow mustard - which came tucked inside a soft-and-sweet Hawaiian bun adorned with a silk tropical flower ($4.95). A messy first bite provided a burst of sugar from the mango sauce, but the juicy quarter-pound Sabrett lacked the promised punch of spice. The veggie dog ($4.95) - topped with hot chili sauce, pineapple fruit sauce and mango mustard - showed an effective balance of sweet and spicy, although the lukewarm dog and underwhelming meat-to-bread ratio fell short of the vivacious Kona Dog spirit.

Korean BBQ Taco Box

@koreanbbq_2011

facebook.com/kbbqbox

kbbqbox.com

You never really know for sure what you're going to get with your order from this truck, but whatever they toss in the box to accompany your main dish of choice - soft tacos filled with lightly spiced pork ($6.99), a galbi sub with sweet marinated beef short rib ($7.99) or savory bulgogi with rice ($7.99) are all winners in our book - the variety makes dining here an adventure. Usually you get a piece of peppery, sticky Korean fried chicken, two pieces of fried cheese roll and a bit of egg omelet; occasionally, though, you're treated to a fried Korean meatball, fried tofu or a side of kimchi. A meal from KBBQ Box is a filling, if fattening, splurge.

La Empanada Food Truck

@laempanadatruck

laempanadatruck.com

A joint venture of Black Bean Deli and food blogger Gabrielle Arnold (honestfare.com), La Empanada Truck takes the canny approach of super-specialization. Empanadas (and a side or two) are all they serve - some baked, some fried - filled with a smart mix of classic, sweet, and ever-more-inventive flavor combinations like chicken banh mi, sweet potato-and-chèvre and truffled mac & cheese. We tried picadillo ($3.50), a well-tuned classic: vegetables still tender-crisp within the savory, juicy ground beef enveloped in a crunchy fried pocket, and barbecued chicken and gouda ($3), sweet and sharp at the same time and perfectly gooey. For dessert, a mini dark-chocolate and cranberry pie ($2) evoked a melted Cadbury's Fruit & Nut bar.

Louie's Bistro

@louiesbistro

facebook.com/louiesbistro

Tracking down Louie's Bistro is half the battle, but once you've conquered that, the food is well worth the trouble. Hearty jambalaya ($8) is packed with perfectly tender shrimp and tons of thick-cut andouille. It's topped with crispy fried okra, or a substitute if that veggie's not your thing. “French bistro steak tips” ($8), tender tips in cognac cream gravy over incredibly crispy, twice-fried french fries, topped with chunks of cracked peppercorn, is the ultimate comfort food. Everything's served piping hot, so you know it hasn't been sitting around. The kicker: All entrees come with a drink, so a full, well-executed meal is less than $10 away.

Melissa's Chicken & Waffles

@melissaswaffles

facebook.com/melissaswaffletruck

The loud orange paint job on Melissa's short schoolbus gives fair warning of this truck's personality. A 10-minute wait for our chicken and waffle sandwich ($6.99) landed us with plump, just-out-of-the-fryer chunks of chicken breast and peppery sausage gravy ladled across a massive waffle (pliable, surprisingly easy to manage). The breakfast waffle ($4.99) didn't impress, with a bland-yet-gooey cheese omelet and two slices of could-be-crispier bacon - we recommend dousing with syrup. The s'mores waffle ($4.99) was a delightful and incredibly rich finish, with melted Nutella spread and scorched mini-marshmallows. Warning: Don't expect to look pretty while eating here.

Monsta Lobsta

@monstalobsta

monstalobsta.net

There's nothing quite like a real New England lobster roll - hunks of sweet, fresh lobster meat tossed with just a bit of mayonnaise and loaded into a buttery, toasted hot dog bun. The next-best thing - at least in Central Florida - can be found at this traveling roadside lobster shack, which keeps the lobster roll as basic and authentic as possible. The straight-up version is satisfyingly simple, loaded with big chunks of tender meat ($20 jumbo, $10 half roll), but if you're looking for something a little richer, get a side of Monsta's creamy, smooth lobster bisque ($5). Even better, get them to serve you a lobster roll topped with bisque ($11). To die for.

Peak Season Pops

@peakseasonpops

peakseasonpops.com

Dessert is your reward for still being hungry after devouring fried empanadas and grease-cemented superburgers. Unlike that mozzarella-stick-

marshmallow-fluff sandwich you just ate, the frozen ice treats by Peak Season Pops are a practically guilt-free food truck delight, being made with in-season ingredients and served from a cart not chugging gallons of fuel. All pops are $3, and come in tongue-wagging flavors like hibiscus-raspberry, pineapple-basil and coconut with cinnamon (whose creamy richness is reminiscent of fresh rice pudding). The staff is pleasantly chatty, making Peak Season feel like a friendly neighbor you hope to encounter frequently.

Pop Craft Pops

@popcraftpops

popcraftpops.com

These are the popsicles you dream of making yourself, hoping to come up with interesting ingredient combos that somehow stay balanced. Some are styled after Mexican paletas, with larger pieces of fruit frozen in the ice pops; some are smooth and dairy-based, closer to what we'd think of as a Dreamsicle. The best of the seasonally changing bunch was the blueberry-lemon-basil pop, which featured all three flavors in each bite and disappeared in about two minutes. (Pro tip: Try a pop as a refreshing appetizer for your trip to the trucks instead of relegating them to the dessert-only category.)

SwedeDish

@swededishtruck

facebook.com/swededishfoodtruck

swededishfoodtruck.com/

Despite the critic's credo of sampling, not scarfing, we were powerless in the face of SwedeDish's Scandinavian savories and inhaled every crumb. The traditional dish of Swedish meatballs ($8.50) was topped with creamy gravy and sided with ultra-buttery, paprika-dusted mashed potatoes, warm lingonberry relish and a fragrant cucumber-and-dill pickled salad - and yes, it's a lot better than IKEA's. (Those mashed potatoes are worth seeking out, wherever SwedeDish may be for the day.) The somewhat less well-known but no less traditional Viking Dog ($7.50) is a messy-delicious assemblage of all-beef frank, dill-mayonnaisey crab salad and more of those mashed potatoes, topped with crunchy fried onions and rolled up in a flexible flatbread. Extra napkins advised.

Saigon Sizzle

@saigonsizzle

saigonsizzle.com

Orlando is no stranger to Vietnamese cuisine, so it's nice to have trucks like Saigon Sizzle roving about in case you're nowhere near Colonial Drive and you get a hankering for banh mi. The family-run truck has few surprises, with the smallish menu including plates of vermicelli noodles or rice ($7) topped with signature Vietnamese ingredients like cilantro, cucumber, carrots and your choice of pork, chicken or tofu. The tacos plate ($6 for two) gives you the same protein options, and adds the flourish of a tangy homemade mayonnaise to the crunchy veggies. Service is friendly and generous - you may be treated to a complimentary hot dog-in-a-bun if your wait is too long.

Tastebuds Catering

@tastebuds4you

tastebuds-catering.com

Fresh green and orange hues cover this mobile Latin eatery, indicating the welcoming flavors and customer consideration bursting from within. The ropa vieja tostones ($7 for four) displayed succulent shredded beef atop a crispy fried plantain round dappled with queso blanco, a refreshing bite of chopped cilantro and a side of the cilantro-garlic sauce (also available by the bottle). The piping-hot chicken empanada ($3) leaned toward the Argentine style with its crispy fried-flour outside and a tasty olive-raisin-potato filling. The colossal arepa patty ($6) teemed with the same juicy beef, a mound of shredded sharp cheddar (which, for our liking, could have been melted) and a slight char on the outer edges, adding a smoky crunch.

TreeHouse Truck

@treehousetruck

treehousetruck.com

“Food so good your mom will let you eat it!” (?) is stenciled on the truck's side, but menu items like the Luther ($8), a half-pound bacon cheeseburger between two glazed donuts, are best kept from Mom's sight. Sticky and salty and intensely sweet, the burger is in line with TreeHouse's gut-plunking hearty fare, like the vegetarian French Onion ($7), a free-weight of a sandwich packing a tangy and creamy combo of caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese packed into three slices of Texas toast. Orders are turned around in about 10 minutes - just enough time to psych yourself up for the richness.

The Yum Yum Cupcake Truck

@yumyumtruck_fl

facebook.com/theyumyumtruck

theyumyumcupcaketruck.com

The lively Yum Yum Cupcake Truck exemplifies vintage style, from the truck's shiny aluminum exterior to the crew's red-and-white-striped aprons to the Rat Pack standards playlist. A genial server passed out menus during our 10-minute wait in line. The cupcake of the month, Nannerpants, was an ode to banana cream pie, with a buttery graham-cracker-crust base, fruit-infused cake stuffed with velvety crushed bananas and a just-sweet-enough iced topping. The Salted Caramel (garnished with Peterbrooke's caramel popcorn) lacked real texture variation and the salty-to-sweet ratio we were looking for, but the chocolate cake was extremely moist with a much-appreciated richness. With more than 10 options at $2.50 each, Yum Yum's menu offers something for every kind of sweet tooth.

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