For decades, the term "street food" could give you indigestion even without your consuming it: Think sweaty hot dogs, salty pretzels, and greasy lamb that sizzled on a grill for hours. These days, American street food is undergoing a rebirth. French rotisserie (Roli Roti in San Francisco), Vietnamese bánh mì (Nom Nom in Los Angeles), and Gruyère grilled cheese (Austin Daily Press in Austin, Tex.) can all be found at gourmet food trucks, with menu items generally ranging between $3 and $10 apiece.
Midtownlunch.com founder Zach Brooks traces the tipping point to the 2008 launch of Los Angeles Kogi BBQ, which used @kogibbq Twitter updates to reveal its location. But even though epicurean truck mania is crossing into the mainstream, the jury's out on whether it will really catch on. "We don't see any data on it," says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at marketing giant NPD.
Cities such as Chicago, where legislation restricts food trucks for health and sanitary reasons, want to keep mobile eateries off the streets. But if you're living in New York, Portland, Ore., or even Austin, it's hard to resist a meal on wheels, especially since food trucks are "more like a farmers' market experience than a restaurant," says Arjun Sen, president of ZenMango, a restaurant marketing company.
Here we judge 16 food trucks from four regions on their use of social networking and creative marketing and, of course, on their foodie quotient.