Chicago's Food Truck Frenzy
Chicago has an amazing food and restaurant scene – we are undoubtedly a world-class city in terms of our culinary offerings for residents and visitors. However, Chicago does make a habit of passing some baffling legislation in this area. Remember the foie gras ban? (Apparently California is going through this now. Sorry, guys!)
When I went to Austin last year to visit a good friend, I realized how much was missing from my life: food trucks! I ate breakfast tacos, kebabs, brisket tacos, cake pops, shrimp tacos… and then I went back for the genius culinary creation that is FRIED AVOCADO tacos. Chicago has long had standing ordinances making it pretty much impossible for food trucks to exist. In recent years, savvy entrepreneurs have gotten around some of this by preparing the food off-site and selling it from the trucks. Some seriously awesome eats have come from these wheels – Southern Mac & Cheese, Haute Sausage and Flirty Cupcakes are all staples in my book.
Wednesday, however, was a huge leap forward in terms of getting us up to par – though still pretty heavily regulated, Chicago passed an ordinance that allows food trucks to prepare on board. This means taco trucks are just around the corner, guys! Fried avocado tacos! You have no idea. I’ve been jipped all these years and I am hell bent on making up for it as soon as humanly possible.
Though they’ve won the battle, the food trucks have yet to win the war. Being able to cook on board is a huge coup, but there’s a few frustrating provisions that came along with this, most notably that a truck can’t be parked within 200 feet of an operating restaurant. There are provisions for dedicated truck stands in some key neighborhoods: Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North, Near West, West Town and the Loop. But outside of that, if you’re hoping to get your paws on some late night grub, that’s going to mean walking a bit in areas heavily populated with restaurants. The restaurants argue that they’re paying taxes, so they shouldn’t have food trucks leeching off of their foot traffic. But duh, it’s a totally different experience. If I’m dressed up to go out to dinner on Hubbard Street and there’s a falafel truck hanging out outside, I’m not about to ditch my plans for a nice evening complete with an air conditioning, seating, service and bathrooms for a quick pita. It’s a totally different experience, and its disappointing that Chicago restaurants aren’t more supportive of the community as a whole.
Alderman John Arena helpfully threw out arguably the best metaphor of all time on this topic, stating, "The brick and mortar restaurant lobby got ahold of (the plan) and it was stuffed with protectionism and baked in the oven of paranoia.”
Stuffed and baked as the plan may be, I’m personally pretty excited for this step towards righteousness… bring on the tacos.