The Providence Food Truck Scene
When you think of Providence, the first things that come to mind are probably Brown University and the collected works of the Farrelly Brothers. However, over the past few years, Providence has actually become home to a burgeoning community of food trucks. These days, college students and office workers alike have a bevy of lunchtime options to choose from—a welcome sight in this classic American city.
Since decisions can be tough, we at The Manual have picked a few the food trucks in the Providence scene that would be well worth your time to check out.
A staple of the Providence scene, Mijo’s Tacos is the brainchild of Chef Peter Gobin. Gobin is a well-traveled man, having worked in restaurants on both the East and West Coasts, including Los Angeles’ high-class French restaurant Patina. At Patina, Gobin worked his way up to the position of sous chef, and it was during his one and half years of long hours in the kitchen (and living in L.A.) that he fell in love with Mexican cuisine. “A lot my cooks were Mexican, so when they made staff meals, I learned to make salsas from them and tamales from their grandmothers and I was just eating Mexican all the time—taking the leftover meats (like sweetbreads) from the French kitchen and using them in our tacos.” So, after he and his wife moved back to the East Coast and were deciding on a business plan for a new culinary venture, the decision seemed obvious. Gobin’s passion for not just Mexican cooking, but cooking in general is evident in the imagination of all his dishes. Tacos range from local dogfish fish tacos, to tongue or chorizo. Mijo’s Tacos is Gobin’s pride and joy for now, but his dream is to open a classic New England seafood restaurant that the people of Rhode Island can rely on. But, for the amateur Mexican chefs out there, Gobin has some simple points of advice. “All that matters is that you have good tortillas, nail a basic salsa recipe with a lot of dried chiles, and don’t be afraid to try different types of meats from your local butcher.”
One of the newest trucks to the Providence scene, MootzaDeli is founded on a simple, infectious motto: “Fill Yo’ Belly with MootzaDeli.” The man behind the motto is Chef Jeff Schles, originally from Long Island but educated by way of the University of Vermont and the Culinary Institute of America. After working 80-hour weeks at Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Schles and his wife (who hails from the Providence area) decided to buy a house in the city and settle down. After living in the city for a few years, Schles wanted to create a food business where he could “take the sandwiches and items that [he’d] been eating forever” and improve them with his own culinary vision. So last fall, he put the “brick and mortar” designed truck on the road. Each day, Schles serves nine set sandwiches, like The MootzaDeli (mozzarella, prosciutto, pesto, olive tapenade, and artichoke) and The Hasher (potato latke, caramelized shallots, cheddar, mesclun greens, lemon champagne vinaigrette), as well as a variety of daily and weekly specials such as lemon chicken with braised rainbow chard and green onion on ciabatta. Wherever he can, Schles uses local sources for his ingredients such as Rhody Eggs and the Providence Little City Farmer’s Market. Though he acknowledges the difficulties of a crowded market, Schles takes pride in the Providence scene. “All the trucks are amazing, everyone is very friendly, we all work together, and we all serve great, healthy items which are designed and formulated just like a brick and mortar restaurant.”
Owned and operated by Chef Kate Nealis, Noble Knots aims to create “good food that not only lifts spirits, but warms hearts.” How does Nealis achieve this goal? By adhering to a local, sustainable model of responsible cooking—and by serving all her sandwiches on delicious pretzel buns. Chef Nealis grew up in South Philadelphia and brought the tradition of Philly Pretzels with her. In order to meet increasing production demands, she decided to team with nearby Foremost Bakery to provide high-quality pretzel buns. Noble Knots serves a set menu (serious tater tots, pulled pork sandwiches) as well asdaily specials that range from their Royal Bacon Burger (50% beef and 50% bacon!), to po’ boys and chocolate pretzel bread pudding. Nealis has lived in Providence for over a decade and loves the city deeply. Through the growth of the food truck scene, Chef Nealis is “extremely thankful for how open Providence has been” to all of the new and emerging vendors.
With locations in Boston and Rhode Island in general, The Shuckin Truck is not strictly a Providence food truck. The Rhode Island outpost services various in-state locations besides the capital city, such as Newport and Narragansett. No matter where the truck is set up, you are in for fine servings of seafood. The menu changes seasonally, but any customer can rely on a set menu featuring staples like lobster rolls, fish tacos and scallop rolls, as well as a raw bar that dishes out fresh oysters and littleneck clams all sourced directly from the Salt Pond Oyster Company located in Point Judith, Rhode Island. So, while we may be cheating a little bit by including this entry, when we’re talking about a food truck that serves fresh oysters, it’s easy to forgive us.
Rocket Fine Street Food
With an easy to remember name that brings to mind the golden years of America’s “Space Age,” Rocket Fine Street Food is serving up classic American cuisine that is light years away from your standard fare. For instance, the bedrock of their daily menu is made up of beef sliders and their variation on a hot dog, called the Rocket Dog. However, the beef comes from Niman Ranch, which produces hormone and antibiotic free meat, while the hot dogs are Pearl Brand, natural casing all beef frankfurters. And you can add delicious “boosters” to your sliders: Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon, Poblano Farm Sriracha, Baffoni Farm Fried Eggs, and Dave’s Coffee Barbecue sauce. On top of that, there are a variety of “Alternative Sliders,” such as boar sausage, sweet potato and black bean, and fried egg. With this kind of advancement on traditional American cuisine, you’ll agree that, with Rocket, the future is bright.
Mama Kim’s Korean BBQ
Anyone with a friend who went to Brown has probably heard of Mama Kim’s Korean BBQ. This food truck, founded by longtime Rhode Island residents Sook Kim and her son, Hyn, was one of the pioneers of the Providence food truck scene. Their menu touches on all the staples of fine Korean cuisine—beef bulgogi, pork kimchi—in easy to handle slider and wrap forms. In addition, they serve their traditional meats in “Rice Sets,” which includes steamed Korean Rice and house “banchan” (side of kimchi). Employing young chefs from nearby Johnson and Wales, Mama Kim’s, like the rest of the Providence trucks, focuses on keeping things local. This food truck set the bar that all other Providence food trucks have had to meet—and that kind of competition is only a good thing for the residents of the city.
Shuckin Truck, Mijos Tacos, and Rocket Fine Street Food images courtesy of Providence Online and Providence Journal. All others courtesy of vendor.