Food Trucks: Serving up Different Cultures, Cuisine and all To Go

By Nathalia Vélez

It’s spreading all over the country, and now Denver, Colo., has caught it too. It’s food truck fever, and no matter where you go, you can’t escape it. Colorful trucks serving up creative takes on traditional foods from all over the world seem to be everywhere you turn. If the long lines are any clue, Coloradans seem to love them.

Five years ago, street food wasn’t particularly trendy, but television shows like Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” made getting your lunch out of the back of a truck much more appealing. But it’s not enough to buy an old school bus, fit it with a couple grills and start flipping burgers downtown. The food truck culture is all about taking a classic meal, like a sandwich, and making it amazing.

“A lot of food trucks have really awesome food, they’ve stepped up their game,” said Mandy Birk, co-owner of Crock Spot. “And I think people like the convenience of it, that they can just walk right up and get something quick.”

Nvate Food Trucks Crock Spot by Mandy Birk and Route 40 by Felipe Cufre

An example of a dish from the Crock Spot.

Crock Spot, which serves slow-cooked proteins—chicken, duck, turkey or meatballs to name a few—with a choice of rice or barley and sauce, won the Food Truck Challenge on Auraria campus. Birk and Steven Daniels wanted to open a restaurant when they moved to Denver, but decided to start smaller and more mobile with a food truck.

“We just really noticed that there was a big trend, food trucks are pretty trendy, so we decided to go that route first, before we made the big commitment to have a restaurant,” Birk said.

Not all food truck owners intend to one day trade their wheels in for keys to a restaurant. Felipe Cufre, who moved to Colorado from Argentina, has years of experience in the food business. Cufre was in the middle of writing a cookbook when he began his search for Argentinean food in Denver. When he didn’t find much, he decided it was up to him to bring the flavors of his native country to this city and started his truck, Route 40.

“I worked a lot of years in restaurants and hotels in Argentina; I have a lot of experience. And I think a restaurant is too much for me, it’s like you’re married with the business,” Cufre said.

The freedom to operate on his own terms and time attracted Cufre to the idea of a food truck. On bitter snow days, he can leave the truck in the garage and focus on other aspects of his business. Cufre and his partners at Route 40 also cater, and like to hold tastings for weddings during the winter, when street sales are not as strong.

Nvate Food Trucks Crock Spot by Mandy Birk and Route 40 by Felipe Cufre

A Venezuelan-style arepa.

Whether its Argentinean grill, Venezuelan arepas—a type of bread that is made with corn flour that is cooked, split open and filled with meat and other ingredients—or Thai peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Denver eaters don’t seem to be afraid to try anything. Food trucks are a less intimidating way of eating something new, without having to commit to making a reservation at a restaurant you’ve never been to. In a way, food truck fever is also spreading different cultures.

“I think Americans in general are really open for trying something new,” Cufre said.

As trendy as these culinary vehicles are in Denver right now, they’ve been popular in other cities for at least the past three years.

“This is a huge deal in Seattle, Portland, Austin and places like that. So I think Denver is just kind of catching the wave,” Birk said.

Starting late doesn’t mean Denver isn’t doing it right. In addition to Crock Spot and Route 40, popular food trucks line the streets and parks at lunchtime—like Quiero Arepas, Hey PB&J, Manna From Heaven, The Denver Cupcake Truck, Stick it to Me—and more keep popping up every day.

Fresh food cooked to order is another appeal for health-conscious Denverites, who are looking for a good meal, rain or shine. Food trucks tend to use natural ingredients, mixing a homemade quality with gourmet taste.

“In Denver, people love to be outside and don’t mind finding the trucks even in not very nice weather, because people are so outdoorsy and really into eating good food,” Birk said.

Lunch is not to be taken lightly. Instead of eating a grease-dripping burger from a chain, the locals seem to prefer trying something unexpected out of a shiny truck. This trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and if it does, it’s just moving to the next destination.

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