In recent years, some of the people bringing the most energy and variety to Nashville’s restaurant scene are those who have chosen not to open one, opting for the more nomadic digs of a food truck.
Five years ago, this was a scene dominated almost exclusively by stationary Hispanic food “trucks” scattered around South Nashville. It was another taco truck, though, that set Nashville on a course to food truck ubiquity in 2008. That’s when Teresa Mason opened the Mas Tacos food truck, mainly serving Five Points as a late-night option.
Trucks such as Latin Wagon and Pizza Buds also began cultivating the late-night crowd. Then, in 2010, two LA transplants moved to Nashville, opened the Grilled Cheeserie, brought creative, high-quality comfort food to the weekday lunch masses — and the floodgates were opened. Suddenly, hot-shot culinarians were eschewing the cost and hassle of finding a structure from which to operate and redefined what Nashvillians’ believed possible of food trucks.
But while Music City diners were swooning, brick-and-mortar restaurants were sweating. A mini political controversy threatened to derail the momentum. But with the help of a food truck-loving pro bono lobbyist, Dennis Alpert, the food truck owners formed an association and reached a compromise that involves fees, a prohibition against food trucks operating within 150 feet of restaurants, and the creation of nine downtown food-truck zones.
“I think we’re becoming normal,” said B.J. Lofback, owner of Riffs Fine Street Food and president of the association. “It’s not a new thing any more. That’s the way we want it.”
Today there are literally dozens of food trucks to choose from in Nashville. A handful of websites, including the Nashville Food Truck Association’s, attempt to aggregate the locations of Nashville’s food trucks day-to-day, but the most reliable sources of information is the trucks’ individual Twitter feeds. But you should also let blind luck play a role: “Everyone wants to know, ‘where are you normally?’” Lofback said. “When your restaurant has wheels, there’s nothing normal about what you do. That’s the magic of food trucks.”
While we encourage you to explore what you can, here are four food trucks worth your time and money to hunt down:
What’s their story: Pretty ladies sell you delicious $3 tacos. Owner Teresa Mason: “We try and keep things very simple and fresh.” Enough said.
What you’re having: Cast iron chicken taco, fried avocado taco and a homemade agua fresca.
Hoss’ Loaded Burgers
What’s their story: A favorite of food writer Charlie Harris of Where The Locals Eat: “Gourmet grass-fed burgers stuffed with no small amount of cheese are the order of the day at Hoss Burgers. The namesake burger (The Hoss) is cooked a perfect medium, stuffed with cheddar cheese (which oozes out the edges) and topped with barbecue sauce, bacon and crispy onions. Food truck fries often disappoint, but the thin, crispy rosemary-parmesan fries retain their texture.”
What you’re having: Hoss Burger and fries.
Riffs Fine Street Food
What’s their story: The defending champ of both the inaugural Battle of the Food Trucks and theNashville Scene‘s writers’ choice for best food truck, Riffs is arguably the most celebrated member of Nashville’s blossoming food truck scene.
What you’re having: Bánh mì, roasted market vegetables and mojito watermelon slices.
Smoke Et Al
What’s their story: “It’s handcrafted. We make everything but the buns,” said Smoke Et Al owner Shane Autry, whose truck serves all-wood charcoal smoked meats from local farms. “We smoke it for 12 hours. We treat it just like we would for competition.”
What you’re having: Hot ribs, fried pickled okra, “Arnie Palmer.”
Photo by Eric Staples