We pulled over with a few of Fort Collins’ top roving restaurateurs to talk summer menus and the key to winning in the walk-up window business.
FOOD TRUCKS TAKE al fresco dining beyond patios and rooftops and into parks, brewery lots, along the river and on the walk back to the office. The Fort Collins fleet is edging 41 registered outdoor trucks and carts—a number city officials expect to soar as summer permits are granted.
There are some successful running themes wheeling around town. There’s the sustainable-farm-fresh-Colorado niche. The barbecue pitmasters, the taco slingers, indulgent kettle corn poppers and ice creamers, the coffee stops, the global creatives. And then there’s the funky, rolling-on-their-own types, like the Mile High Lobster Shack.
All good news for locals, who are eating up the mobile food trend, loving the picnic vibe and the point-n-grab gratification, and washing it all down with NoCo’s current brewery boom. Let’s highlight a few of our faves.
Born from the founder’s experiences abroad and named for the fifth taste—the one beyond sweet, salty, sour and bitter—Umami Mobile Eatery (umamifoodtruck.com) has been around since 2012 under the premise that good food can be healthy and inexpensive. Owner Sara Gilman says the custom-built 1971 Avion trailer’s loyal following rests on a simple menu with universal appeal that includes hits like Asian-style sweet chili-marinated pork (or grilled tofu) tacos and a summer special grilled banh mi. Since a workday hinges heavily on weather and location, social media is a food truck’s best friend. Vendors post daily and regulars follow loyally. “We definitely have some Umami addicts who will stalk us,” says Gilman.
BIGS Meat Wagon (bigsbbqsauce.com) owner Joe McQuain will tell you it’s all about making everything from scratch and treating every guest like family. His famous Sloppy Three-Way Grilled Cheese (ground bacon, beef and pulled pork, sloppy Joe-style) and bacon ice cream earned BIGS the People’s Choice Award at the Taste of Fort Collins.
You can’t skimp. People will know, says John De Los Santos. The Austin, Texas native and CSU alum aimed to fill the breakfast taco void in town when he opened Austin Taco (keeptacosweird.com) in 2015. Fort Collins flocks for their huge build-your-own tacos and the “weird taco,” of the month. “Consistency is the key. Both in your quality of food and the locations where you vend,” he says.
The Goodness (thegoodnesstruck.com) has regulars coming from as far away as Casper, Wyoming for house favorites like the slow-smoked pulled pork melt and the Hog Father, a smoked tenderloin stuffed with Italian sausage and herbs, wrapped in prosciutto. OwnerMichelle Aldrich bought the existing truck when the founders decided to migrate to Canada last November. She works hard to continue their legacy, making sure to only take on events that align with her truck’s capacity. “People are booking trucks for everything these days—reunions, weddings, graduations and parties,” Aldrich says. “You really have to learn what your truck can do.”
Sometimes the truck is the inspiration for an eventual brick-and-mortar destination. Fort Collins’ first 100 percent vegan food truck, The Silver Seed (thegoldleafcollective.com) opened in 2014 with help from a Community Funded campaign. In spring 2017, Taylor Smith took his plant-based dishes tableside with The Gold Leaf Collective, focusing on local-farm-sourced ingredients, while keeping his two food trucks rolling. The Common Link (now The Farmhouse at Jessup Farm) and Waffle Lab also moved into permanent addresses after successful trucking stints.
Other must-hits to put on your summer list: The Sustainable Spoon, a solar-powered truck serving next-level comfort food; Mac’N, a newer-on-the-scene truck with wild twists on mac and cheese (don’t miss the buffalo chicken bleu cheese version); and, of course, the OG food vendor and college rite of passage, the Tumbleweed Gyro Cart. They’ve been filling the late-night Old Town crowd and curbing hangovers since 1999.