The food truck scene in Chicago has been ever-so-slowly picking up steam over the past few years. Meanwhile, as new food artisans make their Chicago debut on wheels, they've been gradually parking themselves at new brick-and-mortar establishments. So while you twiddle your thumbs waiting for the food truck revolution, there are plenty of places you can go to get a taste of food truck eats in more permanent digs. Here are some top spots.
A few years ago, Flirty Cupcakes was one of the first food trucks to hit the streets, so it's apropos that the mobile cupcakery would be one of the first food trucks to establish a brick-and-mortar location. The space at Flirty Cupcakes Dessert Garage is unique for a bakeshop specializing in cupcakes. It feels like a chic, confectionary garage sale, filled with a whole variety of desserts, good coffee, and even milk shots. The bake shop allows Flirty Cupcakes to expand their repertoire, featuring cupcakes such as the cream cheese- and chocolate-filled McDreamy and the Paradise Island laden with pineapple, rum, and coconut cream cheese frosting. The rest of the menu boasts muffins, pound cakes, brownies, cookies, grown-up pop tarts, and more.
Chicago loves its meat, and when it comes to meaty mobile operations, Schnitzel King reigns supreme. Nowadays you can make your way to Bridgeport to try some schnitzel at their new permanent storefront. Locally sourced meats and vintage family recipes comprise the crux of the operation, helmed by the Schnitzel King himself Greg Burke. Schnitzel sandwiches are the name of the game, served with peppers and onions in a miscellany of meaty varieties, from chicken and pork to unconventional fare like eggplant. Veal schnitzel is available during Oktoberfest season. There's also Polish sausage, beef tri tip, pierogi, potato salad, beef fat fries, and other comfort foods fit for royalty.
Not only are the empanadas at 5411 Empanadas delicious and legit, but they come with a heartwarming story. Originated as a food truck in 2009, 5411 was founded by three friends from Argentina yearning to bring a taste of their homeland to Chicago. Eventually they amassed enough acclaim to open a permanent storefront in Lakeview, with another location on the way for Wicker Park. All empanadas are baked, which makes you feel better about inhaling stuffed hand pies by the bagful. The menu features a mix of traditional empanadas, along with some innovative inventions along the lines of bacon-date-goat cheese, sweet corn, Malbec beef, and ratatouille. For something sweet, try a dulce de leche cheesecake empanada.
From one international hand pie to another, Bridgeport Pasty treads in the traditions of Cornwall, England. Originally enjoyed as convenience foods for laborers and miners, pasties pack a hearty, meaty punch in one convenient, pastry-sheathed package. Inspired by pasty stands in London, Bridgeport Pasty founders Carrie and Jay Sebastian decided to bring the delicacy back to Chicago. They began baking, stuffing, and hitting the streets with their wares. Eventually they decided to open a small storefront as well, to serve as home base for their roster of whimsical pasties. Flavors include Chic-Pot-Pie, the Yooper with beer-marinated beef, the pork- and apple-filled Oinkle, and the steak and Stilton pasty.
The only thing more adorable and delectable than doughnuts is miniature doughnuts heaped with decadent toppings. That's the mantra at Beaver's Coffee + Donuts, a food truck-cum-kiosk at the Chicago French Market. Doughnuts are diminutive, but they're big on flavor, adorned with honey and graham cracker crumbs for the Grandma doughnuts, chocolate sauce and coconut for the Loco Coco batch, and a gooey miscellany of chocolate sauce, marshmallow sauce, and graham crackers for the s'mores. Oh and they also have doughnut milkshakes. Now in addition to getting their doughnut fix streetside, customers can simply swing by Beaver's new doughnut stand in the French Market.
One of the most offbeat permanent spots to arise from the food truck movement is The Garage, the humbly named hub for The Salsa Truck and an incubator for other up-and-coming food trucks. Located in the West Loop, The Garage not only serves as the mothership for The Salsa Truck's signature tacos, quesadillas, and chips, but it provides daily themed menus and/or featured guest food trucks every weekday. Guests queue up for different themed eats, perhaps picking up some salsa and hot sauce from the adjoining retail shop.
Help us keep the lights on by subscribing to Chicago Like a Local. For your efforts, we'll deliver awesome stories (like this one) to your inbox. Do we have a deal?