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A Line or Two: Find the Food Trucks

Those of you who work in our two downtowns or other conurbations in the metro have probably gotten used to seeing--and noshing from--our growing population of food trucks. Something like forty of them are serving up an amazing range of delicacies, drinks, and comfort items. Mobile cuisine is here to stay, and thousands are stepping up to enjoy it.

Then there's me, in my second-floor home office in a leafy, very residential Saint Paul neighborhood. We've got squirrels, dog walkers, recycling trucks--but no food trucks nearby. If I am going to eat mobile, I have to be proactive. And, as in so many other life situations in the 21st century, that's where the web and social media come in.

In a recent gathering in the Happy Gnome gastropub with visiting Issue Media Group confounder (and food truck fan) Brian Boyle and some Twin Citians who know their way around food and media, I was pointed to a couple of web sites that keep tabs on our food trucks.

Roaming Hunger is a national site that aggregates Tweets from food trucks. You choose your location from a list that includes 26 large cities ("Minneapolis" stands for both Twin Cities, one notes with a sigh)—plus "Other," which gets you to a truck in Walla Walla, Washington, one in El Paso,  another in Edmonton, and so on. Food truckers like our own Hola Arepa, Foxy Falafel, and Natedogs are, of course, tweeting about their current locations, menus, and upcoming routes, while answering questions; you can click on links to the trucks' web sites too. On an interactive map, you enter your zip code, and current, past, and future food truck locations appear (though so few show up that I'm suspicious about the info-flow here). There's also a button that lets you book a truck for a catering gig.

Local Input

MSP Street Food is a local site that's also based on Twitter; all the trucks the site follows are helpfully displayed on the directory page, and when you click on, say, Neato's Burgers or  Cave Café, you get a map showing the truck's location, a feed of  its most recent tweets, a link to its web site and--a great feature--reviews from the likes of the Heavy Table foodie blog or the Strib's Rick Nelson, where applicable. On the right-hand side, there's another feed (I love that word in this context) of real-time tweets from other trucks.

MSP Street Food's filtered truck-finder function lets you select trucks via criteria like price range and vegetarian/vegan options, then produces a map with the relevant trucks indicated with their own bright little logos.

The only puzzling element of the MSP site is that every single food truck page bears a discouraging message: "[Name of Food Truck] may be closed." Well, sure, but most of them are not.

Conclusions?  MSP's map function wins hands down for completeness. although Roaming Hunger's national focus lets Twin Cities food-truck aficionados compare our offerings with those in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Phoenix...and so on. And now it's time for me to head to Mears Park for lunch alfreso alfoodtruck.

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