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With only a griddle and fryer, food trucks churn out some of the most popular food in the Triangle, posting up at breweries and office parks, and leading weekend events that draw diners by the thousands.
In just a decade, these mobile kitchens have changed the way we eat, convincing us that lobster rolls and dumplings made in a truck just might be the best thing we eat all day.
"Food Truck Nation," a year-long study commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation ranked 20 cities on their food truck friendliness.
Raleigh came in at No. 11, lauded for its cheap permitting and cost to operate. But it's knocked for its web of regional bureaucracy, with rules that can change with the city limits.
Portland, Ore., was named the best city for food trucks, thanks to having next-to-no restrictions and very low fees. Denver came in second, followed by sunny Orlando at third.
Despite not really existing as we know them today before 2008, food trucks are a gigantic business today, an industry already bringing in $2.7 billion in sales nationally last year, according to the study.
When the Chamber of Commerce refers to something's "friendliness," it's weighing how many regulations stand in the way of doing business. The study looked at the permitting process and fees, any restrictions localities place on food trucks and the cost of health inspections and other operations.
On the bottom end of the scale of the study's rankings, Boston is named the worst city, largely due to a $17,000 permitting process, compared to Portland's $811. Washington and San Francisco also are listed as troublesome.
Raleigh is in the middle of the pack. Its fees are among the lowest — $848 in total — and its operating costs on the low side of average. There are a lot of restrictions on where a food truck can be, but Raleigh is among the lowest in how far food trucks have to be from brick-and-mortar restaurants or other institutions.
Raleigh requires food trucks to be at least 100 feet from the front of a restaurant, 150 feet from a residence, 15 feet from sidewalks and fire hydrants and 50 feet from food carts. Phoenix's proximity restrictions add up to nearly a half mile.
Still, in the report, an anonymous Raleigh survey respondent said: “Even though we have a statewide license, each county, city and town has its own process, application, and fee for doing business in their area. None of these processes are streamlined or simple.”
Beloved food truck scene
The Triangle's food trucks have become a beloved part of a booming food scene, offering some of the most inventive kitchens in the area, slinging hot dogs and waffles, doughnuts and dumplings wherever they can park. The RDU Mobile Food Association counts around 80 members today.
A region of universities, breweries and office parks have given food trucks ample spots to land.
Some, like MOFU Shoppe and Pie Pushers have leveraged successful food trucks into brick-and-mortar restaurants. MOFU Shoppe comes from the owners of Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck, which won its season of Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race." Cousins Maine Lobster Food Truck, which has trucks around the U.S., will open its a sit-down location in the upcoming Morgan Street Food Hall.
Next month, food truck hub County Fare will open in Durham, aiming to offer a nightly food truck rodeo.
The study didn't treat the Triangle as one metropolitan region, only considering Raleigh's food truck friendliness. It noted that Durham is perhaps an even better locality to have a food truck.
"Of the cities near Raleigh, Durham appears to be the friendliest to food trucks," the study read.
Durham, Raleigh, Cary and other Triangle towns have regular food truck rodeos.
Read the report at foodtrucknation.us.