Food trucks are no longer the last-resort option of the weary student. The food truck has become a diverse, portable restaurant with highly trained chefs producing seriously quality food to go. Nowhere are the changing of the culinary tides more obvious than in the Windy City. Effectively outlawed until only recently, Chicago's best food trucks have been playing catch-up with the rest of the United States. Today, the city's chefs-on-wheels bring innovative street cuisine to an unprecedented gastronomic level, allowing hungry diners to soak up the boho chic of the Second City while enjoying restaurant-standard dishes at fast-food prices. Unpretentious, multi-cultural and indulgent, the food trucks of Chicago are the new way to dine – and these five trucks are five of the best ways for foodies to sample Chi-town's delights.
The Fat Shallot is all about classic sandwiches with an haute cuisine twist. The truck's speciality is the Fat Shallot fries, drenched in cheese sauce and giardiniera, with a generous addition of caramelized shallots, these are a most dangerously moreish side dishes that'll wake you with midnight cravings. The wide variety of subs, buns and grills on this truck's menu are made with fresh, locally baked bread and your standard grilled cheese or BLT come with extravagant garnishing like truffle aioli. The helpful people at The Fat Shallot post their schedule online, too, so you can always hunt them down for a lunchtime treat.
Chicagoan foodies know Wow Bao as a hit-the-spot Asian food chain across the city. The portable version of Wow Bao offers the restaurants much-coveted dumplings or "baos" – a filled bun popular in China and rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S – stuffed with delectable fillings, of both the savory and sweet variety. The Teriyaki Chicken bao is a menu highlight and a coconut custard bao for dessert will make sticking out the truck's persistent line-up worth your while. The "potsticker" steamed dumplings are a lighter option, and come with the oh-so-necessary sweet and sticky dipping sauce. Make sure to grab some napkins!
A spin-off of Chicago favorite "The Southern", this food truck brings their famous Mac and Cheese on the road. This isn't the packaged stuff, it isn't even Mac and Cheese like mom made it – it's gourmet. This is an easy one to eat on the go, and The Southern's cheese sauce is a generously creamy and satisfying triumph. The dishes are packed full of perfectly-combined ingredients – cheddar with sun-dried tomato and caramelized onions is just one of a range of well-matched options – and at less than $10 a pop these plates are fantastic value; you'll feel well-fed for hours.
Coffee and donuts are a safe lunch time option, but at Beavers you might spend half of your lunch hour perusing the intriguing menu options. Who knew there were so many ways to enjoy a donut? Coconut, Graham Cracker crumbs and Marshmallow sauce are a few of the more adventurous options. The donuts are served in teeny tiny portions, so you can mix and match a few flavors without feeling too guilty. The donuts are incredibly moist inside, and just crispy enough outside. The coffee isn't too bad here, either, although it's a pretty standard filter so don't expect fancy cappuccinos at this truck.
5411 Empanadas is one of many Chicago food trucks that's a baby sister of a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. This one is unique in its dedication to the Argentinean theme; run by authentic Argentines, the empanadas are perfect street food. They're pastries stuffed full of cheeses, meat and veggies, but the stunning flavor combinations from 5411 bring these lunch time delicacies into a league far above your average pot pie. 5411 manages to keep the pastries perfectly crispy while the fillings – the mushroom and blue cheese is a favorite – are never soggy. A miracle of alchemy! In the tradition of decent street food, these Argentine delicacies by way of Chicago are cheap, very cheerful and extremely filling.