Food cart versus food cart as a hungry city holds its breath

One of many small ways in which Madison is a well-run city:  every year, the Vending Oversight Committee holds a juried competition for food carts, the prize being a permit for a plum spot on Library Mall or by the Capitol.  Indonesian cart Kakilima, already holding down a prime location in front of the campus bookstore, won this year’s contest.  And indeed, it’s the best cart on campus, serving aggressively and intelligently seasoned meat-n-veg combos that totally slay the greasy sort-of-Chinese offerings from the other Asian carts on the Mall.  Newcomer Athens Gyro took second place.  Hopefully we’ll see them on campus soon!  For a college town, Madison’s gyro options are pretty poor.  (Maybe Mediterranean Cafe makes a good one; I’m too attached to the Akin’s Plate to find out.)

Other worthwhile carts:

  • Sabores Latinos, a mobile outpost of well-reviewed East Side restaurant Antojitos el Toril, serves big, satisfying burritos at a fair price.  The steak is much better than the other two meat fillings.
  • FIB’s offers a solid meatball sandwich and Italian sausage.
  • The new Thai’s Cusine cart (the former I’m Here Vietnamese cart with a cardboard “Thai’s Cuisine” sign on it) makes a surprisingly good $1.50 egg roll.  It tastes like pork, crab, and fish sauce, not soggy cabbage, noodles, and soy sauce as does the standard cart egg roll.
  • For an outdoor breakfast at the Farmer’s Market, you can’t beat the fab horseradish egg biscuit at Ingrid’s Lunch Box, named the best street cart in America by Bon Appetit last year.  It has its own blog!  (The cart, not the biscuit.)  The blog says it’s on Library Mall on weekdays at lunchtime, but I don’t think that’s true.

Good general rundown of the Library Mall carts over at Food Snob on a Tuesday Night.

Question for your inner libertarian:  would the city be better-served if the prime cart spots were auctioned to the highest bidder, instead of the current system where some combination of seniority and food ratings determines the choice of locations?

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6 thoughts on “Food cart versus food cart as a hungry city holds its breath

  1. Juan says:

    Bonus trivia about Kakilima: The portable stove they use has a couple of stickers with argentinian references.

  2. Richard says:

    A long time ago there was a gyros place on State St complete with real Greeks with slicked back black hair, and the gyros were excellent. Their gyros were an great deal for the money — very filling, and three days later you could burp and still taste them. What other food keeps giving and giving like that?

  3. John Cowan says:

    I hold that food-cart operators should pay rent to the community on the locational value of where they operate.

    Richard: As the saying is: why fart and waste it, when you can burp and taste it?

  4. Barry says:

    Ingrid quit doing weekday lunches @ campus mall a couple years ago, when her latest child was born. WE MISS YOU, INGRID!

  5. Sally says:

    I miss Kakilima. But MIT has Clover Food Labs (, which is pretty awesome.

  6. Jessie says:

    I still have dreams about Ingrid’s biscuits. Mmmmmm…

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