Immigrants are not just part of the old-school history of street food; they are also helping to take it into the future. Many of the new-school trucks are run by immigrants selling popular food from their home countries, such as Tábor in Portland, Oregon, which ushered in a new wave of recognition for Czech food nationwide, as evidenced by features in the New York Times and Bon Appétit. Meanwhile, the fleet of Elena's Lunchwagons in Waipahu, Hawaii, serves the Butuyan family's take on home-style Filipino cooking  as well as a few new dishes so delicious they've been trademarked.

Then you have Kogi, the Korean taco truck headed by Seoul-born Chef Roy Choi, who many credit with launching the new-school, new-media, food-truck explosion. With tasty menu items like short rib tacos and kimchi quesadillas, the influence of lonchero culture is fairly obvious. And just as the Mexican taco trucks influenced Kogi, its menu has influenced scores of even newer food trucks in Los Angeles and around the country, whose patrons have been smitten by the Korean-Mexican fusion phenomenon launched by Chef Choi.

The original relationship between street vending and immigrants is a natural one. For newcomers to this country, what more fitting occupation could there be than selling food in the neighborhoods they live in to others like themselves hungering for a taste of home? That original connection still is strong, not just in the old-school taco trucks and halal carts, but in many of the twittering trucks as well. That inspiration continues to be passed from vendor to vendor, ensuring that as food becomes more and more corporatized and homogenized, we'll still be able to get an interesting, low-cost, and most importantly tasty meal on the streets where we live and work.

So please join us in learning more about the immigrant chefs profiled in this newsletter. Afterwards, try your hand at preparing some of their signature dishes contained in the Vilcek Foundation's first-ever recipe collection! Included are Dessert Truck's recipe for Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise (which was tested in a trial by fire and emerged the victor in an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay) and Veronica Julien's Vendy Award-contending recipe for jerk chicken, straight from Veronica's Kitchen in downtown Manhattan. You may develop a newfound appreciation (and appetite!) for what these hard-working immigrants bring to our streets, whether rain or shine, snowstorm or heat wave.

Happy dining,

Zach Brooks

Midtown Lunch

Published by permission of The Vilcek Foundation, © 2011.  The Vilcek Foundation is
a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the contributions of foreign-born
artists and scientists to the United States.  Learn more at