Street food often evokes images of taco and churro carts at a central plaza in Mexico, juicy lamb kebabs sizzling on a grill alongside a street in Mali or woks flash cooking fresh veggies and seafood in Thailand. Madison’s street food scene is gaining traction, and offers an array of global eats – all close to home! You don’t have to go far to indulge in everything from tacos and falafel to cheese curds, southern comfort food, and healthy wraps and salads. With over 60 food carts vying for spots on sidewalks around the city, there’s certainly something for everyone. Here is a taste of what you will find around the Capitol Square. Check them out on your own, or enjoy 4 of them on our Food Cart Tour Fridays at 11:30.
David Rodriguez has taken grilled cheese to new heights with his food cart Melted, but isn’t stopping there. Melted offers a rotating menu of to-die-for craft grilled cheese sandwiches such as the Chicago Dog featuring 1/4 lb beef frank, extra-sharp cheddar and muenster cheese, sweet and spicy pickle relish, tomato, sliced onions and deli mustard, and the Southwestern, with Neuske’s bacon, sharp cheddar, chipotle aioli and tomato. Classic comfort food at its best.
David purchased Melted just a few years ago, and the cart can be found downtown on MLK most weekdays. But he isn’t stopping there. He recently added ‘The International’ Fine Dining food truck to his repertoire. Davis uses the truck (and by truck I mean a 37′ vehicle converted to a full service dining car complete with a private chef’s table inside) for private events and festivals. Think of it as a fine-dining mobile pop up restaurant.
In his “spare” time, David is working on new ventures, including the popular series Car to Table, presented by MINI of Madison and produced by Isthmus. He also has a few other business endeavors on the horizon, which when – not if – they pan out, will undoubtedly enhance Madison’s dining scene.
Joshua Barraza and Matthew Danky have a tough job. Each winter they head to Mexico to research regional culinary traditions before taking their mobile taqueria to the streets each spring. Lucky for us, we don’t have to work quite so hard to enjoy delicious food (yes, of course I’m being sarcastic!). All we have to do is head to their cart, which secured a spot this year near W. Wash and S. Carroll on the Capitol Square. Joshua and Matthew, who knew each other as kids growing up in WI, but have family roots in California, bring a global infusion to their incredibly popular tacos. Matthew also brings kitchen experience, having worked at L’Etoile and Cafe Montmarte, while Joshua’s strength lies in business and marketing. Together they are a strong team.
Matthew spent years traveling throughout Asia, and Joshua’s relatives hail from Durango, Mexico. In other words, their tacos are like none other you will find in Madison; they showcase the breadth of Mexican cuisine and abundance of Wisconsin agriculture with a hint of southeast Asia in the mix. Simple, made with fresh and local ingredients, the flavors shine. Try the beef brisket, slow cooked in roasted chiles and spices, topped with tomatillo avocado salsa and radish, or the roasted potato with red pepper puree and saffron crema. Wash it down with jamaica, a tart and refreshing hibiscus flower juice, or yerba mate with aromas of ginger and citrus.
Maggie Jingga says she learned to cook from her mom. In fact, she says, “my dad married my mom because of her cooking.” She and her sister moved to Wisconsin from Indonesia, and looked for ways to stay connected with home and each other. They cooked food and then would compete in social media cooking contests, taking pictures and tagging their creations. Soon, they thought, why not make some money doing what they love? With young children at home, Maggie decided that a food cart would be perfect, allowing her flexibility to cook and vend in the morning and spend time with her kids in the afternoons–and winters!
She offers an array of traditional Indonesian dishes, which feature sweet and savory flavors. Her chicken peanut curry is total comfort food, pieces of chicken, carrot and potato in a creamy sauce with a delicious crunchy topping made from panfried, sweet-salty hash browned potatoes. Fried pork dumplings come with a side of piquant homemade ginger dipping sauce.
Team Pickle brings Southern comfort food to the street of Madison; and there is no doubt that they will turn a few cheeseheads into bbq aficionados. Co-owners John Pickle (yes, that’s his real name) and Jennifer StCyr are married, big smiles filing the small cart as they work side by side.
John grew up in Kansas and has lived throughout the south while Jennifer’s military family moved around a lot. They finally made their way to Madison about 14 years ago, and bring their favorite recipes to one small corner near the top of State Street.
John’s collard greens are a take on his ex-mother-in-law’s recipe from Tennessee. The bbq recipes derive from his favorite meals around the south. And the pie is all grandma’s doing, made from scratch. The food may be southern, but the ingredients are local, including pork from Uphoff Farms and fruit for the pie from Sturgeon Bay, WI, flash frozen upon picking.
The pecan wood smoked beef brisket is tender and moist, the applewood smoked pork is just tangy and sweet from a hint of apple juice and vinegar, and the pie crust is impossibly flaky, the fruit bursting with flavor. The super cool cart made by Caged Crow Fabrication only enhances the already delicious offerings.