Editor’s Note: We published this photo essay in 2016 when food trucks were just taking off across North Carolina — and we’re thrilled at how the scene has blossomed over the past six years. There are now hundreds of food trucks to choose from, but these five are still delicious.
These days, the cutting edge of culinary has four wheels. At farmers markets, breweries, business parks, festivals, rodeos, reunions, and weddings, food trucks park, plug in, open their windows, and serve everything from pork belly to waffles.
Line up. Order up. Eat up.
photograph by Eric Waters
Chirba Chirba • Triangle
photograph by Eric Waters
The son of medical missionaries, one of Chirba Chirba’s owners, Nate Adams, lived in Taiwan from the age of 4 until he returned to attend UNC, where he experienced “reverse culture shock.” Growing up, dumplings — steamed right on the roadside — were his favorite food, and that’s what Chirba Chirba serves all over the Triangle. “We get questions about Southern chicken ’n’ dumplings,” Adams says. “We tell people this is comfort food, akin to mac ’n’ cheese. That seems to work.” At left, Cody Lee mans the window.
“I’ve been on mission trips, and this is the best jerk chicken I’ve had outside Jamaica,” a customer claims. What tends to run out first, though, is the “Montreal-style” smoked meat sandwich, with brisket that’s been cured for days, then boiled with coriander to produce a red, pastrami-like meat. No wonder another customer says, “I drove 30 minutes for this.” At right, Arrika Martinez serves it up.
Suzy Salwa Phillips left Lebanon at age 15, and now, in freewheeling Asheville, her food truck (and brick-and-mortar deli) serves up authentic Lebanese food, from kale-and-lentil soup to chicken shawarma. If you think you don’t like cauliflower, you haven’t had it Lebanese-style — fried, and served with “mighty toum” (left), an aioli-like sauce of garlic, lemon, oil, and salt, that’s the ranch dressing/cream cheese frosting of Gypsy Queen Cuisine: It makes whatever it coats taste heavenly.
Chef Tara Diamante writes the menu board for her food truck in fluorescent colors — take a look; the vibrant pinks and greens match the food. Diamante and her chef/fiancé, Brenton Ebersold, met at Johnson & Wales University. Both are dedicated to local sourcing, and another menu board explains where every ingredient originates. Here, Peruvian pork belly tacos are served in the ubiquitous paper boat.
The power of a food truck, owner Greg Munning says, is “bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise hang out — broke college students and men in suits.” Every employee is bilingual; one woman (Gloria) makes every tortilla “like your grandmother,” with only corn, water, and salt. Everything is served in post-recycled consumer products. “It’s like a military operation,” Munning says of the daily schedule, from cleaning to stocking to serving. “A food truck has an obligation to the community, and to the environment,” Munning says. (Get the fish tacos.)
One of the last old-school fish houses in Onslow County stands sentry on the White Oak River. Clyde Phillips Seafood Market has served up seafood and stories since 1954 — an icon of the coast, persevering in pink.