Navigating Through New York's Street Food Landscape: The Urban Oyster Food Cart Tour

By: Cyndi Amaya

While New York City is known as the capital of fine dining in the United States, it's equally known for its impressive street food culture. With more Halal food trucks per square mile than any other single city, New York street food does in fact go beyond chicken over rice and "dirty water" hot dogs. On any given day, you can walk around Midtown and find everything from cupcakes to tacos, and dumplings to slushies.

But with so many street food vendors and different kinds of cuisines to try, how do you possibly do them all? And which ones are even worth the walk? Undoubtedly, the capital of sight-seeing tours must also have some solution to this problem. If you can cover most NYC sights from uptown to downtown in one day, why not have a tour based on just food, and not just any food- street food at that. Enter: Urban Oyster, NYC Walking Tours. The company dedicated to unique NY walking tours featuring the Navy Yard, the Craft Beer Crawl, and Immigrant Foodways tours, also has one of the hottest street food tours to date: their Street Food Cart Tour.

For about two hours and with less than a mile of walking, the Urban Oyster Food Cart Tour takes you around Midtown (or the Financial District) for the ultimate insight to the city's tastiest and to-die-for street food that New York can offer. Why take my word for it? Simple- because I got to experience one of their tours myself, and came back with a belly choc full street food delicacies and more street food knowledge than any New Yorker would care to have.

Launched just a year and a half ago, the Food Cart Tour is already one of Urban Oyster's most popular walking tours around the city. This information-packed foodie tour is led by food writer and expert, Brian Hoffman from the Eat This NY food blog. Hoffman's enthusiasm towards the history of the food, vendors, and neighborhood through his speech as he walks you to some of his (and Mark Faggan's) favorite street food eats around the town.

Because my undying love for street food, I was giddy at all the possibilities the tour would provide. It proved quite fulfilling since that particular day Brian featured everything from lobster rolls to Korean BBQ, Halal, and even Belgian waffles! With all the street food selections, how does Urban Oyster pick which vendors to feature? Hoffman explained that they highlight different food carts on different days, but all are mostly gourmet trucks that bring food to customers in parts of the city they wouldn't normally have access to. The vendors are usually diverse, are located within walking distance from one another, have interesting stories of how they came about, and most importantly- must serve delicious food.

Our first stop was the Luke's Lobster Rolls Truck. While most may be thinking, a lobster roll food truck is out of the ordinary, Luke's Lobster Truck had a comfortable Maine-feel about it and an authenticity that made buying a lobster roll off a truck not so shady. Plus their $16 genuine lobster rolls are practically unheard of, hence the long line of cash-only customers waiting to grab a bite. Did I mention that the truck is Zagat rated? Well, with its upscale street eats, why wouldn't it be?

Next stop was quite a pleasant surprise for me. It was the Bapcha Korean BBQ food cart. Finally the food truck gods answered my prayers and came up with a quick stop for that all-the-time craving for Korean BBQ, without having to trek to K-town or Flushing Queens for. We tried a super tasty Bulgogi and Kimchee that was to-die-for! Needless to say, I've been back to that food cart since taking the tour.

A street food tour could not be complete without some Halal- obviously! So for the best Halal, Brian took us to Kwik Meal, famous for the city's "best falafel." The owner of Kwik Meal and once-Russian Tea Room chef, Muhammed Rahman is famous for helping Bobby Flay win in a Falafel Throwdown. Flay used Rahan's falafel recipe and prevailed in that competition, as it did in the hearts of all those attending the tour that day.

Another famed truck that we hit that day was the popular Biryani Cart, a Bangladeshi food cart that featured the most appetizing Koti rolls that I've ever tried. It's no wonder why Biryani has won the Vendy Award two years in a row as the People's Choice.

Finally, for dessert Brian gave us a delightful insight to a Belgian original- the Belgian Waffle. Wafels and Dinges was started by Thomas DeGeest who felt the city lacked proper Belgian cuisine. So his solution, Wafels and Dinges, Dinges being the various toppings offered for his famed waffles. Their signature waffle with spekuloos spread and their amazing Hoegaarden ice cream was the perfect treat to a perfect street food tour.

So whether you're a tourist who wants a taste of the best New York street food or a New Yorker who wants to find new lunchtime spots to hit up when in a hurry, the Urban Oyster Food Cart Tour is definitely not-to-be-missed! All of Urban Oyster's food cart tours usually offer 6 tastings and feature vendors from those mentioned above as well as other street food favorites like Mexican, Caribbean, and Trini/Paki. The tours go on whether rain or shine and are offered on Wednesdays in the Financial District and on Fridays in Midtown.

Check out their website here for more information. 

Photos: Cyndi Amaya

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