Tag Archives: streeteating

Madison Food Carts NOT Downtown

Special Report by Kailey
The Madison food cart scene is delicious and exciting. Everyone loves those tasty carts. But the number one complaint I hear about the bustling food carts in Madison is location. Example complaint: “Every cart is downtown. I work on the west/east/far away/ side. I can never eat at them.”

Madison Meet and Eat 2012

Madison Meet and Eat 2012, photo courtesy of City of Madison

Well non-downtown working citizen, the food carts have an answer for you. In fact, lots of really convenient answers. Here are all the times and places you can enjoy Madison food carts outside of the downtown lunch hours:

1. Dane County Farmers’ Market
What: Nation’s largest farmers’ market. You’re probably going there anyways.
Where: Around the Capitol Square
When: Every Saturday morning, 6AM-2PM, April-November (carts may arrive at different times)
Who: Johnson Brothers Coffee, Fried and Fabulous, Banzo, Carnacas Empanadas, SoHo Gourmet Cusines, Umami and more!
More Information: http://dcfm.org/

2. Madison Meet and Eat
What: City sanctioned gathering of carts. Encourages meeting your neighbors for a night out and dinner.
Where: Three neighborhoods throughout Madison: Westside at Meadowood Shopping Center, the Southside at the Villager Mall and on the Northside at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout June, July and August
Who: Umami for sure in 2013. This year’s Meet and Eat started on June 20th and all the carts haven’t been announced. But here is who was there last year: Banzo, Caracas Empanadas, Electric Earth, Ernie’s Kettle Corn, FIBs, Hibachi Hut, Luangprabang, Natural Juice, Tea Garden, Teriyaki Samurai and Wei’s Food to Go
More Information/Schedule: http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/celebrate/madisonmeetandeat.cfm
Bonus: Vendors are asked to offer at least one menu item that is $3 or less.

3. Let’s Eat Out Madison
What: Groups of food carts offering dinner in neighborhoods. Organized by food cart owners.
Where: Mondays on Trailsway at North Sherman, Tuesdays on Midvale behind Midvale Elementary and Wednesdays on Miller at Atwood
Who: SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, Slide, In N Out Empanadas, BJ Kolaches, Fried and Fabulous 
More Information: https://www.facebook.com/LetsEatOutMadison

4. Carts in the Park 
What: Carts serving lunch in Research Park on Wednesdays.
Where: Research Park. On the West side of Whitney Way on Charmany Drive, and on the East side of Whitney Way across from 535 Science Drive
When: May 1 through Labor Day, Wednesdays 11AM-1:30PM
Who: BJs KolachesFIB’s 2, Fortune Cafe, In N Out Empanada, Natural Juice, SlideSoHo Gourmet Cuisines and Thai-riffic
More Information: http://www.universityresearchpark.org/food_carts/

5. Late night downtown
What: Carts providing after-bar food and satisfying late night cravings.
Where: State and Broom Street by Riley’s Wines of the World
When: Usually Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights starting around 12AM and ending around 3AM
Who: SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, In N Out Empanada, Fried and Fabulous
More Information: Check the individual carts’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.

Be sure to check out the links on “More Information” for any changes in schedules or weather. In addition to these regularly scheduled food cart eating opportunities the carts can be found at fests, block parties, fairs and just about anywhere a group of people gathers in the Madison area. Plus, a few of them like Good Food Cart and Banzo deliver. Whew. Now there are no valid excuses for skipping out on the wonderful food cart scene in Madison. Happy Streeteating!

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SoHo Gourmet Cuisine

Delicious Dumplings
Location: Capitol Square at West Main and South Carroll
By: Kailey

I’m going to skip all the apologizing about not updating the blog for ELEVEN MONTHS and get you quickly caught up on the Madison food cart scene:

  • Ingrid’s Lunchbox retired
  • FIB’s won best food cart of 2012 as named by the city review
  • There are no excuses for not being able to visit food carts for lunch. Madison Meet and Eat program sends carts all over town in the evenings
  • Unofficial observation: even with the brutal winter, lots of carts toughed it out this year

Whew. Now to the food. I talked two friends into trying a new cart with me last Friday and we chose to visit SoHo Gourmet Cuisine, a new last year cart I hadn’t tried yet.

SoHo, so great

SoHo, so great

The menu was intimidating because there were a lot of choices but we quickly decided to get a variety of dumplings and share them all. We each got the correctly named “So Hungry” box option containing six dumplings and a side salad for $7.50. Just as we were celebrating our ordering and decision making success, the food cart owner informed us that there were only a few “So Hot Chick” dumplings left so we couldn’t order a lot of them. We cried out in anguish. (Hot Chick is spicy chicken, jalapeno, carrots, celery and blue cheese in a dumpling. Served with a side of spicy cucumber ranch sauce. See why we were disappointed?)

The man taking our orders was super friendly and I think slightly scared of the three hungry women bemoaning the loss of a menu item. He did some quick counting and comforting. He then calmed us down by saying we could have six Hot Chicks total. I think he must be part food cart owner, part therapist. The food came up pretty fast considering it was three orders with three fresh salads that had to be prepared. We spent our waiting time saying the phrase Hot Chick as much as we could in a variety of different uses and laughing at how clever we are (“I wanted all the Hot Chicks,” “You stole the Hot Chicks,” “I wish they had more Hot Chicks”). So you know, mature adult stuff.

Big boxes of delicious - dumplings and salads

Big boxes of delicious – dumplings and salads

I could discuss the perfect sauces served with the dumplings or the great tasting combinations of ingredients in every bite. Or how every person eating it said they would definitely be back. I could also just say Hot Chick. (Actually, my favorite dumpling was the Veggie So Fiesta – pinto beans, black beans, sweet corn, cabbage, cilantro, bell peppers, and carrots. Topped with melted cheddar cheese. Served with a side of Pico De Gallo.)

The correctly named So Hungry meal

The correctly named So Hungry meal

Go to SoHo, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, $7.50 isn’t too shabby for a unique, delicious and filling meal. Hot Chick.

Deliciousness: 4.5/5 plates
Price: 4/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 5/5 plates
OVERALL: 4/5 plates

SoHo Website: http://www.uwsoho.com/
SoHo Twitter: https://twitter.com/UWSoHo
SoHo Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SoHoGourmetCuisines

Other SoHo Gourmet Cuisine Reviews:
What Isthmus said
What Yelp said

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The Bayou

Ragin’ Cajun
Location: Capitol Square at West Main and South Carroll
By: Kailey

Craving some Cajun, I checked out The Bayou and it’s New Orleans style offerings. Much to my dismay, my lunch was not served with a side of Mardi Gras beads or jazz music. If you’re looking for that type of atmosphere, The Bayou has an actual restaurant located just a few blocks from their cart that is cutely decorated like a New Orleans street (I just went there for restaurant week – excellent Shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich).

Mini New Orleans – minus the beads

I stepped up the window of the quaint cart and was disappointed in my options – there were only three choices on the menu. One of them was soup and it was really hot out. (Did that sound whiny? Good. It was hot! Why would I want soup?) I ordered the chicken jambalaya for $6. For those of you whose only association with jambalaya is Newman saying the word on Seinfeld, let me fill you in.

Jambalaya, common in Louisiana, not so common in the Midwest, is rice, peppers, onions, celery and meat cooked with some spices. Mystery solved. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the spice department but the cooks in the cart assured me it wasn’t “too bad.”

Initially, I had lunch envy. Anna and I sat on the Capitol lawn and while she dug into her huge FIB’s sandwich, I had a plastic container of rice mixed with some stuff. I complained that I could have made it at home. I complained that it wasn’t that much food for $6. I complained that my butt was wet from sitting on the damp grass. Things were not going well.

Chicken jambalaya – more food packed in that container then I expected

Luckily, my meal redeemed itself. The jambalaya had perfect amount of spice and it was pretty tasty. I liked the green pepper chunks and the crunch of the celery. A few bites in, I realized I had misjudged the portions of my meal. There was A LOT of food there. I had enough for lunch and some leftover for lunch the next day. Not quite the little container I had sized up earlier.

It was a satisfying lunch if slightly boring. Maybe the cart can beef up the menu or start serving the incredible Beignets that they have at their restaurant.

Deliciousness: 3/5 plates
Price: 2/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 3/5 plates
OVERALL: 3/5 plates

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FIB’s Fine Italian Beef and Sausage

A Sausage Serenade
Location: Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (by Starbucks)
By: Anna

Let me start this by saying, I have no allegiances to Chicago. Actually, I hate the Cubs — but not as much as I hate the Bears (although pity might be a better word for both teams). That being said, I love a good dog.

Yeah, I said it. And yeah, FIBs array of cheap, delicious Chicago-style dogs and sandwiches truly deliver. (Okay, not literally.)

FIB's Food Cart

Serving up Chicago style lunch that is quick and delicious.

Two laundry list menus of various hot dogs and sandwiches flank the little cart. Each of the items has a cutesy Chicago name. The “Al Capone,” “The Bill Murray,” etc. The cart is decorated like a brick wall and  framed photos of old-time celebs dot the cart’s interior.  There’s even music playing so you can enjoy some tunes while you wait. And prices are low in terms of food cart fare. My lunch companion was jealous that I shelled out a mere five dollars for a chicken sausage piled high with sweet and hot peppers, marinara and a plump, golden bun. The owner was even sporting a Cubs hat when he handed over my lunch.

Chicken Sausage with hot and sweet peppers

My chicken dog in all of it’s Capitol lawn lunch break glory.

After finding a half sunny spot on the Capitol lawn, Kailey and I sprawled out in anticipation of our cart lunches. (She tried the Bayou, more on that later). Not that it was a competition, but I totally won. My chicken sausage was a great mix of spicy and sweet and the large bun assured my stomach that I was, in fact, not going to have to eat again until at least 3pm. (Groundbreaking.)

One downfall was the casing of the sausage was a little hard to break and because there were so many toppings, it was pretty messy. Luckily, Kailey and I are pretty close friends — she can tolerate my messy eating habits. But if you’re on a work lunch, or worse, a lunch date — probably don’t go for FIBs. Plus, the hot dog metaphor is probably a little much for those contexts.

Other than that, for speed, taste and PRICE, FIBs is on my lists of places to return.

Deliciousness: 4/5 plates
Price: 5/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 4/5 plates
OVERALL: 4.5/5 plates

Other FIB’s Reviews:
What Eating in Madison A to Z said
What Isthmus said

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Hibachi Hut

I’ve finally caved to that delicious smell
Location: Library Mall
By: Stephanie

If you only had 24 hours to spend in Madison, what would you do? After making a recent move to Chicago, I was faced with exactly that question. I made a quick 24 hour stop in Madison before the holiday weekend and I had two items on my must-do list: beers at the terrace and lunch at a food cart. I also had a 5 month golden retriever pup to look after in the morning, so juggling the equivalent of a toddler in dog form was going to make my must-do list a little harder to complete, especially considering said pup seriously tried to eat EVERYTHING she found on the ground. Wrappers, grass, old Kleenex, leaves, sticks, cigarette butts, mulch, ROCKS (who tries to eat rocks?)…she saw it, she ate it. I digress.

Trixie, my lunch companion

Trixie, my lunch companion

As lunch approached, I headed to Library Mall. I was a little disappointed at the lack of carts—perhaps it was due to the approaching holiday weekend, but the pickings were slim. I saw the Banzo cart and immediately wanted to try it due to Kailey’s rave review, but I also want to stay active on our blog so I chose a new spot that we hadn’t covered: Hibachi Hut.

Hibachi Hut cart

Hibachi Hut cart: the pimpest of all Madison food carts

After maintaining this blog for two summers, how had we not reviewed Hibachi Hut? Better yet, how had I never eaten there? Every time I walk through Library Mall, the smells of Hibachi Hut overwhelm me and their bright orange metal covered cart screams EAT HERE. The combination of soy sauce, garlic, and other magic ingredients seem to mask any other scents coming from carts, yet that always kept me away because I somehow rationed with myself that I already knew what to expect from a hibachi cart. I guess I wanted to give the other guys a chance…until today.

Steak hibachi

Steak hibachi with two egg rolls

I stepped up to the cart and knew I had to go with the steak hibachi. There were probably 8 or 10 options on the menu, and for an extra $1.25 you could make your order a “meal” by adding 2 eggrolls and a drink (which I chose to do). In total, I paid $8.50 and got a healthy size portion for lunch. The steak was juicy, not dry, and the veggies weren’t soggy either. They prepare the hibachi while you wait, so it was comforting to know that the food hadn’t been sitting around all morning waiting to be served. The eggrolls were delicious too—the perfect size to accompany my meal. All in all, this lunch was very satisfying. I even had leftovers! Hibachi Hut is one of a kind in the Madison food cart scene–there is plenty of Asian fare, but none prepared on a hibachi grill while you wait. If anything, this cart is definitely one I’ll consider an “old faithful” if I’m in a pinch and can’t decide which food cart to go to.

Deliciousness: 4/5 plates
Price: 4/5 plates
Speed: 3/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 4/5 plates
OVERALL: 4/5 plates

Other Hibachi Hut reviews:
What Eating in Madison A to Z said
What Isthmus said

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Dandelion

Sounds Gouda to me
Location: Library Mall
By: Anna

I’m tempted to make a Dande”lyin” pun because of my first experience with the Dandelion food cart. I’ll admit it, last summer when we began our food cart adventure I went to Dandelion with every intention of reviewing, but never did. I took Marie with me because who doesn’t love to share a good vegetarian meal? She ordered the baked tofu sandwich and I got the sweet potato wrap with spinach and smoked Gouda. It came with a side of tortilla chips and pico.

wrap

Sweet potato wrap with smoked gouda and a side of chips and pico.

As we sat next to Library Mall and took our first bites, I was in smoked Gouda bliss. But then Marie turned to me and made those eyes girlfriends make when they want you to switch food with them. Turns out her “baked” tofu was definitely fried*. She was not interested in ruining her obsessively healthy food habits with a fried tofu sandwich. Luckily, I can get down with fried tofu and so we made the trade. Lesson learned: menus aren’t always what they seem. Second lesson learned: just because it’s vegetarian, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. (Editors note: the tofu at Dandelion is never fried. Marie was mistaken!)

*On my return my visit, I saw someone order the tofu sandwich and it was baked. Not sure why we got a fried sandwich.  

So, last week, I made the trek (well, I live a block away, but you get the picture) back to Dandelion to break some baked tofu boundaries. I went with one of the daily specials: Indonesian tempeh tacos. Tempeh is an Indonesian soy product that’s comparable to tofu but higher in protein and denser in weight.

Meal of the day! Tempeh tacos with tasty coleslaw on the side. (Best when INSIDE the taco)

I have this weird love for high protein foods; so, while some people cringe at things like tofu or spoonfuls of garbanzo beans, I can’t get enough. My tacos were stuffed with tempeh in a savory, chipotle sauce and there was an Asian coleslaw on the side. Three corn tortillas hugged the tempeh, which wasn’t flavorful, but when you took a bite with the sauce it was BAM, delicious. I forgot a fork, so I ended up hand spooning the coleslaw on top of the tacos which was a cool, maverick way to eat my lunch.

Behold, the cart.

Everything on the Dandelion menu is either vegetarian or vegan and you can ask to have any of the dishes vegan. Everything is around or under $8 – pretty standard for food cart fare. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on who you are) they only have “real sugar” sodas and all I wanted/needed was a Diet Coke. It seems my caffeine needs are a little too mainstream for Dandelion.

It was a later lunch so time wasn’t really an issue, but there was only one person manning the cart so it’s not the FAST FOOD cart that others can be. Depending on the day, more than worker helps out – so keep an eye out.

Deliciousness: 3.5/5 plates
Price: 5/5 plates
Speed: 3/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 4/5 plates
Overall: 4/5 Plates

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Special Report: Isthmus a la Carts

By: Anna and Kailey

Isthmus held it’s first ever food cart festival called “Isthmus a la Carts” on May 11, 2012 at Olin Park. It was a streeteaters paradise: carts in one spot during a gorgeous May afternoon. The event sold-out to 500 ticket holders and it’s easy to see why. Who would pass up the chance to sample dishes from Madison’s food carts all in one spot for $15?

food cart fest

Streeteaters Anna and Kailey hit every single cart, sampled nearly every dish and generally talked about how great food carts are. We loved seeing our favorites and  introduced ourselves to some new kids on the block like Slide who serve mini-sliders on Dayton Street near Memorial Union South.

Slide’s mini sliders

Here’s our top three sampled goods:

1. Caracas Empanadas. The sweet plantain and roasted garlic empanada was incredible and the homemade Guasacaca sauce was icing on the already delicious cake. Anna would have preferred to drink the sauce. It was just that good.
2. Fried and Fabulous. There’s really no way to go wrong with deep fried Oreos and balls of cookie dough. Their full menu also features healthy snacks (not like we tried them…) and parks late night by the Madhatter bar.
3. Banzo. The falafel tasted great (as always) when tucked inside its petite pita. In a shocking twist, Anna (med cafe’s number one fan) declared Banzo’s falafel BETTER than med cafe’s. The falafel was absolutely the best she’s ever tasted.

Also, shout-out to Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. They only had coffee and doughnuts but that maple iced coffee quenched our thirst in a big way.

Despite the wonderful atmosphere at the fest there were a few let downs: Igo Vego’s veggie burgers were dry and odd tasting, the Surco cart was there but strangely not serving anything, three carts were offering the exact same spring rolls and we failed to realize that beverages were not included with our ticket price (luckily we hit the smoothie carts to calm the heat of some Thai food).

Igo Vego

The fest reenforced everything we love about streeteating: nice business owners who are proud of their mobile businesses and delicious food. Throw in some great weather and friendship and you have yourself an outing at the first ever Isthmus a la Carts.

Streeteaters

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