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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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Surco

Surco Super
Location: Library Mall
By: Megan

Upon approaching the Peruvian food stand, Surco (which, thank you to Google translator, means “groove”), I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated to try the new type of food for the first time. Looking at the menu, I was impressed to see that they had their options written in both Spanish and English. They only had four entree options, and I settled on the arroz con pollo – simple ingredients and lighter for lunch, not much they could do to chicken and rice, right?

Surco's painted cart!

But before I get to the food, I have to tell you about the service. There were two patrons ahead of me, and I couldn’t help but listen in as the young woman in the cart explained the various dishes to the first gentleman. As his food was being prepared, she pointed out their three specialty sauces, explained their ingredients, the spiciness of each of them, the different peppers they were made from and encouraged him to try all of them before deciding. The next patron only spoke Spanish and I listened to the woman speak to her to her in perfect, beautiful Spanish explaining the dishes. I was excited I even understood her!!

When it was my turn to order, I too was greeted with a smile, ordered my food, paid $6 and waited less than two minutes before it was in my hand! The gentleman who ordered before me enjoyed the different sauces so much, he ended up putting all three on his dish! Silly me, I was so distracted and excited to try my food, I forgot to add any to my own! (next time I guess!) I met up with Stephanie (check out her Thai Riffic review), we found a spot on Bascom Hill and dove in.

El arroz con pollo - que delicioso!

I opened my to-go container and was a little bit disappointed with the chicken-to-rice ratio. There was just a small piece of chicken and a ton of rice… but also a large pile of colorful, seasoned and cooked vegetables (carrots, zucchini, broccoli, etc). After the first bite, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. I grabbed a little of each part of the dish – chicken, vegetable and rice – and WOW was I impressed with all the flavor that the single bite had. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, the rice had it’s own seasoning, and the chicken wasn’t at all dry. I ended up finishing it way to fast it was so yummy! It was the perfect amount of chicken to compliment the assortment of vegetables, though I did have quite a bit of rice leftover.

Can’t do much with chicken and rice? Wrong. Surco did it. After eating this dish, which I thought would be simple and a safe bet to try for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised and am anxious to taste their other dishes! (Side note: they use all natural, organic ingredients. Bonus!)

Deliciousness: 5/5 plates

Price: 3/5 plates

Speed: 4/5 plates

Authenticity/Originality: 4/5 plates

OVERALL: 4/5 plates

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