Charleston is one of the most charming cities in the South. It possesses a unique historic background and beauty on every street, but what ultimately keeps people coming back to these cobblestone streets is the food. Walking around the city, you are sure to see an abundance of restaurants filled with gourmands enjoying a variety of dishes. Restaurants may get more coverage, but it is hard to ignore the presence of the food truck industry, with its bold flavors and daring combinations.
Food truck culture has gained national adoration over the past few years and driven its way into the hearts (and stomachs) of Charlestonians. At first glance, these trucks may seem like a simple concept, but the hard work and dedication it takes for them to succeed far surpasses expectations. With city laws and regulations, extreme weather and financial challenges, these food trucks have demonstrated that they are a force to be reckoned with.
One of the first food trucks to hit the streets of Charleston was Roti Rolls, started in 2010 by Cory Burke. His love of international spices and bold flavors, along with the use of local ingredients, has made this mobile business stand out. The vehicle offers a variety of dishes, ranging from Indian to Caribbean cuisine, while simultaneously maintaining a Southern element. A majority of the menu items are made by wrapping up their signature Singapore roti, a flaky flatbread, and filling it with regional vegetables and proteins creating a unique and satisfying dish at an inexpensive price. “We roll them up like a wrap and we also have wheels that we roll up on the streets,” Burke explained. His personal favorite is the Kimchi fried rice, which is made by cooking rice on a flat top stove alongside house made kimchi and salsa. It is accompanied by two different sauces, vegetables, protein and finished with a fried egg. This hearty meal has an assortment of distinct elements and combinations — all the while keeping an authentic, homemade feel with every bite.
Creating strong connections with the local farmers who provide the produce is a significant part of the Roti Roll business. This relationship goes beyond just market standpoints; the two are dependent on each other and are able to form truly personal friendships. By supporting producers from the Charleston area, Roti Rolls is able to use fresh seasonal ingredients, which has helped them earn the title “The Best Food Truck in Charleston” from the Charleston City Paper. Their success has expanded their business to Atlanta as of January 2016, and they hope to grow to other cities in the future. But they will always call Charleston their home.
Looking for a fusion of Spanish and Asian food to satisfy your taste buds? Dashi is the food truck for you. Oscar Hines sought out acclaimed chef Stephen Thompson to help create an adventurous menu from Thompson’s strong background in both cuisines. The most popular dish served is the Pork Belly Pad Thai, which combines wild rice noodles, different sauces and vegetables alongside the pork. They prepare the ingredients days in advance and perfect the flavors in each satisfying dish. Buying a majority of their ingredients from local farms and producers is an important part in preparing their menu. “By using local products there’s a real story, passion and heart,” Hines said.
Dashi continues to cook up inexpensive restaurant-style food from the comfort of their truck. Putting kitchen appliances in a moving vehicle might have its ups and downs, but the success and positive reactions from customers validates their passion. With only a few options for Spanish and Asian cuisine in Charleston, Dashi has established themselves as one of the most unique mobile food services downtown. The growth of the city’s foodie population makes them excited for what the future has in store.
Husband and wife duo Wendy and Mike Ezelle were inspired by the juice bar scene in Austin, Texas and decided to bring The Juice Joint to downtown Charleston. Since 2012, they have been serving customers healthy juices, smoothies and superfoods at the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Due to their popularity, they have expanded to a truck on Folly Beach, along with a joint on James Island. Their plant-based, healthy menu is refreshing and unique compared to the typical cuisines offered by the mobile food industry. Although The Juice Joint has grown and opened a spot on James Island, there is nothing quite like visiting the food truck. “The customer is talking to one person who is their server, chef, barista, cashier. I think there is a sweeter human connection to it,” Wendy said.
Using ingredients from local farmers is an important part of The Juice Joint’s creations. In-season fruits and vegetables with no additives or processed ingredients make it possible to create wholesome, nourishing drinks, of which customers cannot get enough. A favorite item on the menu is the “Spring Chicken Smoothie,” which is a fresh blend of spinach, kale, pear, beets and bananas. Stopping by The Juice Joint will make you quickly realize that choosing to eat natural not only tastes incredible, but makes you feel good, too.
The frenzy surrounding Chef Landen’s famous mac and cheese at Crave Restaurant in Mount Pleasant prompted the beginning of The Mac Daddy food truck in 2015. Serving a gourmet spin on a classic American dish, this food truck is combining bold flavors to create mouthwatering meals. Starting up the truck allowed for all of Charleston to experience this highly publicized mac and cheese. “With the amount of mac and cheese we serve at Crave and the demand from our guests to have it outside of the restaurant, we were excited about the opportunity to bring Chef’s dish to the roads,” general manager Anthony Melius said. The creative dishes prepared are a cheese lover’s heaven and have made The Mac Daddy a dominant truck on the streets.
Looking at the menu you will instantly be mesmerized by all of the cheesy, decadent combinations offered. You can choose from three sizes and add a combination of fresh toppings to spice up your meal. The two most popular are the mac and cheese served with pulled pork and jalapeno peppers, as well as the mac and cheese topped with crispy bacon and fresh tomato. By adding flavorful elements to a classic dish, The Mac Daddy has established themselves as one of the most delicious and indulgent trucks in town.
These trucks have parked their way right into the food culture downtown and can be seen at community events and festivals. Enjoyed by both locals and visitors, the vehicles are revolutionizing how food is prepared and appreciated. Stop by and check out these mobile-restaurants and personally experience how they have made their mark in Charleston.
*This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue of The Yard.