SPECIAL DELIVERY: Customers line up for food at Grant's Block in Providence on April 3. Food Truck Tuesdays have gained popularity in recent months, featuring offerings from Hewtin's Dogs Mobile, Fancheezical and Poco Loco Tacos.
A few minutes before 11 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, bleary-eyed students and a few sun-starved office workers were already lurking around the soon-to-open Poco Loco Tacos, Hewtin’s Dogs Mobile and Fancheezical food trucks parked off Weybosset Street in downtown Providence.
When the trucks opened their windows, orders came immediately and grill aroma filled the crisp, morning air.
Like virtually every other American city, the brightly painted trucks and their devoted followers are now fixtures in Providence, where a decade ago such on-street dining variety was unheard of. Now it seems a new food truck rolls into town almost every month claiming a new niche in the culinary spectrum.
A culinary phenomenon with a strong presence on the West Coast, food trucks have proliferated across the country in recent years, riding the popularity of foodie culture and a wave of adventurous eating habits.
In October, Rhode Island will host its first-ever food-truck festival in Newport, featuring a handful of Providence regulars.
“There definitely seem to be more and more trucks coming out,” said Matthew Gennuso, the chef at Chez Pascal restaurant in Providence and the four-year-old Hewtin’s Dogs Mobile Food Truck.
Inexpensive work-break staples may have characterized the food trucks of the past, but the recent surge in street food has skewed toward the higher-end market, with many menus derived directly from fine-dining establishments. In Providence, local food-truck menus now feature homemade curry sausages, pulled-pork grilled-cheese sandwiches, chorizo tacos and pork kimchi sliders.
Providence’s food-truck community has so far avoided some of the pitfalls of a growing market, such as internal turf wars, hostility from restaurants or battles with the city over regulations. Truck operators describe a collegial atmosphere where one truck’s menu complements another.
But whether that can continue if the number of trucks keeps growing at its current rate is less clear.
“The way I look at it, people have to be careful where they are going and parking: one bad seed affects everyone,” Gennuso said, adding that he makes sure the Hewtin’s truck doesn’t park too close to an existing restaurant or in any location that could bring unwanted attention from the authorities.