While it used to be that street vendors earned significantly less respect for restaurant chefs, that’s hardly the case nowadays. Considering the prohibitive cost of real estate, entrepreneurs with talent to burn have turned to trucks, carts and food markets, serving truly innovative food with international flair. And as a fun challenge to the James Beard Awards, the Vendy ceremony — now in its 13th year — is dedicated to honoring the very best in the field. So here’s who’s in the running during the September 16th event at Governors Island! From an artisanal twinkie baker to an upstart french toast sandwich maker, to a Chinese meat skewer purveyor, whose been tapped for the Vendy Cup.
Big Brother’s Delicious Food: A former fixture in Kaifeng China’s famous night market, chef Ji Chen Wang currently operates a Flushing restaurant and duo of carts, specializing in skewered, barbecued meats like lamb (and lamb kidneys), and chicken (breast, hearts and gizzards), as well as pork skin, fish tofu, squid coils and corn.
DF Nigerian: Ghana native turned Brooklyn caterer, Godshelter Oluwalogbon transitioned into the street food world by peddling meals packed in his car trunk, outside of the Nigerian embassy. (Yes, really.) And his mince pies, jollof rice with goat meat and efo elegusi (vegetable soup) with pounded yam and fried manioc proved so popular, he eventually invested in a restaurant and truck.
Yolanda’s Tamales: Maria Palacio depends on recipes sourced from her Mexican grandmother Yolanda, for her beloved Harlem truck. Needless to say, corn husk-wrapped tamales are where it’s at, injected with all manner of fillings, such as spicy chicken, pork, beans, potato and cheese, and even arroz con leche.
Anton’s Dumplings: Born in Belarus and raised in Bensonhurst, Anton Yelyashkevich has staked out a prime Manhattan location for his Russian pelmeni dumplings. It’s hard to miss his truck at the entrance to the W. 4th Street station, affording commuters, basketball players, NYU students and late night revelers instant access to thin-skinned dough pockets, stuffed with chicken or potato, and laked with smoked gouda fondue, sour cream and dill, or even soy sauce and sriracha.
Adel’s No. 1: Originally from Egypt, Adel El Nagar stands head and shoulders above New York’s score of so-so halal vendors, with a FiDi cart that satiates bankers with falafel sandwiches and chicken and lamb over rice.
Best Rookie Vendor
Stuf’d: French toast is formed into sandwiches at this Dumbo Food Truck Lot destination, tucked around turkey meatballs and mozz, pulled pork crusted with panko and parmesan, and chicken, blue cheese and maple buffalo sauce.
Momo Bros: Not only does this Queens cart serve the tricky to find Nepalese dumplings known as momos, they’re one of the precious few places in NYC offering jhol momo; a highly traditional Himalayan soup.
Kelvin’s Truck: Born in Germany and now residing in NYC, Kelvin’s husband-and-wife owners named their food truck after their son. And it deliciously mirrors their son’s European/American upbringing, via a menu of bratwurst on pretzel buns, and Pat LaFrieda burgers, piled with bacon and cheddar cheese.
Harajuki Sushi & Crepe: Harajuki’s eye-catching rolls are made exclusively with black “forbidden” rice, and rice flour is the base of gluten free pancakes too, folded around eggs and pork, yogurt and fruit, and avocado and shrimp.
Warung Roadside: Inspired by the Indonesian roadside stalls known as warung, this roving pop-up cart delights bar-hoppers and party-goers with steamed bao buns, chicken satay, and pad thai in a cone.
Best Market Vendor:
Jhal NYC: This cousin-owned market mainstay employs Bangladeshi immigrant women; giving them a leg up by seeking their expertise on making traditional snacks like fuchka; fried flour puffs filled with chickpeas and potatoes, and finished with chilies, cilantro and tamarind.
Joon: Located in the Queen’s Night Market, Joon (a term of endearment in Farsi) focuses on the crispy rice cups called tahdig, capped with eggplant and yellow split peas and pomegranate chicken stew.
What’s the Dillaz: Partners in life as well as business, Jesse Vasquez and Marilyn Hernandez serve crowd-pleasing quesadillas at the LIC Flea, such as steak with onions, peppers and shrooms, housemade chorizo, and chicken, bacon, ranch.
The Malaysian Project: After cutting their teeth in culinary school in Kuala Lumpur, these four friends took over the Queens Night Market with their top-selling TMP Burger; an omelet wrapped around a beef patty, seasoned with Maggi, curry and spicy mayo, and placed on a brown butter-swiped bun.
Tramezzini NYC: Fulfilling the Smorgasburg dream of opening a brick-and-mortar, these Venetian brothers have won raves for their cone-shaped sandwiches, bursting with fresh porchetta, oil-preserved tuna, and prosciutto with Modena balsamic glaze.
Best Dessert Vendor:
Dulcinea: Spanish churros are center stage at sexy Dulcinea, served as sticks with Nutella and dulce de leche for dipping, or formed into discs as the base of an ice cream sandwich, with frozen dairy flavors like horchata.
The Crepes Truck: Inspired by his dad’s turn at the helm of a Mr. Softee truck, Stephen Asaro purchased a vintage rig for turning out lacy crepes, presented in sweet and savory iterations such as the “Frenchman” with swiss cheese, goat cheese and shallots, and the “Pompidou” with raspberry jam, strawberries and balsamic reduction.
Jae NYC Eats: With a concept that sells itself, this artisanal Twinkie maker has invaded not just the Queens Night Market, but Instagram, thanks to cakes flavored with ube, pandan coconut and jackfruit, and even imbued with booze; think Maple Bacon Rum and Salted Bananas Foster.
Moon Man: Hoping to bring attention to kue pancong, a coconut pancake that’s disappearing from the streets of Indonesia, Nigel Sielegar and Wenny Purnomo are lovingly showcasing the dessert at the Queen’s Night Market, accented with assorted toppings like cassava balls and ginger honey lemongrass.
Sweet Zahra: While Zahra Lee’s baking prowess is largely owed to the tutelage of her Iranian grandmother, she cemented her skills at ICE, in order to refine a menu of pistachio macarons with rose filling, chocolate baklava, lemon ginger bundts, and cardamom-scented “Persian love cake.”
Bad Hombres (y Mujeres)
Born and Raised: In response to Donald Trump’s multi-pronged attack on the Latin community, the Vendy’s have added this brand new category, honoring the good men (and women) who are vital to the food industry. Dominican/Puerto Rican Park Slope native, Rich Cruz, is one of the inaugural medal contenders, for his cactus tacos, chorizo burritos and steak wraps.
El Rey de Sabor: Puebla-born Ofelia Cardoso may have started out selling churros from a shopping cart in the Bronx, but she’s currently an owner of two Manhattan trucks, and a Vendy Cup finalist in 2010. Not only is she a sought after purveyor of burritos and tortas, but she serves lesser-seen Mexican favorites like pambazos; guajillo pepper sauce-dipped sandwiches, stuffed with ground beef, guacamole and potatoes.
El Toro Rojo: This father-son truck serves Oaxacan eats on the streets of NYC, such as soft, nixtamal tortilla tacos and blue corn masa sopes, topped with pinto beans and crumbly cheese.
Los Viajeros: Drawing influence from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, Los Viajeros is known for its ropa vieja tacos, mounded with coleslaw, jalapeños, sour cream and chipotle aioli.
September 16th, 12:30-5pm