Excuse my excitement, those of you who have been constant Buffalo Rising readers know that this is a subject near and dear to our hearts. Now, nothing says summer to me like a charbroiled hot dog, slathered in yellow mustard and eaten street side on the first mild day of spring, so I don't want to hurt the feelings of our brave and tireless hot dog vendors. That being said, for a region that prides itself on its abundant food offerings and rich food heritage, it is a shame that our street food culture is practically non-existent.
Until now. Today, up from the ashes of limited offerings rises a new carved roast beef vendor and Buffalo's first taco truck.
At Court and Main, Riley's carved roast beef opened today, making the paper with news of its mission to bring Red Osier's well-loved roast beef to downtown crowds. Served on DiCamillo rolls with horseradish from the Broadway Market, Riley's not only takes Buffalo's famous Beef on Weck concept to the street, but it also reminds us that good quality and locally produced products make all the difference.
Just a little ways away at Mohawk and Main, is Lloyd, Buffalo's first and only taco truck operated by two friends who share a singular vision--to bring authentic Mexican food to Buffalo. Entrepreneur Pete Cimino and Chef Chris Dorsaneo have tricked the truck out and intend to follow the very successful path of street food vendors in NY, LA and even Cleveland--Tweeting their whereabouts and mixing up the menu with killer street food from all over the globe. Their primary location will open at 11am everyday, serving food until 2pm (or until they run out). Starting August 12th they'll stay open all day for the evening's event, slingin' tacos right through Thursday at the Square. They are working with Buffalo Place and the City to obtain permits for servicing other areas as well. But here's the deal. Today is their QUIET opening. That means they're still getting their feet wet and working out the glitches, so customers need to keep that in mind.
Newbies or not, I just came back from a taco-heavy lunch, and I can attest to the impeccable quality of the food. Authentic corn tortillas are doubled up and served with classic beef carnitas, pork with tomatillo, chicken with lime or black beans. Toppings aren't what you'll find at your average Taco Bell, so set aside your love for food that requires a mascot and instead prepare yourself for crisp sliced cabbage, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime and excellent sauce. I expected to like the pork the most, but the beef carnitas and chicken were both amazing. Tacos, large enough to fill most people's need for a noonday bite, are $2.25 each, and burritos, which are huge, are only $5.50. Soda is $1.00. That's the extent of the menu for now as the staff smooths out the bumps and really test runs the equipment. In the future, Lloyd's customers will see other Mexican items like churros, and other street food favorites. I, myself, am holding out for tongue tacos, but I think that may be a tough sell to Buffalo's corporate set.
It's been a pleasure to watch this project come to fruition, and so I asked them to do a little interview for us since proper permitting has been seen as the major roadblock for vendors in the past. They were kind enough to fit us into their very busy pre-opening schedule.
Buffalo Rising: Will Lloyd operate year round?
Lloyd Boys: At this point, we plan to operate year round. Certainly there are more outdoor events and food traffic during the warm months, but we think people will love the hot, fresh prepared food during the cold months. I know I still get my taco cravings when it's snowy. Plus the Bills still play here, right? Currently the corner of West Mohawk and Main Street is where we are calling home. We will be serving lunch there to start Monday thru Friday from 11am until 2pm...maybe earlier or later depending on the crowds.
BR: Why do you think there isn't more street food in Buffalo?
LB: We've done a lot of research and read up on other mobile food companies before starting our own. It seems that the wording of the current city code isn't conducive to allow for more creative operations to roam the streets. So I think that pigeon holes people into the hot dog and sausage routine. But the amazing thing is how wide ranging the food in other areas is. In the Northern California area, we discovered a mobile rotisserie, an Indian food truck, and one that serves fine French cuisine. There is even a Creme Brulee Cart!
BR: Is there a taco truck or the street food of a particular city that has inspired you?
LB: Kogi of Los Angeles has really been inspiring for us. The chef has so many innovative food combinations. Their business has a really good vibe going and they've kick started a new-found buzz about street food. I also believe that it has brought a sense of credibility to what was once considered more of a "roach" truck scene. Now people have an opportunity to eat incredible food without the hefty restaurant price and furthermore they can take it to go which is especially important for people on the move in urban areas.
BR: Given the somewhat tarnished reputation the city has in regards to dealing with street vendors and the permitting process, can you share your experience with us?
LB: At first it was quite difficult for anyone to take us seriously, especially at the city Office of Licenses. But overall, people have been very supportive and done their best to help us get the information and resources we need. Needless to say it was still rather tedious.
BR: How were things with Buffalo Place?
LB: Morgan Smith has been a great help to us. I feel that it was his vote of confidence about our venture that sparked the city to give us a shot. We hope that as this develops, when people in the city are happy with our food and service, that it will become the model for others to "hop" in and take a chance. Eventually, we want it to reach the point where it has evolved in such a way that we can be free to take the truck anywhere. Right now, its still a little cloudy about where else we can go and at what times.
BR: What has been your biggest obstacle?
LB: I would say both the truck and the city. The truck has seen better days but it is fully functional now. And as for the city and all of their "fees", there are just too many hoops one needs to jump through in order to get started. I believe that these unnecessary restrictions hinder people who want to create and develop businesses from ever getting started. Not something you want if you are a shrinking city.
Buffalo Rising: Are you part of (or interested in) any of the street food organizations and websites that are so popular in larger metro areas?
LB: We aren't yet but hopefully we will be starting one here in Buffalo sometime soon. I am familiar with the Vendy Awards and the Street Vendor Project down in NYC. Locally though, I think that the Horsefeathers site is an exciting step in the right direction. It will allow people of different backgrounds to have a place come together to create and melt their culinary ideas, while giving them an opportunity to vend and serve different varieties of food.
BR: Can people request Lloyd for parties or events?
LB: Yes, we are indeed offering catering. We have already had a few requests to bring the truck by parties, and we are excited about the opportunity to have our food at parties and events. We are in the process of developing our catering options/packages and it will soon be posted on our website.