Within the past few years, the city’s street food sector has rapidly expanded with a host of new food vendors popping up all around Milwaukee. From tacos to crepes and pizza to pitas, a hungry crowd has more options than ever when roaming the streets at lunch or bar time.
But these quick eats are more than just a viable option for meals on the go. The growing numbers of street vendors are adding to the vibrancy of street life by becoming part of the culture and community. However new vendors aren’t just using the sidewalk to connect with the locals; they’re taking advantage of Web sites and social media to broadcast their whereabouts, creating a tighter bond between their business and the city by removing the uncertainty of mobile food.
The season for outdoor eating should be upon us in early June. If it's not, just wait a week and then consider these stops for quality and convenient curbside cuisine.
American Euros have carved out a niche for late-night eats. Clad in crisp, clean white dress shirts, skinny black ties and retro Run-DMC baseball caps, Mark Miller and Chad Mydlowski sell hot gyros to the hungry masses. But it’s not necessarily the grub that draws the crowd; the small cart turns into a popular hang out after bar as a LaSonic Ghetto Blaster blares old-school hip-hop and R&B tunes, creating an energy around the cart. Hoping to eventually expand to more carts in various locations, for now you’ll find them outside, pushing gyros and adding to the experience of Downtown.
What’s on the menu: Choose from chicken or lamb – or a combo of both – carved fresh daily, marinated in a homemade broth, topped with tomato and onion, and wrapped up “like a Sno-cone” in a 6-inch pita bread for $4. Baklava is also available.
Where you’ll find them: On Marquette Campus Monday-Friday for lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and at the corner of Water Street and Juneau Avenue on Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Of course, locations are subject to change, so track them on Facebook.
With a focus on healthy, fresh food, Pita Brothers is the smart dining idea conceived by brothers Vijay and Manoj Swearingen. Traveling from their National Avenue kitchen headquarters to their desired destination in a battery-powered truck, Pita Brothers is Milwaukee’s first “electric food vendor,” offering quality curbside cuisine.
The truck produces zero emissions and contains a small flat-top grill, refrigerators, steam bins and a blender to produce hearty meals that are made to order. Shoulder to shoulder, the brothers assemble sandwiches on authentic Lebanese flatbread and spin fruit smoothies in the compact space. Of course, this cleverly designed steel kitchen turns the heads of passers-by, but it’s not the pita mobile that’s getting all of the attention; it’s the homemade food that’s not only tasty, but healthy too.
What’s on the menu: Portable pita wraps served on flatbread, snugly encasing grilled or raw veggies, meats – bacon, chicken and steak – or vegetarian fillings like hummus or falafel. Each sandwich is completed with a choice of dressings: tahini, buttermilk ranch, spicy ranch, mayo, creamy caesar and sweet barbecue. Prices range from $5 to $6.
Where you’ll find them: Located in downtown Milwaukee serving lunch between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and dinner between 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. The truck usually is parked at the Third Ward's Catalano Square off Broadway for weekday lunches, but hungry people can track the truck's location on Twitter (twitter.com/pitabros).
One of the city’s originals, the hot dog cart, has become part of Downtown Milwaukee’s landscape. An institution, decades old, Real Dogs has been towing the lot for years, offering a pit stop for carousers as they move from bar to bar on weekend nights.
But it’s not just for midnight snacks; the weekday lunch hour is prime hot dog time, too. Day after day, hungry and devoted locals form a line for fast, convenient and familiar food. To such regulars these stands are a link to the community, a neighborhood anchor, and an adjunct to the office. Oddly enough, the hot dog cart is the perfect place for discussing civic affairs and debating politics as patrons place their order – one dog with raw onions, ketchup, hold the mustard.
What’s on the menu: Standard, made by the book, hot dogs ($2.25, other sausages $3.25), brats, natural-skin wieners and knackwurst, plus a more exotic lineup of Usinger’s products, including Cajun andouille, spicy Hungarian and the irresistible Portuguese linguiça. Top it off with Brooklyn onions (in a fiery red sauce).
Where you’ll find them: Along Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee.
We often associate crêpes with fine-dining, but they were originally served on the streets of France. Striving to change Milwaukee’s perception of this delicate dish, Janeen and Dirk Werderich created Satellite Crêpes. From a self-built, “green” mobile cart big enough for two griddles and an array of toppings, the couple serves up sweet and savory eats made from scratch and to order.
Their distinct eco-cart has a solar panel positioned on top of its aluminum roof, which powers the fridge battery. Traditional buckwheat batter is ladled onto a sizzling griddle and spread thin with a squeegee-looking tool. Within minutes, the crêpe is flipped and topped with local, organic ingredients, and then folded into quarters and wrapped in paper.
Still, the space-named food is only part of the couples’ vision. Having people come together on the streets as a community, to interact with each other, was the biggest appeal when entering the mobile food business. With amicable conversation and fast but delicious food, the Werderick’s have succeeded in providing a great social hangout.
What’s on the menu: Fresh, vegan and non-vegan crêpes, perfectly crisp yet lacy and packed with savory prosciutto and mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, lemon and truffle oil or sweet bananas and chocolate-hazelnut Nutella, Grand Marnier and fresh squeezed lemon and sugar, and more. Crêpes cost $3-$5.
Where you’ll find them: Often found in the Third Ward, on the corner of Broadway and Buffalo, or on the East Side off of Brady Street. But like a true satellite, their location is ever moving. Check their Web site, www.satellitecrepes.com, for daily updates.
No matter where you are or what time of day, Street-za Pizza brings pizza by the slice right to you – on the street. The red-and-white pizza truck, run by Scott Baitinger and Steve Mai, travels the city with an ever-changing lineup of both traditional and gourmet slices.
They're constantly creating new pies and experimenting with exotic flavor combinations. The Brewers Hill features slices of brat simmered in Blatz and the Bay View slice is topped with ground sirloin, bacon, various cheeses, onion, and home-made potato chips from Cafe LuLu. Street-za uses locally grown or organic ingredients and fresh dough which is pulled rather than tossed to create a flakey and crispy crust. Each pizza is constructed in their commercial kitchen and then baked at 650 degrees on a slate deck in the truck’s oven until it’s ready to be served to a hungry, late night crowd.
What’s on the menu: Street-za sells its pizza slices ($3.75) from a changing daily lineup, from sausage and pepperoni to chicken Alfredo and eggplant-fresh mozzarella.
Where you’ll find them: Like the menu, the Street-za truck shifts around, hitting festivals and special events in addition to favorite Water Street watering holes on weekend nights. Folks can track the truck's location on Twitter (twitter.com/streetzapizza) or Facebook.
One of a number of loncheras on Milwaukee’s south side, Taqueria Arandas, fondly referred to as “the taco truck”, is spreading good taste and eclectic meals all over the city. The taco truck experience is inextricably linked to the urbanity of the neighborhood. Served with grilled hot peppers, onions and a spicy chile salsa, the food is piping hot, fresh and surprisingly inexpensive. Folks stopping by can grab their food to go or unwrap their order and perch at the truck’s metal fold-down counter.
What’s on the menu: Burritos, tostada, tacos and tortas. Fillings include barbacoa (tender beef), chicken, asada (steak), tripas (chitterling) – crisp of soft – and beef tongue.
Where you’ll find them: Trucks are parked at three different locations from 10 to 8: S. 37th Street and National Avenue S. 13th Street (north of the restaurant) and S. 27th Street (north of Oklahoma Avenue).