Some cities have developed robust street-food scenes, with everything from the native dishes of newly arrived immigrants to the drive-by cuisine of big-name chefs available from trucks and carts. In New Orleans, however, street food remains primarily an adjunct to drinking.
While street-food vendors here are few and far between, many have cropped up as entrepreneurial responses to concentrations of people partying late at night. That's pretty much the reason for the season this week as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival rolls along, and revelers who want tasty sustenance without such extravagances as seating or utensils will find more options than usual around town.
The latest is a truck called Taceaux Loceaux, mainly operating Uptown by married couple Maribeth and Alex del Castillo. They bought a used barbecue truck last year and began test-driving a menu of creative tacos with unforgettable names. There's "messin' with Texas," a combination of smoky brisket shreds and the fresh crunch of cabbage, radish and cilantro, and "Seoul man," with garlicky, Korean-style barbecue chicken, tart pickled onions and a shot of Sriracha hot sauce. The "all hat, no cattle" taco is a meatless version of the brisket number. Look for Taceaux Loceaux outside Dos Jefes Cigar Bar (5535 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-8500) on Friday and Saturday nights from about 10 p.m. on, and also during the Friday happy hour stint outside the Kingpin bar (1307 Lyons St., 891-2373). Get location updates at www.twitter.com/TLnola.
Also Uptown, chef Nathaniel Zimet is slinging his impressive Southern comfort food for a limited Jazz Fest-season engagement from his purple-painted Que Crawl truck (www.quecrawl.com). A formally trained chef, Zimet parlayed the success of this truck into the restaurant Boucherie (8115 Jeannette St., 862-5514), which occupies most of his time now. But while the Jazz Fest crowds are surging, he'll return the Que Crawl to its original proving grounds outside Tipitina's (501 Napoleon Ave.) and serve his greatest hits like boudin balls, grit fries and cochon de lait po-boys each night through Sunday, May 2.
The bar circuit along Frenchmen Street has attracted food vendors, and as recently as a month ago, there was a choice of three competing taco trucks parked between the 500 and 700 blocks. The Praline Connection (542 Frenchmen St., 943-3934) briefly got in on the action too, serving po-boys and Creole soul dishes from a mobile cart that opened after restaurant hours. But in late March, police began issuing code citations to vendors they found along Frenchmen, a move that abruptly reordered the food options. The Praline Connection cart retired from the fray, and the Taqueria el Chaparral truck has moved to the 2100 block of Decatur Street.
One would-be Frenchmen Street vendor moved indoors. Rubens Leite, a Brazilian-born New Orleans transplant who runs a fleet of six fantastically decorated taco trucks, struck a deal with the owner of Café Negril (606 Frenchmen St., 944-4744), a music club with a large but dormant grill. Leite has appealed to the City Council to resolve questions of where and when city-licensed street vendors may operate. For now, though, signs at Cafe Negril read "taco truck now inside" and direct hungry customers past the bandstand to a diner counter and open grill. There, the same women who work in Leite's trucks serve the huge pastor-style pork burritos for $5, one-pound tamales for $3 and neat, simple tacos with blistering green salsa for $2 a pop, cooking every night from 7 p.m. on. It's street food incarnate, even if it's sometimes eaten on the Negril dance floor.