Food Trucks Are on the Move in Boulder County
By Katherine Nettles
Good eats are hitting the streets all over Boulder County. At least 50 food trucks and a dozen food carts are making the rounds at summer hot spots, including breweries, festivals, neighborhood parties, farmers’ markets, food parks and even a few semipermanent locations. Their eclectic menus, fast service and laid-back atmosphere make these moveable feasts perfect for both foodies and families on a budget.
Rachel Hansen, one of the organizers of Art Night Out in Lafayette, which features local bands, art and beer, says the food trucks are one of the key draws to the event. “The food trucks have elevated the event in a lot of ways. The most obvious one is that families can come and find a variety of foods to meet their needs and tastes,” she says. “There’s such a variety of cuisines available, from Cajun to French to farm-to-table to organic. And food trucks have brought forth a lot of very thoughtful chefs.”
Food trucks may be popular now, but it’s been a tough road. Food trucks first showed up in Boulder around 2009, according to public health officials. The economic recession and high commercial rents made opening a restaurant cost-prohibitive for many; food trucking, which requires a lower up-front investment, made sense for many would-be restaurateurs. That said, city managers had a lot of questions about how to regulate them. Longmont outright banned them and Boulder had strict regulations that made it difficult for trucks to survive. A few restaurant owners embraced the innovation, while many others resented the competition.
Nevertheless, the movement has become so popular that many trucks have a following. They have a symbiotic relationship with the huge number of craft breweries and distilleries that don’t have an in-house kitchen, whose patrons want food on site. In fact, Longmont not only lifted its ban but is now arguably the Boulder County town most populated with food trucks on any given night, due to its many breweries and distilleries.
Food trucks have made an undeniable impression on the regional culinary culture. They can move the needle forward in culinary possibilities, says Edward Vanegas of Boulder, who has owned both a mobile food venue and several restaurants. “Where a restaurant has to be more conservative, a food truck is going to look at food trending around the country, and they have the benefit of light-footed creativity.”
You can see that creativity in popular food trucks such as the Ginger Pig, which serves Asian fusion made with seasonal ingredients. It sometimes pops up at Isabelle Farm Stand in Lafayette and recently offered to send customers home with a Gochujang vinaigrette if they bought bok choy from the farm stand to pair with it. Natascha Hess, one of the owners, says her food is inspired by the time she spent as an exchange student in China, learning to cook under Nalu, her Chinese “mom.”
Many owners have a story or two about how they got into the business. Some have culinary backgrounds, but others were hobbyists who ducked out of other industries. Eric Hollinger got fed up with a flooded job market for scientists and pursued his love of barbecue. Having honed his skills as “pitmaster,” his truck, Rollin’ Bones BBQ, is now a popular regular at Rayback Collective and among business people at Flatirons Parkway.
In some cases, food trucks have become restaurants, and in others, restaurateurs have gone the reverse route. Vanegas started out using a vintage hot dog cart, then opened two restaurants: Urban Thai in Longmont and Apertivo in North Boulder. He pivoted back to found EATS@Gunbarrel, a new food truck event that opened in May.
Michael DeBoer of Boulder began his journey as a trained chef by doing his classical apprenticeship at the Flagstaff House and attending the Culinary Institute of America. In 2015, he launched The French Twist Food Truck, which serves upscale items like duck confit, escargot and créme brûlée. “It’s a lot more work than most people expect, but well worth it,” he says.
Rayback Collective has taken the popularity of food truck rallies a step further with a year-round food truck park. The sprawling space alongside Elmer’s Two Mile Creek Greenway rec path has indoor and outdoor seating. It hosts up to four food trucks at a time throughout the week. The trucks park on the perimeter of a courtyard alongside lawn games, a fire pit and picnic tables.
Hank Grant, Rayback Collective’s co-founder and president, says concepts like theirs operate all over the U.S., allowing venues to keep their menus fresh. “We can be a lot of different things at different times to different people,” says Grant. “We fill a niche that isn’t there in Boulder.”
Perhaps food trucks are, at their best, a modern-day version of the early drive-ins or the corner cafes. You can walk up, chat with chefs/owners (usually one and the same) and get a sense that you are part of the scene.
Says Vanegas: “To be able to enjoy open air in an old-fashioned, meet-your-neighbor kind of way—it’s that community sense that has been driving me all along.”
Food Truck Hangouts
Looking for food trucks this summer? One way to find them is to (virtually) follow them around. Most trucks have mailing lists, social media pages and/or websites. We’ve tracked down some of the hottest food truck locations; please check their website or Facebook page before making the drive.
EATS@Gunbarrel (bi-weekly Sundays, starting in May)
Saturday Farmers’ Market (April 7-Nov. 17)
Wednesday Farmers’ Market (May 2-Oct. 3)
29th Street Live! (Saturday concerts; Friday concerts TBD)
Upslope Brewery Tap Rooms
Survey Gizmo (weekday lunch)
Flatirons Business Park (weekday lunch)
Ball Aerospace (weekday lunch)
SparkFun Electronics (weekday lunch)
Lockheed Martin (weekday lunch)
Isabelle Farm Stand
East Simpson Coffee Company
Odd 13 Brewing
Romero’s K9 Club & Taphouse
Thursday Farmers’ Market (June 8-Sept. 28)
First Friday Art Night (May through September)
Left Hand Brewing
St. Vrain Cidery
Open Door Brewing Company
Grossen Bart Brewery
Saturday Farmers’ Market (April 7-Nov. 17)
Saturday Farmers’ Market
(May 19-Oct. 13)
Recreation Center (TBD)
Niwot Rock & Rails (Thursdays, June 7-Aug. 30)