New York is a food city and a street city, and so it is a street-food city. For as long as Germans and Jews, Indians and Chinese have been flocking to this town, they’ve been bringing hot dogs and knishes, dosas and cheung fun noodles with them—and selling them on the sidewalk. In recent years, gourmet and specialty carts have begun springing up, offering everything from world-class barbecue (Daisy May’s midtown carts) to Mario Batali’s frozen treats (Otto’s Washington Square Park gelato cart). Last year saw a celebrated art movie about outdoor food and the men who hawk it (Man Push Cart). Earlier this month, vendors, cart-loving citizens—and Chuck Schumer, of course—rose up to fight proposed restrictions that threatened the vending haven known as the Red Hook ball fields. Locals line up half a block deep for jerk chicken in midtown at lunchtime or for late-night arepas in Queens. Tourists still consider a New York hot dog or pretzel (or both) a must.
“Cartography” is something like a contemporary field guide to mobile comestibles. In it, you’ll not only learn where to find the city’s most enticing outdoor eats. You’ll also discover how the street-food business works and what it’s like to hawk hot dogs and such for a living. All of our reports, we’re happy to say, lead to an inevitable conclusion: The state of the cart remains strong. And why not? Street food is fast, convenient, and, ever more rare in this gilded era, a bargain. But those are practicalities. The mojo lies in the smell of beef sizzling on the grill, the sound of spatulas slicing and dicing onions, and the whole crazy Kabuki ritual of it all. Walk down the street devouring your Afghan chicken kebab or Italian sausage. It’s urban culinary bliss.