BOULDER, CO – Nearly 700 people fan out over a spacious grassy park. Youngsters enjoy getting their faces painted while their parents sway to the beat of a bluegrass band. More than a dozen food trucks ply their wares, which range from street-style tacos to frozen vegan desserts.

Is this a blowout weekend festival that comes but once a year? Not quite, it’s just a typical summertime Monday night in Longmont’s Prospect community. This is “Prospect Eats,” which bills itself as “the largest weekly gathering of gourmet food trucks in Colorado.”

There’s little reason to doubt this description, and it’s immediately apparent food trucks are the straw that stirs the drink here as crowds gravitate around their favorite vendors.

Cassia Baranello, who recently celebrated her birthday at Prospect Eats, explains the considerable appeal of this block party on steroids.

“You can hang out with friends, listen to music and eat good food,” she says. “You also don’t have to do the dishes.”

The popularity of these events illustrates how food trucks have come a long way from what Tasterie truck owner Shannon Aten dubs “traditional roach coaches.”

Hosea Rosenberg, the champion of Season 5 of TV’s “Top Chef” and Blackbelly food truck owner, explains how perceptions have changed when it comes to mobile kitchens.

“For so long, people considered food trucks kind of gross,” he said, “but now there’s actual chefs cooking.”

Aten and Rosenberg’s menus show that a gourmet sensibility has displaced such outdated offerings as soggy, premade sandwiches. You’re likely to find a Thai pork bowl and shrimp and sausage grits on offer at Tasterie. Rosenberg’s Blackbelly spotlights specialties such as a lamb sandwich made from an animal raised on Rosenberg’s farm, which shares its name with the truck, his catering business and upcoming Boulder market.

Besides good food, the social aspect is another potent part of these trucks’ allure.

“Food trucks are more casual than a restaurant,” Aten says. “They’re more interactive.”

She notes gatherings afford an opportunity to “talk to a neighbor you wouldn’t necessarily be able to talk to in a restaurant.”

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