NOLA food truck

New Orleans, LA – From roast beef stuffed po’boys to crawfish etouffee, house made gelato to meats cured on site, New Orleans boasts a glorious food scene that has thrived since Hurricane Katrina. But look around the French Quarter, or on the streets of downtown, and there’s something missing: food trucks.

At a time when mobile kitchens are flourishing in so many parts of the country, prospective New Orleans food truck owners face a variety of restrictions that keep them from fanning out across the Crescent City.

New Orleans isn’t alone: Chicago’s few dozen food truck operators have been battling for years with restaurant owners, who want to keep the trucks from being able to cook on the spot, and thus limit their menus and appeal. Lately, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, food trucks contend police are tracking them down via social media and issuing tickets they say are meant to scare them off the streets.

In New Orleans, the presence of food trucks was invaluable in the months after Katrina, when they popped up to feed clean-up crews and construction workers who couldn’t leave their sites to dine out at the few reopened restaurants. But as chefs and staff returned to the city, the effort to expand food trucks stalled, in large part because of strict limits on their number and how they can operate.

The city classifies food trucks as mobile vendors, putting them in the same category as souvenir sellers. Only 100 permits are available at any given time, meaning a new truck owner has to wait until an existing one is turned in. A permit costs about $300 and must be renewed each year.

The application is just the start. In order to cook on a truck, the city requires a health department inspection and a fire inspection, and trucks must make any needed modifications before they can open.

But then comes the biggest conundrum: where to go. Trucks cannot operate in the French Quarter or the Central Business District, keeping them away from millions of tourists who visit annually, not to mention office workers who are less inclined to seek a sit-down meal.

New Orleans food trucks can only stop in one place for 30 minutes at a time, and can only visit the same spot once in a 24-hour period. Food trucks can’t sell dishes made from seafood, a big roadblock in a place known for its tasty shrimp, crawfish and Gulf-caught fish. Trucks also can’t set up within 600 feet of a school, cafeteria or restaurant.

In other words, if you have an after-work hankering for fish tacos and figure you can saunter down to that truck you spotted a while back out your office window, you are probably out of luck.

Find the entire article by Micheline Maynard at The Atlantic Cities <here>