Food Trucks, Madison Style

The food truck revolution continues to spread across America.  Delivery trucks transformed into take-away restaurants dot more and more city streets.   Evening revelers depend on food trucks for sustenance on a night out, while businesspeople line up at lunchtime to add some spice to the workday. 

In most food truck-friendly cities, including Milwaukee, the trucks can really get around. Fans follow their favorite truck’s whereabouts on Facebook or Twitter, hoping it will stop nearby.

Leave it to Madison to have a different take on this trend. In the capital city, mobile restaurateurs apply for a site for their food cart (food trucks were deemed too big for the city).  A jury of 25 reviewers scores each cart on four categories: Food, Apparatus, Originality, and Seniority. Then, the chosen carts are assigned places on the Library Mall and around Capitol Square according to their rankings. 

This process results in a colorful variety of carts and cuisines, without the insecurity of wondering whether your foodie fix is just around the corner, or on the other side of town.

Since every cart in Madison has the judges’ seal of approval, go for a wander and you can’t go wrong! But if choosing one from the 40+ carts is too tough, let us narrow down the list to a few local favorites. 


Cuisine: Banzo is first and foremost a falafel cart, but a menu of Mediterranean and American flavors offers everything from babaganush to Philly cheese steak.

Locations: Library Mall (State & Lake St.) and Capitol Square (Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, across from Starbucks) – there’s also a dine-in restaurant at 2105 Sherman Ave.

We recommend: The F-Bomb Platter – two falafel balls with grilled chicken or beef kebabs, served with majadra rice, hummus, chopped salad, and pita.

BJs Kolaches

Cuisine: You guessed it, kolaches!  A kolache is small, filled pastry. It originated as a dessert in Eastern Europe, but has taken on savory fillings in America, and especially tasty ones at BJs.

Location: 975 1/2 University Ave, in front of Grainger Hall

We recommend: The Spinach & Artichoke Kaloche with a parmesan cream sauce, and a side of pasta salad.

Blowin’ Smoke Barbeque

Cuisine: This is honest-to-goodness Kansas City BBQ, with homemade dry rubs and three kinds of ketchup-based sauce.

Locations: Capitol Square (E. Main & S. Pinckney)

We recommend: The Loaded Beef Brisket – thin sliced beef, smoked cheddar cheese, red onion, and a dill pickle on a fresh-baked Kaiser bun.      

FIB’S Fine Italian Beef and Sausage

Cuisine: Classic, meaty Chicago-style Italian sandwiches, from roast beef to chili dogs.

Location: Capitol Square (Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & East Main Street, by Starbucks)

We recommend: The Dean Martin – three meatballs with provolone, Parmesan, and marinara sauce, on fresh-baked bread.

SoHo Gourmet Cuisines

Cuisine: SoHo creates out-of-the ordinary dumplings, salads, and desserts with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Location: Capitol Square (West Main Street & South Carroll)

We recommend: The So Hungry Combo – six dumplings and a side salad. Be sure to include at least one So Hot Chick (Spicy chicken, jalapeno, carrots, celery, and blue cheese with a side of spicy cucumber ranch sauce).

Our final recommendation? Top off your food cart fun with a walk around the city – you just might work up an appetite for Round Two. Take in the shops, street performers, and unique liveliness of State Street; or for a much calmer experience, set out on the UW Lakeshore Path.

Read more about food and fun in Madison.

This entry was posted in Dining, Local Foods, Restaurants