Eighth-Annual Vendy Awards

Julie Besonen

The eighth-annual Vendy Awards were held on September 15 on Governors Island, honoring the best of the best from thousands of street vendors that ply their trade in New York City. This year's overall winner was Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food, a family-run food truck in Red Hook. Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food took home the coveted Vendy Cup, but each of the finalists, many of them immigrants, have gained a hold of our appetites by feeding us the most delicious food they know how to make. Sponsored by The Street Vendor Project, part of the nonprofit Urban Justice Center, the Vendys pit pushcarts against food trucks. This year's master of ceremonies was James Cunningham, host of Food Network Canada's Eat St.; judges included Food & Wine magazine's Kate Krader, chef/writer/TV celebrity Eddie Huang, Top Chef Masters host Kelly Choi and hip-hop satirists Das Racist. As befits any awards ceremony, there were different categories. The dessert division favorite was Melt Bakery, purveyor of artisanal ice cream sandwiches; best rookie honors went to Phil's Steaks, maker of authentic Philly cheesesteaks; the first-ever Market Vendor Award winner was Lumpia-Shack, provider of Filipino-inspired spring rolls; and The Cinnamon Snail, which dishes out organic vegan foods, won the People's Taste Award. See our slideshow for more info on the Vendy Cup finalists.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

The Cinnamon Snail
Various locations
Vegans have found bliss at The Cinnamon Snail, a truck that roves to different locations in Manhattan and New Jersey. Chef/owner Adam Sobel has made carnivores reconsider their diets with organic breakfast items like fresh fig pancakes with chamomile–blood orange syrup and pine nut butter. Lunchtime favorites include the ancho chili seitan burger with beer-simmered onions and garlic, arugula, piri piri pepper sauce and horseradish cream on grilled herbed focaccia. Vietnamese, Thai and Korean flavors also spice things up. Plus, the truck is a go-to spot for raw foodists—there's raw pizza with olives and onions on a thick flax crust with sun-dried tomato sauce and cashew cheese, for instance, and jalapeño raw brownies for dessert. Until 3pm, devotees can stop by for raspberry blackout donuts (if they're not sold out) and star anise–coconut milk iced coffee. Check Facebook and Twitter for location updates. For more information, see the Cinnamon Snail video at foodcurated.com.

Gyro. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Hamza & Madina Halal Food
254-05 Hillside Ave., Glen Oaks, Queens
"Halal" means "permissible" in Arabic and involves being in accordance with Islamic law, which includes humane methods of animal slaughter. Kasam, Zahir and Salem Mashriqi—a Queens-based family from Afghanistan—sell as many as 300 to 500 chicken and lamb gyros from their pushcart each day. The succulent meats are infused with chili powder, garlic and fresh jalapeños and topped with a white sauce that features both Middle Eastern and Afghani flavors. Extra white sauce? Yes, please. And if you can take the heat, get a drizzle of hot sauce on the falafels and kebabs. Most items range from $3.99 to $5.99. If you're on Long Island, stop by the Hamza & Madina Halal Food cart in Hicksville. For more information, see the Hamza & Madina Halal Food video at foodcurated.com.

Carne asada taco. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food
Bay and Clinton Streets, Red Hook, Brooklyn
On Saturdays and Sundays, from April through October, the Red Hook ball fields are lined with a panoply of Latin American food trucks—among them a past Vendy Cup winner, Solber Pupusas, as well as Piaztlan, this year's winner, selling faithful renditions of Puebla-style tacos, tostadas, flautas and cemitas. The crowd gathered before it comprises a fiesta, multigenerational Mexican women occupying folding chairs and a phalanx of men smoking and chatting. Chef/co-owner Eleazar Perez's tacos are fantastic, amply stuffed with chicken, carne asada or pulled goat meat, a deal at $3.50 each. Choose your level of heat from the serve-yourself salsa table. The double blanket of tortillas keeps dripping on your shirt to a minimum. Find a neighboring picnic table or park bench and watch the fiercely competitive soccer matches. For more information, see the Piaztlan Authentic Mexican Food video at foodcurated.com.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Uncle Gussy's
Park Avenue and East 51st Street, Midtown East, Manhattan
"What's up, buddy? How ya doin'?" is the friendly greeting everyone gets at the window of Uncle Gussy's Greek food truck. Nicholas Karagiorgos and his brother, Frank, run such a well-oiled machine that when you hear them say, "Give me one second," they actually mean it. The line moves fast. Mother Katerina works behind the scenes, preparing pork and chicken as well as whipping up tangy tzatziki from scratch. Wrapped in warm, puffy pita, the sandwiches are fit for the gods, particularly the sausage with grilled peppers and onions. The Mediterranean-blue truck features daily specials, such as well-seasoned pork chops with oven-roasted lemon potatoes, shrimp souvlaki marinated in spicy habanero-pineapple sauce and sweet cake layered with phyllo, yogurt and orange zest. You'll find the truck at the same corner Monday through Friday, from 11am to 3pm, across from a shady plaza where you can wolf everything down. For more information, see the Uncle Gussy's video at foodcurated.com.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs
Forsyth and Division Streets, Chinatown, Manhattan
Lamb, chicken and beef kebabs for $1? The most expensive thing on the menu at Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs is grilled quail for $4. A meaty chicken wing is $2. Chef/owner Pang Gil Hwa, from China's Xinjiang region, fires everything on a stick over glowing charcoal, and the meat is fresh, juicy and smoky. Pescatarians can get a skewer of squid—basted and cooked in one big piece, then snipped into edible bites with scissors—for $2. Standing at this sidewalk cart feels like a scene out of Blade Runner—no English spoken, the roar of the Manhattan Bridge overhead, two tattered chairs for the weary and battered bikes chained up nearby. Someone is manning the coals every day from 10:30am to 8:30pm. It's a testament to how hard immigrants in the City work, and how they manage to do it with a smile. For more information, see the Xin Jiang Prosperity Kebabs video at foodcurated.com.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Tortas Neza
Roosevelt Avenue and 111th Street, Corona, Queens
The man likes soccer. Proprietor Galdino Molinero named his 19 varieties of tortas (Mexican sandwiches) after Mexican fútbol clubs, and if there's a game on, you can bet it's being telecast on the mini flat-screen TV attached to the refrigerator inside his food truck. The man also has knife skills. Watch this former catering cook expertly slice up an onion for the Torta Tuzos Pechuga, a colossal layering of steak, onion, cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and schmear of refried beans. Pork lovers should go for the Monarcas, crunchy fried bits of pork, tender pulled pork and shredded cheese layered with jalapeños and avocado in a squishable bun. Molinero previously had a brick-and-mortar Tortas Neza store in Woodside, but now sells solely from his silver-chrome truck, parked just a few blocks from Citi Field. For more information, see the Tortas Neza video at foodcurated.com.