The Rise of a Food Truck Nation

Written by Meredith Blevins

Edited by Sean McCarthy and Shreeya Basnyat

There’s an explosion taking place in America. Well, at least figuratively speaking. Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number food trucks in America and these meals-on-wheels are taking over in cities from coast to coast. I personally hadn’t paid much attention to the food truck craze until I came to JMU for my Summer Springboard tour. As I was driving around Harrisonburg the night before,I noticed several strange-looking, brightly-colored trucks parked around the city. I had no idea that food trucks had invaded Harrisonburg. I thought food trucks were only seen in larger cities, such as New York City or Los Angeles, because I had never seen a food truck in smaller cities before. Later on in the summer, as I was driving around Washington D.C. with my family, I noticed something that almost every street had in common: food trucks. The mobile restaurants were everywhere and each one was different from the next. They ranged everything from tacos to burgers and Asian to Brazilian. The overwhelming number of mobile eateries I saw peaked my interest about the business. I wanted to know what made food trucks so popular; Was it the unique selection of food or just convenience? With an estimated 3 million food trucks in America, food trucks are no longer viewed as simple fast-food or a “fad” (Rao, 2011). The food truck business has evolved and begun to impact America’s culinary culture.

Before the food truck craze spread across America, food trucks were often viewed as “grubby” or often unsanitary mobile trailers that served inexpensive foods that people could quickly grab food from and go on their way. However, Los Angeles resident, Chef Roy Choi, helped change this stereotype. With the opening of the Kogi Truck, Chef Choi helped start the movement that has shaped America into a food truck nation. The Kogi Truck was created to provide the public with Korean-Mexican fusion food with quality, delicious ingredients at low prices. Fusion food is a type of food that is created from the combination of different cultural cuisines. Some of the top fusion food sellers at the Kogi Truck include the Korean BBQ Short Rib Taco and the Kogi Kimchee Quesadilla. Thanks to Choi’s creativity and unique business concepts that spread, the food truck scene is now considered, as this video states, “a sophisticated part of our food culture”.  

Photo seen in Time Magazine of Kogi BBQ truck owner, Roy Choi.

For many food truck owners, cost played a huge role in their decision to open a food truck. Compared to opening a restaurant, opening a food truck is exceptionally lower in start-up costs. For most, the start-up costs for opening a restaurant are so high that the extra money would need to be acquired through a loan. However, due to the recent poor economy, it is challenging to receive a loan from a bank in order to open a restaurant. Restaurants are considered a high-risk investment because eatery establishments open and close everyday.Because of these obstacles, opening a food truck has become a great second plan for many culinary entrepreneurs.

The food truck industry has also had a large impact on the types of quality foods available to the public. Like Choi, many people had other ideas for fusion foods and food trucks provided an easy way for these creative entrepreneurs to make their ideas available to the public. A common form of fusion food is Tex-Mex. This type of cuisine combines classic Mexican dishes with American flavors. Popular examples of Tex-Mex are spicy chili and enchiladas. Such fusion foods have helped the food truck industry because the public craves new ideas and flavor combinations that are not usually found in a restaurant setting. One common example of Tex-Mex inspired food trucks are taco trucks. Taco trucks are one of the most popular cuisine choices found on food trucks because tacos are such a portable and easy to make food. A great example of a popular taco truck is Torchy’s Tacos found in various locations around Texas. Originally founded as a restaurant, the branch expanded into the food truck business and has greatly increased their success. Torchy’s Tacos offers several unique taco combinations, including a fried avocado taco and a blackened salmon taco. Torchy’s Tacos also serves more than just tacos. They also offer breakfast, delicious dips, and even some sweet treats.

A popular “fusion-food” dish is Tex-Mex enchiladas.

One of the biggest forces that drove the food truck revolution was the rise of social media. Many food trucks use websites, like Twitter and Facebook, to promote their business for no cost. On, the only topic listed under marketing for food trucks is social media because social media is the most common and easiest way for food truck businesses to reach customers. For example, when a food truck posts to Twitter their location and the times they will be at that location, they are able to reach thousands of potential customers by just the click of a button. Facebook allows food truck businesses to create a page where followers can “like” their business. This use of social media also creates a more personal relationship between customers and business owners. Instead of putting a general ad in a newspaper or magazine, businesses can directly send a message to customers.

The usually low cost of the food and the easily accessible updates make food trucks appeal to the younger generation, especially college students. These “college-friendly” aspects have helped several food trucks, in places like Harrisonburg, become well liked amongst students. One such example is the Tacos El Primo truck, located near the James Madison campus on 1110 Reservoir Street.

The Tacos El Primo food truck.

Image credit: Meredith Blevins 

This truck was recommended to me by a fellow student who had “rave reviews” about the food. Open seven days a week from 11-9 PM, Tacos El Primo serves up authentic Mexican flavors with fresh ingredients. On my first visit to Tacos El Primo, I went with a couple of other JMU students. My first impression of the truck was somewhat skeptical, due to its unique blue color and faded signs. But as I approached the truck, a very friendly woman behind the window greeted me. I looked over the choices of tacos, tortas, burritos, and quesadillas, all very reasonably priced.  I was especially surprised to see the numerous options they offered for meat. Popular choices are steak and chicken, but Tacos El Primo also offers options such as chorizo, beef tongue, spicy pork and fried pork. For beverages, the truck offers various sodas, including selected flavors of Jarritos, a Mexican soda. On my first visit, I decided to try the chicken quesadilla with a strawberry Jarritos for $5.25.

Drink options at Tacos El Primo include various flavors of Jarritos, a Mexican soda.

Image credit: Meredith Blevins

Normally, the quesadilla is served on a flour tortilla with onions, cilantro and cheese. However, I prefer mine without cilantro. I was served my food within a few minutes and opened my foil-wrapped quesadilla. Unfortunately, my tortilla was not fully grilled and had a soft texture. I took a bite and immediately the flavor and tenderness of the chicken hit my tongue. It was cooked well and the flavor had a hint of garlic. Next, I noticed the onion and cheese on my quesadilla. I felt there was too much onion compared to the amount of chicken and cheese. Also, the onion had not been cooked long enough so it had a raw, crunchy texture when a sautéed texture would have been better.

Tacos El Primo is located at 1110 Reservoir Street, Harrisonburg, VA.

 Image credit: Meredith Blevins 

On my second trip to the food truck, I ordered two fried pork tacos and a mandarin Jarritos for $3.25. The tacos are made with the customer’s choice of meat, topped with cilantro and onion, and wrapped in two corn tortillas.

The fried pork tacos are served with fresh cilantro and onion and wrapped in two corn tortillas.

Image credit: Meredith Blevins

I again received my food in a very timely manner. I unwrapped my foil-wrapped food to find two small but beautifully presented tacos. They were served with a spicy sauce, lime and radish slices. First, I tried the taco without the lime or radishes.

Tacos are served with a lime and sliced radishes on the side.

Image credit: Meredith Blevins

The meat was cooked perfectly. It was very tender and had a deliciously marinated flavor. The cilantro and onion were a great fresh and light contrast to the flavors of the pork. I then added some lime juice and slices of radish to the taco. The radish added a nice change in texture to the taco without taking away from the collaborative tastes of the taco. I also tried dipping my taco in the provided sauce. The sauce was spicy, but it had a flavorful heat that added to the taco. Overall, I’d have to say that the Tacos El Primo fried pork taco was the best taco I’ve ever eaten. 

The best taco I’ve ever eaten!

Image credit: Meredith Blevins

It is likely that as the food truck industry grows, it will expand into smaller cities, increasing the number of food trucks even more. The use of social media and the recent poor economical status of America will also likely to keep the mobile eatery business expanding. The food truck revolution can be an inspiration to America. A source of creativity and resourcefulness, food trucks have proved that it is possible to survive and be successful despite poor economic times.


Rao, Venkatesh. Why We Need a Food Truck, Forbes Magazine, 2011.

Food Truck Revolution pt1, Youtube, 2010.

Food Truck Revolution pt2, Youtube, 2010.

Kogi BBQ-To-Go, 2009.

Choy, Vivian. Kogi Truck Culture, InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 2011.

Torchy’s Tacos, 2012.

Mobile Cuisine: The complete online resource destination for the mobile food industry, 2010.