By Daniella Emanuel
Food carts are a New York tradition and every year the best of them get recognized at the Vendy Awards. This year’s ceremony was held on Governors Island on Saturday, September 17. Seven New York food carts left with a trophy. A week later, most of them were back on the streets. NYCity Lens talked to some of them.
Tacos El Rancho: The Vendy Cup
44th and 5th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Three days after winning The Vendy Cup, a street vendor’s highest honor, Tacos El Rancho was back to work in Sunset Park, serving up fresh tacos, burritos and quesadillas. And their customers enjoyed eating every morsel.
“It was pretty fucking good,” Nikolaj Nefedov, a pilot from the Netherlands, said about the burrito he had just eaten. “I felt like I was down south.”
Tacos El Rancho is a family business, run by Felix Soriano and his two sons, 19-year-old Nelson and 21-year-old Dennis. Their business began as solely a butcher shop, but expanded into a food cart when Felix decided he wanted to share his passion for cooking. Felix is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, but moved to Brooklyn when he was 14 years old. Oaxaca is known for it’s diverse array of dishes, ranging from meats dunked in spiced sauces, to tacos, the Sorianos’ specialty.
“Making sure he can bring the Oaxaca flavors to this truck” is Felix’s inspiration, Dennis said. “Showing people what is prepared in his hometown.”
Dennis said they didn’t sleep the entire night before the Vendys because they were too busy preparing food. They cut about 150 pounds of pork, five cases of pineapple, and his mother and aunt made 1300 tortillas by hand, he said.
Tacos El Rancho won The Vendy Cup, a large silver trophy that symbolizes the judges’ favorite vendor of the year.
“It’s a good feeling, because you’re being recognized for the hard work,” Dennis said. “It boosts your confidence knowing that people actually like your food.”
Dennis said a family rumor has been going around that Tacos El Rancho’s next big move might be opening up a restaurant. With all the popularity, he said he thinks there’s a good chance it will happen.
Mr. Bing: Rookie of the Year
25th and Broadway, Manhattan
Mr. Bing’s Chinese crepes are sweet and savory, soft and crunchy. This unique and delicious taste bud tug-of-war may have had some influence on their “Rookie of the Year” title at the Vendy Awards.
The Mandarin name of the crepes is jianbing, and they are a popular street food in Northern China. Brian Goldberg, the founder of Mr. Bing, would enjoy them for breakfast every morning while studying in Beijing in 1998. In 2015, he opened up a Mr. Bing stand in Madison Square Eats in Manhattan, where he began his mission to popularize the food in America.
“It’s really different because it’s super trendy and people are so crazy about it,” Jonathan Moncada, Mr. Bing’s 18-year-old chef leader said. “I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
Moncada met Goldberg last year while he was picking up his girlfriend at another food stand in Madison Square Eats. Goldberg was understaffed and frantically looking for more employees, in fear that he wouldn’t be able to open his stand in the coming weeks. He hired Moncada, who has held a variety of different positions ranging from manager to chef leader since starting last November.
Moncada also helped run Mr. Bing during the Vendy Awards this year. It was the busiest he has ever been, he said. There were 40 to 50 people in line at a time. Moncada was satisfied by their Rookie of the Year award.
“It was indescribable because I’ve never seen Brian so happy,” Moncada said.
Mysttik Masaala: Vegan Cup Winner
54th and Park, Manhattan
Indian food cart Mysttik Masaala was one of the last stations at the Vendy Awards to still have festival-goers lined up to eat.
“They said ‘The award ceremony started already. It’s time to stop feeding people,’” Sherman Thacker, one of the chefs, said.
In the first year that there was a vegan category, Mysttik Masaala won the Vegan Cup, meaning the nine judges ranked them as the best vegan food cart in New York City.
Yuvaraaj J. Thakkar, the owner of Mysttik Masaala, started the business in 2013. His son, Rishi, had passed away the year before, and he was experiencing severe depression in the aftermath. Thakkar said it was Rishi’s dream to become a chef and make people happy with his food.
“The day I decided to end it, I passed out and dreamed that I was making food for people,” Thakkar said. “Rishi was in my dream, smiling.”
Thakkar is devoted to serving people authentic and healthy Indian food. The main dish he served at The Vendy Awards was called the vegan plate. It had rice with spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, and spices on top.
“That’s what you would eat if you came to someone’s home in India,” he said.
When asked if his son would be proud of Mystikk Masaala’s accomplishments, Thakkar smiled.
“He’s the one making it happen,” he said. “I’m sitting on the giant shoulder.”