2021 Madison food cart preview: Where to get your mobile eats

These 39 food and drink vendors will be setting up shop around town this season.
Common Pasta
Photo courtesy of Common Pasta
It's food cart season, folks!

Vaccinations are rolling out, the winds are warming and, most of all, the food carts downtown are starting to come out of hibernation. Could this be nature healing? Or do Madisonians just have an insatiable hankering for top-notch bites served out of a moving vehicle? We would bet on the latter, but either way, there are stands for snacking on every cuisine imaginable right here in Madison. Here are a few food carts we’re most excited about, new and old, that have opened their windows and turned on their flattop grills for an exciting 2021 season.

Common Pasta: Under new ownership, mac’n’cheese mainstay Common Pasta is back serving Madison’s lunch crowd. “We extrude all of our pastas by hand, which means mixing the doughs and shaping the noodles. The pasta is always fresh, never frozen or dried,” says owner Jon Rosnow. “This process leaves us with a noodle that is al dente and has a nice chew to it.” Rosnow says that his favorite part of having a mobile dining experience is the quick-paced workday. “There are so many details to deal with on a daily basis that it really keeps you on your toes,” he says. “Making the pasta, baking the bread, loading the food cart with to-go containers, making sure the generators have gas, interacting with the guests … list could go on.” Capitol Square near East Main Street: M-F

Cafe Costa Rica: Latin soul food is just a hop, skip and jump away depending on the day with Caribbean cuisine by Chef Thony Clarke, or “Mango Man,” who’s behind Cafe Costa Rica. The homemade salsa is sold by the container for a reason, and pairs well with all of the dishes prepared on the truck. Library Mall: M, T, W, F, Dane County Farmers’ Market

Surco: Surco has been serving Peruvian cuisine in the campus area since 2011, and its meals certainly stand the test of time. While the meats steal the show in many of Surco’s plates, the tacu tacu — a bean and rice cake topped with avocado, passion fruit, and ocopa (black mint) sauce — is a showstopper that is both vegan and gluten free. Library Mall, Corner of West Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, M-F

Caracas Empanadas: If you love deep fried deliciousness, then your next culinary cart experience may come in the form of sweet or savory empanada. Caracas Empanadas cooks up these turnovers with all sorts of fillings, from your typical beef and cheese to a breakfast option on Saturdays. 25 W. Main St., M-F, S 9:30 a.m – 4 p.m.

Umami Buns: An offshoot of the brick-and-mortar Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar, Umami Buns sets up camp downtown and for festival events throughout the summer. Its menu may seem simple, but the combinations of stuffed buns cover a lot of ground. Pork belly, Korean barbecue beef, spicy pulled pork and tofu (two ways) are paired with pickled vegetables and assorted sauces and chutneys to bring it all together. Library Mall: M-F, Dane County Farmers’ Market: S, on North Carroll Street near State Street

Saigon Sandwich: Baguette and bánh mì inherently sound like they go hand in hand, and the iconic Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Sandwich proves that point in the yummiest way possible. Cucumbers, spicy jalapeños, fresh cilantro and sweet carrots marry the meats to create a gorgeous (and photo worthy) chicken and pork sandwich. Corner of West Johnson and North Charter streets, M-F

Other licensed carts you’ll see around town this season:
Banzo: Karben4 Brewing, F from 5 to 8 p.m. for “Falafel Fridays”
Braisin’ Hussies: T-F Capitol Square near King Street, Dane County Farmers Market near intersection of State, Mifflin and Carroll
Bulgogi Korean Burrito: Library Mall, M-F
Buraka: Library Mall
El Burrito Loco: M-F, Capitol Square near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Caracas Arepas: M-S, Library Mall
China Cottage: M-F, Capitol Square near Mifflin Street
Curd Girl: Various locations, catering
Curt’s Popcorn: Capitol Square near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Fresh Cool Drinks: M-F, Library Mall
El Grito Taqueria: Regent Market Co-Op, M-T, catering
Hibachi Hut: M-F, Library Mall
Holy Cow: Various locations
Jolly Frog: Pop-ups, events
Kakilima: M-F, Library Mall
Little Tibet: M-S, Library Mall
LT’s Aloha Wagon: Various locations
Luang Prabang: M-F, Library Mall
Marimar on Wheels: South Park Street
Nani Food Cart: M-F, UW Campus
Nani Restaurant: M-F, Grainger Hall, Memorial Library, Union South
Natural Juice: M-F, Library Mall
Pancho’s Tacos: Various locations
Pete’s Pops: Events, festivals, catering
Sista’s Chicken & Fish: Various locations
SoHo: Events, catering
Taiwan Little Eats: UW Campus
Taste of Jamaica: Pop-ups, catering
Tavernakaya: Capitol Square near East Main Street, S,M,W,Th
Teriyaki Samurai: Capitol Square near East Main Street, M-F
Thai-riffic: Library Mall
Toast: Library Mall, events, catering
Ugly Apple Cafe: Capitol Square near East Main Street W, F, Dane County Farmers’ Market at the top of State Street, Monroe Street Farmers’ Market
El Wiscorian: UW Campus

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