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Food Truck Alley offers Riversiders alternative dining options

We were late to the game, but food trucks have become a popular destination for hungry Riversiders.

Food Truck Alley on a Sunday night.

Riverside was a latecomer to the food truck scene. The economic concerns of brick-and-mortar institutions and public health issues led to a conservative approach to the permission and regulation processes. The City did not allow food prepared on the truck to be sold until 2022. Even when permission was granted, Riverside opted for a more restrictive model for where food trucks could be located.

Two years later, the food truck scene is thriving despite the restrictions. Several locations around town have become destination spots for diners. Various cuisines are available, and a few locations maintain regular proprietors to supplement traditional restaurant options. Regulations have kept trucks away from areas that would obstruct auto and foot traffic and have delegated spots that were out of use.

My local spot, the parking lot near Target on McMahon and Arlington Avenue, has a couple of regular vendors. Birriera Gonzales and, less frequently, Bon Appetit Shawarma (also spotted at Tyler and Diana). I see a few other individual trucks sprinkled around, but the hot spot is, without dispute, Food Truck Alley in the other Target parking lot on Diana and Tyler Street. The two trucks getting the most attention at that location are Mikey’s Fry House and Arayaki Hibachi, but when I dropped in last Sunday night, neither of those was around.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to eat. Eight trucks were open and serving, even after many brick-and-mortar restaurants had hung it up for the night. The place was buzzing, and many vendors had decent lines at the window. Cuisines ranged from Columbian street food, two mariscos trucks, and the ubiquitous funnel cake trailer. The operation has spread to two parking lots, and I estimate that a hundred patrons have stood and eaten at their trunk lids and tailgates. One family brought a folding table and chairs for a more comfortable experience.

The restaurant business is challenging. Many traditional restaurants have adapted to economic changes by cutting staff, limiting menus, and shortening hours. With minimal overhead and payroll, a food truck has a few advantages. Mobile vendors benefit from their ability to open and close quickly, stay open longer if demand is high, and even change locations in minutes if the business is slow. This is impossible for a physical establishment. I prefer the ambiance and service of a sit-down restaurant. Still, I am glad that Riverside was able to come up with an acceptable regulatory arrangement that allows for a place like Food Truck Alley.