June 28, 2013, 3:48 PM — Somewhere in this city, there's a food truck. I'm hungry, and I'm wandering block after block, looking for people standing in line near a brightly colored vehicle that is handing out delicious fried mac-and-cheese balls, Coca-Cola braised steamed pork buns, tikka masala burritos, cherry smoked chicken sandwiches, or crème brûlée. And I know, somewhere close, there's a truck parked and preparing a mouthwatering variety of potential lunch items. It may not have been there yesterday, it may not be there tomorrow, but with an app in hand, I will find it.
You can't throw a rock in San Francisco without hitting a food truck lately...which isn't really a problem for anyone with $10 and an appetite. And although food trucks often congregate in one central location, such as the Off the Grid events at Fort Mason or the SOMA StrEAT Food Park, sometimes it's hard to figure out where your favorite truck is--or which day it will be in your neighborhood. While Twitter is a great way to keep track of the trucks, you can find a few apps out there that aim to help you not only find a truck, but also share photos, leave comments, watch videos, and even get recipes for your favorite dishes. Grab a snack and read on; this roundup is likely to make you hungry.
Roaming Hunger Food Truck Finder--iOS (Free)
Many apps are city-specific and serve only a select location such as Austin, Texas, or Washington, D.C. In contrast, Roaming Hunger has no such limitations (although it may work better in cities known to have a high population of food trucks).
Roaming Hunger asks for your location, and then provides a list view of all the food trucks in your area. You can see the results in a map view as well, or you can select the Photos tab to bring up images from each vendor's profile. The Filter option allows you to select a location, how far away from that location the app should search, what type of food you're searching for (sweet, savory, or vegetarian), and hours (breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night, or open now). I wouldn't have minded some additional filtering options, such as how expensive each truck is, but the bare minimum is there.
The bottom portion of the app allows you to toggle results between all trucks or just those that you have liked within the app; you'll also find a Refresh button here, and a Settings button that you can tap to add or access an account.
When displayed in list form, the results show the name of the truck, the type of fare it provides, its hours of operation that day, and how far away it is. Tapping on a truck name takes you to its profile page, with driving directions and more info about the truck, plus its menu, website, Twitter feed, and comments. Although in our tests the Menu Items and Website tabs provided more detail on the truck, the Twitter Feed option crashed every time we used it--particularly disappointing given how many trucks use Twitter to alert hungry fans to their location.
Eat St.--iOS, Android (Free)
Eat St. is a TV show on the Cooking Channel that focuses on the best street food in the United States, and its companion app is pretty, informative, and somewhat overly complicated. Opening the app takes you to one of several screens that explain how to use the app. Once you've read through (or ignored) the details, the app takes you to the default Discover screen, which displays a list view of results for nearby dishes.
Wait--dishes? You see, the Eat St. app divides its information between Dishes and Carts, with the former focusing on the food served, and the latter covering the vendor. You can easily toggle between those two options by tapping the plate and truck icons at the top of the app; similarly, you can toggle between a list view and a map view by using a button at the upper left. The app also lets you filter results by Popular or Nearby.
Underneath the results, the bottom navigation of the app provides several options: Discover, Crave List, an icon of a green hand, TV Show, and Me. Discover displays your results--for trucks, it shows the name of the truck, its ranking in the area, how many likes it has received within the app, how far it is from you, open/closed status, and thumbnail images of other users who have tried the truck. For dishes, the app displays the same info along with how many users have "grabbed" the item, as well as an option to "crave" the item.
Tapping the Crave List icon displays items for which you've tapped the Crave button, as well as items you've tried. Tapping the green hand icon takes you to a page where you can "grab" carts or view cravings. And here's where the app gets a bit cluttered: It's somewhat difficult to tell what the difference is between "craving" something and "grabbing" it. After I poked around some, I concluded that "craving" an item adds it to your list, while "grabbing" something enables you to add a photo of what you're eating from that vendor and share it within the app. The details are not as well explained or as intuitive as I would like, but at the same time I wasn't frustrated in my attempts to figure it out.
Tapping the Me icon takes you to options to view or edit your profile (you can sign up with a social media account or an email address), as well as some settings. Tapping TV Show brings up details about the show, including clips and--here's the kicker--recipes. This is a particularly nice feature for people who are looking to re-create some of their favorite dishes. Your profile within the app will show how many dishes you've grabbed, as well as any tips or photos you've added, and achievements you've earned--which would be a useless feature except you'll have to achieve points within the app to unlock functions. For example, I couldn't "crave" anything until I'd reached Level 2 by "grabbing" a dish. Advancement is easy enough, but the gamification feels unnecessary.
Beecon Food Trucks--iOS (Free)
Although it's currently available for only two locations (Dallas/Fort Worth and the San Francisco Bay Area), Beecon is one of the more useful food truck apps because it gives incredibly accurate results in a straightforward manner. The app has a clean design: After it finds your location, it displays the results on a map with each truck marked by a tower icon--some of which are actively "broadcasting" or blinking.
Tapping a Beecon result takes you to that truck's profile page, complete with its location on a map, hours of operation, a description, the truck's website, Facebook and Twitter pages, a rating, and an option to thumbs-up/thumbs-down or flag it. You can choose to follow particular trucks, and receive notifications when they are nearby--either a message, an in-app notification, or a badge can alert you to when a truck is within a preselected distance from your location. You can also add multiple locations to be alerted about.
In addition to that, the app has a sliding control that you can adjust to show results from now to three days from now; as you change the position of the slider, a pop-up box shows you the exact date and time to which you're moving the marker. The bottom of the app has a button that displays alerts and notifications, as well as a button to toggle between all trucks and just the ones you're following.
While Beecon provides precise results that are clean to read, it--like the majority of food truck apps--serves only a limited location. But hey, at least its Twitter integration works.
TV Food Maps, Shows, Trucks, Eats--Android (Free)
The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Bizarre Foods, $40 a Day, No Reservations, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives--it's a little weird that there are so many TV shows where you basically watch other people eat things and tell you how good they are. This app lets you get in on the action: You can browse by show and/or by city, and find each and every greasy spoon and five-star restaurant featured on 25 shows and counting.
What does that have to do with food trucks? The nearly 2700 eateries in this app include plenty of food trucks, carts, and stands too--the trendy, cutting-edge ones As Seen on TV, at least. Unlike its approach to more-stationary establishments, this app doesn't attempt to map food trucks. But as we saw when evaluating other food truck apps, unless the trucks' location data is constantly updated, such maps are of little value anyway.
Instead, TV Food gives you a page for each food truck, where you can find a link to its website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, and even a phone number if available. The app lets you star your favorites, check off places you've visited, and add them to your bucket list. A Share button sends the info to your clipboard, SMS, email, Twitter, and Facebook, and even to Dropbox, Evernote, and Pocket. So while TV Food doesn't help you locate food trucks near you in real time, it's perfect for discovery and gives you the tools (namely, Twitter) to keep in touch with the trucks directly. Just whip up a Twitter list of all your favorites, and you're golden.