Atlanta’s Food Cart Frenzy

If you hang out in Atlanta journalistic circles – or just read Twitter obsessively – you’ve probably caught wind of this whole Atlanta food cart campaign.  Urbanites, foodies and food-inclined journalists the city over have worked themselves up into a frothy mess over Atlanta’s “arcane” laws regarding the allowance of chow-carts on city streets.

From Scott Henry’s recent coverage in Creative Loafing

Under state law, “mobile food units” – be they trucks, trailers or pushcarts – can’t roam the streets. Instead, they’re permitted for no more than two specific locations, the better to track them down for surprise health inspections. Also, raw food must be cooked in a licensed, stationary, commercial-grade kitchen before it goes on the truck or cart, where it can only be reheated.

Y’all want anything from the “mobile food unit”?

But wait, you ask – what about the fried catfish for sale at last year’s Inman Park Festival? Or the pulled-pork plate from the mobile smoker at the Chomp & Stomp? Frankly, that’s the product of a long-standing double standard: Food served at special events sponsored by a state-approved nonprofit corporation is exempt from the above regulations. Vendors at festivals, fundraisers and other such gatherings can sell food under a blanket event permit – presumably because local authorities can hold the event organizers responsible if someone gets sick from tainted food.

As Henry points out in his elaboration, many other cities sport streets teeming with non-reheated food carts, cooking up regional delicacies for passers-by.  And while Atlanta does not have the foot-traffic as many of the other cities cited in the CL article, there certainly are a lot of empty parking lots as well as an unmet demand in casual, eat-and-go dining.  Especially downtown.

But what came first? The pedestrian or the food-cart?

Thanks to the efforts of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition and others, we may soon find out!

13 thoughts on “Atlanta’s Food Cart Frenzy”

  1. Hmmm.. I love street food. But, reheated? A good global street food rule is to never eat anything you can’t see being cooked before your very eyes. Then– make sure it is nice and hot when it is handed to you. I do understand the caution with handling raw food, but…

  2. Of course food carts are illegal in Atlanta. There’s absolutely no reason to ever go downtown. Why start now?

    1. Um, ’cause lots of us work downtown. And go to concerts & baseball games there. Oh, and go to school there, as well.

    2. Why do you have to hate on downtown Atlanta? Let me think for a second. Why go downtown? Hmmmm… how about Georgia State University? The Georgia Aquarium? Perhaps you’d like to take your kids to the excellent Children’s Museum? How about a job? Not too many of those in the Decatur city limits. Let’s see, what about a Hawks, Thrashers, Falcons or Braves game? Oh, I know, with that condescending attitude you’d probably love the food at the French American Brasserie.

      And as far as this “frenzy” for food carts goes, what’s the big deal? I lived and worked in Chicago for many years before moving to Atlanta and only rarely got anything from a food cart. And then it was only at a park in the middle of summer after a baseball game. I worked in the Loop for more than 5 years and never so much as laid eyes on a food cart. Sure they’re quaint, but there are much bigger fish to fry in Georgia than this.

      1. My comment was hyperbole, but I personally find downtown boring and depressing. Really good ethnic food carts (like in Portland) would only help the situation in my opinion. Believe me, I’d like to see downtown improve.

        1. Getting attached to Downtown Atlanta definitely takes a bit more effort than a bustling urban center like Portland. That said, if you can get past its occasional dinginess, downtown is probably one of the most interesting and intriguing places in all of Atlanta.

          I’m not really a big fan of places like the aquarium (at least Coke has an Atlanta connection), but there are still a lot of interesting spaces in downtown, from Broad Street to the MLK National Historic site, to the Sweet Auburn Market.

          Downtown definitely has “bustle” issues outside of the workday, but after years of neglect it’s going to take some time to turn around. Luckily the bones of a traditional street grid still exist, so we shouldn’t lose all hope in this slowly rejuvenating area.

    3. Chris – I hope your comment is just snark. Downtown Atlanta is a GREAT city in which to visit, shop, eat, have fun, look around, relax, and enjoy. I can’t imagine avoiding it, I go downtown as often as I can for many purposes, and have never felt it was a waste of time or energy. If your comment is not snark, then I’m sorry for your negative outlook on something so near and so accessible and so interesting.

  3. Some of the best Mexican food in the world is sold off of food carts in Los Angeles, some licensed, some probably not. But they also are great sources for foodborne outbreaks. It’s a trade-off!

  4. And with the ATL city budget crisis, how many health inspectors are currently checking these carts? Eating anything from a street vendor is always ‘buyer beware’- just allow it- it will only help downtown revenue…

    1. lots of people in line for the streatery cart at Peachtree Center yesterday– lots of happy faces.

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