Omaha is small enough and laws are stringent enough that food trucks are still a novelty here. I think I’ve seen four: one of the classic South Omaha food trucks that’s been around for years, Soup Revolution (which has since closed), a taco truck in Benson that had food so bland I can’t even remember the name, and the new Localmotive Food Truck.
The Localmotive menu is all homemade food (er, truck-made?), and is excellent, creative street food. I had the Reuben Rounders, which are exactly just three fried Reuben sandwiches. They’re exactly just as delicious as that sounds. My friends had the scrambled egg rounders and the hand-cut fries with a delicious homemade aioli. Here’s the rest of their menu.
The ingredients are above-par and the quality of the food is better than even most kitchens without wheels. It tells me that the proprietors have a passion for food that goes beyond just slingin’ burgers and Buds for profit.
Localmotive smartly parks at concerts, gallery openings, and other community events. In the rare case that these events are a bust, the Localmotive truck alone is worth the trip. The truck seems to have a frequent late-night stop outside Ted & Wally’s in the Old Market. Check Localmotive’s Twitter feed to see where they are at any time.
I admire the proprietors of food trucks. It can’t be an easy job and the economics of the industry seem very much aligned against them. Stop reading now if you don’t want an extremely nerdy dissection of the industry.
The South Omaha trucks are the most successful, I think because South O has a small and close-knit Hispanic community tightly centered around a couple main streets and ethnic grocery stores (and it helps that those truck have an established tradition).
Running a food truck anywhere else in Omaha has got to be a challenge. The destination neighborhoods (Old Market, Benson, Dundee) all have great restaurants already and mostly serve far-flung commuters unlikely to make a food truck their destination. Trying to draw the downtown lunch crowd is a losing effort. Every major office building has its own cafe, there are a growing number of excellent downtown lunch spots, and most office workers simply scarf leftovers at their desk anyway. The weekend bar scene is another challenge. Even though it’s the only time Omaha has foot traffic of any respectable density, it’s only busy two nights of the week. And if you want to serve up the after-bar crowd, you gotta stay up till 3 AM.
Ironically, I think that mobility is the reason that some food trucks don’t survive in Omaha (and conversely why the South O trucks succeed). The neighborhood pub isn’t going to pull up stakes and drive across town, but many food trucks don’t have a regular stop and you’re lucky to ever see the same truck twice. The South O trucks hang out in the Avanza parking lot and usually at an AutoZone on Vinton Street (and probably a few other places I’m not aware of). Localmotive also does it right: they have a regular stop in the Old Market on weekend nights, and hit up well-publicized events and office buildings the rest of the week.
It’s not all bad, though. A truck is a lot cheaper than a brick-and-mortar kitchen. Omaha also has very few trucks, unlike Portland, Austin, and Seattle, so it’s very easy to stand out without turning your truck into a massive steel pig on wheels. The bar scene in the destination neighborhoods is growing quickly, especially in the Old Market and Benson. In the Old Market, at least, there are very few ways to get late-night munchies. Eat the Worm, Pepper Jack’s, and a humble hot-dog cart are about the only places to get fed past midnight. Parking a gourmet truck in the center of 11th and Howard is a great way to corner the market on the stomachs of the drunk and hungry.