A plate of deliciousness from Vendy Cup winner Royal Grill Halal Food!
This past weekend, I had the delicious opportunity to attend the Vendy Awards. In its 14th year, the Vendys celebrates New York City’s top street vendors representing a diverse array of cuisines. With 25 vendors evaluated across 5 categories, it was an amazing eat-stravaganza! I posted my day-of eats on my Instagram story, but if you missed out, have no fear – I’m recapping here.
The first and newest Vendy category was “Best Breakfast,” and what I *loved* about this year’s nominees was that the offerings were so much more than your traditional eggs and waffles. I’m talking Chinese rice rolls, tamales, tacos, and more! See for yourself.
The Cheong Fun Rice Noodle Cart is run by husband and wife team Lai Sheng and Natalie and serves Chinese breakfast staples like curry fish balls and cheong fun (rice noodles) with soy sauce, peanut sauce, hot sauce and sesame seeds. I actually grew up on cheong fun – it’s my favorite dim sum dish! I think Lai Sheng had a hunch because he automatically spoke to me in Cantonese when I got to the front of the line.
In my stumbling Cantonese, I managed to eek out that I’d like my cheong fun with “the works” – i.e. all the sauces. If you haven’t had cheong fun before, you need it in your life! You can find Lai Sheng, Natalie and their cart at the corner of Bowery and Grand in Chinatown 🙂
Evelia started selling her tamales after 9/11 when she couldn’t return to her fast food job downtown. I ordered the chicken and cheese tamale with spice, and it was flavorful and satisfying! Evelia sets up her stand in Corona, Queens at 4am – wow!
King David Tacos was the first stand we visited and features Austin-style breakfast tacos – we ordered one BPEC (bacon, egg, potato and cheese) and one Mom’s Migas (eggs, tortilla chips, salsa, jalapenos and cheese). Both were delish!
Mama Jo’s Breakfast Cart was a real treat – not only were here Greek treats of spanakopita, baklava, and fried savory and sweet fritters delicious (my eating buddy and I elbowed over sharing one dish – we could have gotten two but wanted to pace ourselves!), but Mama Jo herself and her whole family were so warm, welcoming and fun. I already have recommendations for the next time I go to Greece :).
The thin and crispy dosa from Saravanaa Bhavan topped out the breakfast category, headed by Yunus Shahul who immigrated from India in 2005. If you haven’t had dosa before, I highly recommend it – it’s super light and delicious.
The nominees for the Vendy Cup were up next!
The Burmese Bites truck is run by Myo Lin Thway, who cam to the US from Burma in 1994. A family affair, a very cute kiddo presented me with my delicious dish of curry noodles, mango salad, and savory pancake!
Franky’s Souvlaki is manned by Franky and family, who offer traditional Greek eats. Their chicken and rice was bursting with flavor!
Jiannetto’s Pizza has been around for 20 (!) years, serving “grandma-style” ultra-thin-crust pizza, meatballs, and other Italian delicacies. The pizza, with the sweet tomato sauce served on TOP of the cheese, was crispy and flavorful.
Royal Grill Halal Food, this year’s Vendy Cup winner, is run by Alam and Hira, who immigrated from Bangladesh in 1980. I ordered my generous serving with “everything,” which means all the flavorful sauces. I love my spice!
We then moved onto the Rookie of the Year category, which celebrates street vendor newbies. First up was JAK! Chinese (named after owners Joseph, Alden and Kristy). Not only does JAK! win the category in *my* mind of cutest mascot (yes, that’s a pig in a chicken costume!):
but their ground pork and pork belly over rice was packed with piggy flavor. When I used to work in Midtown, I actually stopped by JAK! all the time for my fix of Taiwanese food!
We next tried Mannahatta Mediterranean, an endeavor of Turkish brothers Hakan and Yelhan, who left their careers in finance to fuel the appetites of discerning New Yorkers with the hearty food of their culture!
Our third stop in the Rookie category was Makina Cafe, started by Eden Egziabher. Reflecting her Ethiopian and Eritrean descent, Eden’s yellow rice with cabbage, carrots, potatoes and red lentils was deliciously filling and would be perfect for the cooling weather into which we’re heading!
Newbie Mr. Khao Man Gai specialized in one thing, and did it well – Thai poached chicken served with ginger and garlic. The rice, which I’m guessing may be cooked with chicken broth, was amazing – as was the chicken and accompanying broth. So yummy!
The next nominee won my award for best food truck name – don’t you agree? 🙂
Nansense (haha, I can’t say that without chuckling!) specializes in Afghan food and is run by Mo Rahmati, whose family fled Afghanistan as refugees in the 80s. Using his mom’s recipes, Mo sells kormas, kabuli, salata and his favorite – mantu (dumplings). Per Mo’s suggestion, I tried the mantu – it was delicious!
You’d think we were filling up by now, right? Well, you were right. But in the name of research – and, let’s face it, our love of food, we kept going. And that was definitely the right decision, as up next were the Best of Market nominees!
At the Caspinash stand, I met sweet couple Keith and Judy, who opened Caspinash when they couldn’t find a caterer for their wedding that offered Trinidadian, Puerto Rican and Dominican food. Their fusion offering was a perfect match!
I knew I was in for deliciousness when we approached Hometown Spring Pancakes, operated by Annie Ye – the Peking duck on display was my first clue. My Peking duck pancake, in a thin savory wrap (the pancake) was crisp, flavorful and tender.
D’Abruzzo had quite the operation going on – operated by Tommaso Conte, the stand features fare from his family’s region of Southern Italy. The arrosticini (lamp skewers) were prepared on site on a unique grill and SO juicy and tender. I’m usually not a lamb person, but I loved this!
IEatLaoFood, owned by partners Manila and Kristen, aims to connect more people to Laotian culture – and what better way to do that than with food? Their Nam Khao (crispy curry coconut fried rice) was one of my favorite dishes – the flavors and texture had my mouth watering!
Taste of Surabaya provided the perfect ending to the Best of Market nominees. Headed up by Fefe Anggono, this cart featured cuisine from her hometown of Surabaya, Indonesia. Her chicken curry noodle soup had just the perfect amount of heat contrasted with creamy coconut milk.
We capped off our eating experience with one of my favorite categories – dessert! We started with Baonanas – which sold banana pudding in original (“OG”) as well as innovative new flavors.
I ordered the litchi rose, while my eating buddy ordered the OG. Both were baonanas!! 🙂
I never had an oblea before, but that changed when I visited Delmy’s cart (appropriately named Delmy’s Obleas). Originally from El Salvador, Delmy Zelaya began making obleas in 2013 and offers flavors such as dulce de leche, cajetas with coconut sprinkles, blackberry and caramel. I could have eaten a million of these! You can find Delmy in Corona, Queens 🙂
Malai Ice Cream combined one of my favorite flavors, Masala chai, with ice cream. Pooja Bavishi started Malai Ice Cream after completing her MBA, turning her passion for sweets into her livelihood. I definitely want to return to try other flavors, such as orange fennel and lemon cardamom!
I got a kick out of watching owner Radu Sirbu make his famous Twister Cake – a traditional Romanian treat. This delectable creation is also known as a chimney cake, and it’s easy to see why:
We tried the cinnamon and coconut versions, topped off with a swizzle of Nutella. This was SO yummy!
Last but definitely not least was Bonsai Kakigori, specializing in Japanese shaved ice. Owned by duo Gaston and Theo, Bonsai’s creations were light and satisfying.
My lemon shaved ice with whipped cream and coconut was gone (in my belly) much too soon!
I had such a fun time attending the Vendy Awards, which highlights the best of today’s street vendors. But it doesn’t stop there – if you want your own Vendy experience, just stop by the more than 20,000 (!) street vendors in NYC and let me know what your favorites are! Happy eating 🙂
Vendy Award 2018 Winners
-Rookie of the Year: Nansense
-Best of Market: D’Abruzzo
-Best Breakfast: Mama Joe’s Breakfast Cart
-Best Dessert: Baonanas
-People’s Choice: Burmese Bites
-Vendy Cup: Royal Grill Halal Food