MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Whether outside the ballpark or outside the office building, street food goes well beyond the standard hotdog and pretzel, not that there's anything wrong with a good hotdog. Well, each fall in New York, the Vendy Awards honor the best street food. There are five finalists this year. And NPR's Margot Adler went to check them out.
MARGOT ADLER: The Kwik Meal cart on 45th Street and Sixth Avenue doesn't standout in the midtown crowds until you look closer and you notice the lines and the three men inside dressed in white chef's jackets. One of them sporting a chef's hat.
Leslie Pikni(ph) of Harlem says she comes by to get…
Ms. LESLIE PIKNI (New Yorker): Lamb on pita, extra white, extra hot.
ADLER: Lamb on pita, extra white, extra hot.
Ms. PIKNI: Yup.
ADLER: What is extra white mean?
Ms. PIKNI: Extra white sauce and then extra hot sauce. I'm a big foodie here in New York, and I love the fact that, you know, this is only city in the world where you can eat great food cheaply.
ADLER: Mohammed Rahman runs the Kwik Meal cart. He once worked at the late great Russian Tea Room, and he still believes he's holding up the tradition of fine dining.
He describes his food as a mixture of international and continental. And how did he get the idea to have everyone in chef's clothing?
Mr. MOHAMMED RAHMAN (Owner, Kwik Meal): If I see someone, really, they have a good outfit, then maybe I will have a good feeling to eat. This is the reason everybody has the white jackets, a chef's jacket. This is the reason we keep this like a small restaurant.
ADLER: And that's exactly what diners notice, like attorney Kenny Horowitz.
Mr. KENNY HOROWITZ (Attorney): Generally, I don't eat from street carts. It does look clean. It looks like they observe most sanitary procedures that they could in the cart. And I guess, the best thing is I've never gotten sick. I've eaten many, many meals here.
ADLER: The Kwik Meal cart is one of five finalists up for the Vendys, the Street Food Awards. Others include The Dosa Man who serves up Indian-style crepes in Greenwich Village; a woman near Wall Street offering food from Trinidad and Jamaica; a falafel stand in Astoria, Queens; and this taco vendor on the Upper West Side.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
This stretch of Broadway and 96th Street is largely white and Jewish, but the crowd standing around the Super Taco truck is almost all Latino. A staff of eight people dish out tacos, gorditas and Mexican beverages. Inside the truck, Isidro Perez, the manager, is chopping beef mixed with onions and warming tacos. Unlike Kwik Meal, everyone wears black, but it's clean, and everyone wears gloves.
Alvaro Gonzales(ph) introduces the crew.
Mr. ALVARO GONZALES (Crew, Super Tacos): This is Ciro(ph). I'm Alvaro. The guy over there is Daniel(ph). And then we got Guillermo(ph) in the back, like, making sandwiches. Then we have right here, like, wrapping up everything, Agustina(ph), her name. Vicki(ph), the cashier. And that's our delivery boy, superman Pedro(ph).
ADLER: Whoever heard of a taco truck that delivers?
Mr. GONZALES: Beef, they like chicken, they eat pork. Everything. Everything is good here.
ADLER: Ooh, this is beef? Is this - oh my heavens. That looks beautiful with onions. Oh.
You can even have tacos with goad or tongue, $2 each and you can wash them down with Mexican sodas or the rice and sugar drink known as horchata.
The Vendys takes place this Saturday. And what will winning mean for these street chefs? A few past winners have found their business going up. But back at the Kwik Meal cart, Mohammed Rahman says winning would simply be an affirmation.
Mr. RAHMAN: If I win, it will make me clear that I satisfied the people's expectations.
ADLER: Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.