The cost of rent is rising. It remains difficult to fully staff a restaurant; making food trucks can be the most logical concept to open in the current economy. Large cities like Portland, Los Angeles, and Austin are best known for their food trucks, but cities of all sizes are seeing more of these concepts pop up.
A food truck is the right choice if you are a passionate culinarian but don't want to commit to an entire brick-and-mortar establishment. And the market is growing, estimated to reach $1.2 billion by the end of 2022.
Benefits of Choosing the Right Food Truck Idea
When choosing an idea for your food truck, the possibilities are endless. Consider what foods you love, what the local community loves, and what cuisines and menu items are not currently available in your region. Food trucks are a great way to try out a creative concept that might feel too risky or niche for a full-service, brick-and-mortar restaurant. If your idea doesn't seem to resonate with a particular crowd, you can drive it towards one that does.
33 Food Truck Ideas
1. La cevicheria
Ceviche is a raw fish and vegetable dish from Peru served in many South and Central American countries. Because this dish is raw, you can easily make it in a food truck without cooking equipment. A 7shifts client, Piska Ceviche Truck, is the first Ecuadorian ceviche food truck in Hawai'i owned by a husband and wife in Hawai'i.
2. Caffeination station
Adults are always tired, so if you park a mobile concept serving caffeinated beverages (especially near colleges and offices), customers will certainly come. You can serve all the classic coffee drinks, like lattes, americanos, and cold brew, but use a food truck model as an opportunity to experiment. Try out a unique coffee offering like dalgona whipped coffee, or serve highly caffeinated teas like yerba mate or Pu-erh. This can be a great alternative instead of starting your own coffee shop.
3. Omusubi and Boba
Omusubi (also called onigiri) is a ball or triangle of white rice wrapped in nori and sometimes stuffed with various fillings. Boba is a sweetened and sometimes flavored ice tea drink with chewy tapioca balls. These two items can be made quickly in a small space and go well together as a light lunch or afternoon snack. A rice maker will be a piece of crucial kitchen equipment for this concept! This is a great idea if you want to capitalize on the growing Bubble tea market.
4. Everything cheese
Who doesn't love cheese? Just a few ideas: Mac and cheese, mozzarella sticks, cheese boards, grilled cheese, and quesadillas.
5. Farmer's market fresh
If your area is abundant with local produce, use it! Showcase the bounty with fresh and seasonal dishes. This food truck idea would have a rotating menu. It could serve soups, salads, roasted veggies, pasta dishes, and locally raised meats. Farm-to-table concepts is a growing food trend.
6. Frozen favorites
Ice cream trucks are one of the most classic and iconic concepts, so this is a concept with which customers and passersby are already familiar. On a hot summer day, it's impossible to pass by a food truck serving up frozen treats without at least considering stopping here. You can serve classic or unique ice cream flavors or try out gelato, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches.
7. Happy hour on wheels
After the clock hits 5 pm after a long day at work, a mobile truck serving up happy hour is precisely what people want to see. If you can get the licensing for this, this can be a fun and playful concept located near the outskirts of downtown, near music venues, or close to workplaces. This food truck concept is also a great idea for serving weddings, parties, and workplace events. Flores Food Truck, in Wappingers Falls, New York has a full bar alongside several menus and is available to rent for such events. Consider offering small snacks and foods with happy hours, like charcuterie boards, hummus, and pita.
8. Shuck truck
Serving up oysters is easy, especially if you live in a coastal area where you can source them locally. Fresh, raw oysters require no prep and are a crowd-pleaser for seafood lovers. Nantasket Shuck Truck in South Shore, Massachusetts, offers a variety of oysters from local fishermen and other seafood items like ceviche, shrimp, and lobster rolls.
If french fries are comfort food, then poutine is extra comforting. This Canadian dish is a plate of fries dressed with gravy and cheese curds (it is not low in calories). French fries are what late-night diners love, so a poutine food truck would be great to park near bars and lively downtown areas. A perfect example of this is The Ultimate Food Truck, a Toronto-based food truck serving classic Canadian comfort foods at some of the city's biggest festivals since 2005.
10. Hangover express
After a night out in the city, those waking up with a hangover need to settle their stomachs with a solid meal. Customers can roll up in their sunglasses and order a quick meal like breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, tofu scramble, or breakfast tacos (an Austin, Texas special!).
11. Fried rice
Fried rice is an affordable dish to make and serve, so consider this concept if you are starting with low funds. This dish can feed a large crowd and easily cater to different diets.
12. Mobile milkshake machine
Like an ice cream truck, nothing is more welcome on a sweltering day than something cold and sweet. Pro tip: Milkshakes and french fries are a food match made in heaven, so consider offering a side of fries for the sweet and salty fanatics! If milkshakes are the only menu item, strategically place this truck near other trucks or establishments serving food.
13. American classics (with a twist)
Burgers, hot dogs, and pizzas are widespread food truck items, but you can get creative and add flair to these dishes. Consider where you are geographically and your local flavors. In the Southwest, customers would probably love to see a burger topped with roasted hatch green chiles. Kate's Food Truck, located in Vermont, offers unique American classics like an open-faced gravy burger, a falafel burger, and pulled pork fries. Perfect for any foodie.
14. Hot wings
Chicken wings are another comfort food in the U.S. and the consumption is not going to slow, so it's unlikely you will struggle to find customers parked in a busy urban area, especially as a late-night choice. However, you may face a healthy dose of competition since wing concepts have increasingly become more popular in recent years. Differentiate yourself with different levels of heat, dipping sauces, and unique side dishes.
15. For the health nut
Food trucks and fried foods are an iconic duo. But who says you can't make super healthy and nutritious fare? Think smoothies, salads, wraps, grain bowls, and avocado toasts. Light, simple, healthy food can be easy to prepare and eliminates a lot of the mess that grease can leave.
Korean barbecue is unique from other types of BBQ because it uses smaller, more delicate cubes of meat that are grilled and skewered. Although customers typically grill their meat at a grill at their table in a KBBQ restaurant, this concept can still work as a to-go concept. Remember - skewers make great to-go food. Americans already love BBQ, and this food choice would work well as a late-night meal.
17. Pizzeria on wheels
An authentic pizza oven will give you a competitive edge and the pizza market is growing. Consider your favorite style of pizza (thin crust, deep dish, New York-style, Sicilian, etc.) and what kind is missing from your geographical area. Andolini's, a food truck based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers a simple menu consisting of pizza by the slice, including cheese, pepperoni, and pizza of the day.
18. Fusion tacos
Think of tacos as a mini plate ready to be filled with whatever your heart desires. Barbacoa, fajitas, curried chicken, shredded pork, vegan falafels, spicy cauliflower wings...all of these can be wrapped up in a corn or flour tortilla for a flavorful and unforgettable meal. A taco truck with a fun twist!
19. On-the-go sushi burritos
Sushi is perfect for a light and healthy lunch. A sushi roll in burrito form makes it even more convenient as a handheld, grab-and-go food. Health-conscious eaters would choose this over burgers or chicken wings, so be sure to park this concept near yoga studios, gyms, business parks, and schools.
20. Crepes, capps, and croissants
Fresh pastries, crepes, and frothy cappuccinos are a hard-to-resist breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up, and pedestrians will have a difficult time simply passing by. Pastries will likely require a commercial kitchen to prep, but you can make crepes and coffee drinks in the truck fresh to order. The highest demand for this idea will be morning and mid-afternoon, so you can switch locations around lunchtime and test the profitability in different areas.
21. Smokin' skewers
Food served on a stick is a perfect to-go food, and you can truly let your mind run wild with what you choose to serve as a skewer. Kabobs with meat and veggies are a classic choice, but consider offering a skewer with fresh ingredients (like Caprese salad on a stick) or even a sweet one (like smores)! This food truck concept must be outfitted with a grill to achieve the perfect char on kabobs.
22. Indian street food
Pani puri, samosas, aloo chaat, and lassis are Indian street food dishes that are best-eaten to-go, making them ideal for food trucks. Indish, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, serves rice bowls and paratha wraps with signature sauces and prioritizes having a menu that is 80 percent plant-based.
23. Wok fried
Woks are amazing deep dish pans that can cook up large quantities of food at a time, making this piece of kitchenware perfect for feeding crowds from your food truck. Chow mein, lo mein, pad thai, stir fries, eggs, mussels, and soups are just a few things that can be made in a wok. Maybe even dumplings on the side. This food truck concept would work well in a place where you would have a high level of traffic, like a music festival or similar event.
24. Everything spicy
This one is for people who love to sweat and cry while they eat. Consider making everything you offer on your menu spicy, incorporating various peppers and levels of heat. Be sure to offer refreshing drinks to wash it down with, like agua frescas, lemonade, or ice teas.
25. All-day brunch
It can take forever to get seated at a popular brunch spot, but a brunch food truck can offer all the favorites without the wait. Brunch almost always has sweet and savory menu items—mix both! We're thinking cinnamon rolls, eggs benedict, avocado toast, waffles, and grits. No one likes a brunch that ends at a specific time, so be generous and offer this as an all-day menu for those who love to sleep in.
If you are passionate about sustainability, and so is your community, an eco-friendly food truck will be a perfect fit for you. Although "Eco Friendly" isn't necessarily a cuisine, the menu here could be fully plant-based and use locally sourced ingredients. A sustainable food truck would have minimal food waste, minimize water usage, and use biodegradable utensils. This would likely do best in areas where inhabitants know the importance of sustainability, like the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland. Green Truck is a great example of this.
27. Arepas y Mas
Like tacos, arepas, a traditional Venezuelan or Colombian dish, can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings like meat, cheese, beans, and veggies. This handheld dish is easily wrapped and served alongside fried plantains or a salad.
28. Sweet tooth
If you're a dessert lover or sugar fiend, this is the food truck concept. You can choose to focus on one type of sweet treat, like cookies or cupcakes, or choose to offer a mouthwatering display of sugary delights. Depending on what exactly you're making, a commercial kitchen may be necessary. Doughnuts can be prepared fresh in the truck (and customers would love this), but if you're baking and frosting 1,000 cupcakes with five different flavors, the small size of a truck might not cut it.
Veganism is one of the fastest-growing dietary trends, so it makes sense to have a food truck fully committed to serving dishes without animal products. You certainly don't have to stick to just salads or stir-fries with this concept - try vegan Mediterranean, BBQ, Mexican, pizzas, or comfort food! Chickpea, a food truck based in Vancouver, Canada, serves plant-based Mediterranean comfort food. Hart House, a vegan food concept founded by Kevin Hart based in Los Angeles, offers chick'n Sandwiches, burgers, and chicken nuggets (with a plethora of dipping sauces, of course!).
30. Tropical smoothie bowls
For those always taking breakfast on the go, or forgetting about breakfast, a mobile breakfast option with nutritious options such as smoothie bowls is a welcome sight. Acai and pitaya bowls can be made in a matter of minutes and topped with various toppings (like chopped fruit, nuts, seeds, granola, mint, and even edible flowers!) that make a simple item suddenly “Instagrammable.” This concept works well as a breakfast option, light lunch, or as a saving grace for sweaty dancers at a music festival.
This is one of those food concepts that will draw customers in from blocks away. As soon as someone gets a whiff of BBQ coming from your food truck, they'll want to inspect further. There are many options for BBQ - you can offer Texas, Memphis, or South Carolina style, or maybe a mix of a few different types for a unique experience. Be sure to provide classic sides, like mac and cheese, pickles, and coleslaw. This concept would be perfect to park at a brewery so diners can pair their meal with a beer!
32. Pay what you can
This is the food truck concept if you love food, your community, and serving others. Too many people experience food insecurity in the U.S., and eating out can often be far too expensive for this demographic. This food truck concept can offer up simple, affordable meals that are cheap to make. Hope Food Truck operates with this “pay what you can model,” offering menu items like burgers, chicken tender wraps, and loaded BBQ chicken nachos.
33. Sweet and savory empanadas
This may be the perfect street food - they are cheap, relatively simple to make, and easy to take on the go. Stuff flaky dough with savory ingredients like beef, chicken, cheese, and vegetables. Or, this food can go in the sweet direction, with fillings like pineapple, apple, or cream cheese. Empanadas are an all-day food that works well for any meal; try parking this food truck concept near a coffee shop in the morning and a brewery in the evening!
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Tips for Choosing the Right Food Truck Business Idea
Make sure startup costs align with your budget
Overall, food trucks are a much more affordable option than brick-and-mortar restaurants. However, purchasing the actual vehicle for your food truck will be one of your highest upfront costs. Unlike a traditional restaurant, you cannot start by renting a space.
Different concepts have additional costs for starting up and running the business. You'll have to equip the food truck with whatever is needed to make your food or drinks, including a stove, blender, sink, grill, etc. Concepts like a coffee and pastry cafe on wheels might only need an espresso machine and display case.
In contrast, a falafel and kebab concept will likely need more traditional kitchen fittings. Consider if everything can be prepped and prepared in the truck; if not, you may also need to use a commercial kitchen.
Permits and licenses can be different everywhere, so you should research this before opening a food truck.
Will it work year-round?
When opening a food truck, seasonality is a concern—especially if your area has a cold winter. Food trucks get exposed to the elements, and weather affects sales. A gelato truck won't do well during winter snow—neither will soups and curries in a hot and humid summer. If your area experiences rain or blazing hot sun, consider an awning or a covered patio next to your setup.
Know what type of food truck concept will make you happy
Making certain foods can transform one's motivation to run a food truck. Hence, choosing an idea that will make you happy is vital. Think about your signature dish and what recipes are your best. What is your favorite food? What do others love that you make?
Understand the demand in your local area
Like any entrepreneur, it is essential to know who your customer is, what they want, and how much they can afford. Affordability will be necessary for your food truck offerings if you're in a college town. When figuring out where to place your food truck, consider both the price point of your menu items and the median household income of an area. A food truck or restaurant feasability study can help you do just that.
Is there a high demand for certain foods and cuisines in your area? Is there a gap between certain foods and cooking in particular neighborhoods or parts of a city? What do you feel is missing where you live? These are just a few questions to start asking to figure out what food truck concept you should open.
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Ashlen is a freelance food writer and founder of Future Foodie. An online publication geared towards the future of food, dining and more. She has contributed to top publications such as The Spoon.