Editor's note: On October 18th, street vendors from all around the city will converge on the Tobacco Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn for this years Vendy Awards. Tickets are only $80 and every penny goes to benefit the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of sidewalk vendors in New York City. Every day this week we will profile one of the five finalists, and the food they will be serving up at the competition.
The Kwik Meal cart isn't the only repeat nominee at this year's Vendy Awards. The Calexico Cart is a veteran competitor as well, having been a finalist in 2006. And, as Ed Levine pointed out, they are also the only "hipster" cart—having more in common with the new breed of fancy pants carts and trucks than the traditional halal and hot dog vendors that make up most of the city's street food options. In a lot of ways Calexico was the O.G. hipster vendor. Started by 3 brothers who were inspired by the nominees at the 2005 Vendy Awards, Calexico serves up California style Mexican food from a cart in the heart of SoHo.
It is pretty hard to find good Mexican food in New York City, and even harder to find a great burrito. After living in L.A. for a few years, I can't say Calexico is the burrito savior I've been looking for, but it's no Chipotle either. The burritos are massive, and can be stuffed with pollo asado (chicken) and pork but they are known for their carne asada—and with good reason. The chargrilled skirt steak is surprisingly tender, and has a really good lime flavor from the marinade. Mixed with cheese, rice and a good amount of black beans, and then topped with pico de gallo and an avocado sauce, the burrito is more than satisfying. At $8 it's a little pricey for cart food, but you're getting much better steak than you would expect from a taco/burrito cart, and the thing is downright huge.
They also offer tacos, which are made with two corn tortillas (as they should be), cooked on the griddle and topped with your choice of meat, pico de gallo, and the same avocado sauce.
Their quesadillas are more like pressed burritos without the rice and beans. A little on the dry side (aka not very greasy), but if you like your Mexican food a little on the dry side (like me) you'll like Calexico's twist on this classic.
There's no question that having been a finalist before is a huge advantage, and knowing what to expect will give Calexico a little bit of an edge. Last year's winner, The Dosa Man, didn't win until his third nomination, avoiding becoming the Susan Lucci of the street vendor world. The brothers who run Calexico would probably prefer to win it on their second try. Next Saturday, they'll have their chance.