Vendy Awards 2018 rookies: Afghan, Turkish, Thai and more featured at this year’s food truck cook-off

The annual cook-off returns to Governors Island on Sept. 22.

If you want a platter of chicken and rice or a hot dog, there are plenty of food carts that will oblige. But if you’re in the mood for something you’ve maybe never had before, they’ve got that, too.

Just look at this year’s rookie nominees for the Vendy Awards.

“Taiwanese, Ethiopian, Turkish, Thai and Afghan — I mean, come on,” says Sean Basinski, co-director of Street Vendor Project, which organizes the street food competition as a fundraiser. “You don’t have to go anywhere, just come to the Vendys.”

The annual cook-off, which returns to Governors Island on Sept. 22, spotlights a diverse away of NYC vendors, with judges and public attendees awarding winners in categories like best dessert vendor and people’s choice.

The participating vendors are nominated by the public, too, though the rookie category — whose past winners have included Korilla BBQ and Momo Delight — can take a little more curation.

“Some of these vendors have been out for a few months,” Basinski says. “We have to kind of really be tuned in to who’s on the horizon and who’s doing exciting things.”

Basinski walks us through this year’s rookie vendors:

JAK! Chinese

Three Brooklynites (Joseph Poon, Alden Louke and Kristy Kyi) are behind this food cart, which launched in April and specializes in Taiwanese bien dang, or lunchbox, meals (think a chicken leg or pork chop over rice served with veggies and tea leaf egg). “They’re killing it,” Basinski says. “They’re young guys, they’re very tuned into what’s hip and new in food. They’re in a way connecting to their roots, trying to do something authentic.”

Find it: Locations vary daily, but have included the Financial District (Old Slip and Water Street) and midtown (Sixth Avenue at 41st or 53rd streets). Updates via @jak_foodtruck on Twitter and Instagram

Makina Café

Eden G. Egziabher, an Eritrean-American, is behind this year-old, bright-yellow food truck, which serves Eritrean-Ethiopian street food (the build-your-own meals might feature a combination of injera, chicken tibs and collard greens). “She’s doing very traditional Ethiopian food — that is a rarity in New York,” Basinski says. “You can’t go 10 feet in D.C. without finding Ethiopian food, but certainly it’s a rarity in New York. No trucks have done Ethiopian food to my knowledge in New York City.”

Find it: Locations vary daily, but have included the Financial District (Old Slip and Water Street), midtown (Sixth Avenue and 41st Street, Broadway near 55th Street) and DUMBO (Jay and Water streets). Updates via @makinacafe on Twitter and Instagram and at makinacafenyc.com

Mannahatta Mediterranean

Turkey native Basri Hakan honed his craft at the Park West Café & Deli, as well as a Central Park hot dog cart, before launching this food truck with his brother, Basri Cingir, in November. Find traditional Turkish fare like gozleme (phyllo dough filled with spinach, onion, potato and mozzarella) and kofta (Turkish meatballs) on the menu. “They went to school in Istanbul, where they have all these cafes where you can look out over the beautiful inlet there that connects Asia to Europe, and you sit out there and eat. They’re trying to recreate that, at least the vision,” Basinski says.

Find it: Financial District (100 Wall St.). Updates and menu via the app Ritual

Mr. Khao Man Gai

Boyfriend-and-girlfriend Bank Bancha and Chompoo Sasikan operated a Thai food cart in midtown for several years before deciding to focus on the Thai street food staple khao man gai (chicken served with ginger, garlic and rice) at this months-old Jackson Heights food truck. “They were selling rather Americanized Thai food and they had the idea like, ‘Enough of this — there’s a market there, but we want to sell real Thai food,’” Basinski says. “It just popped up, if you search Yelp that cart may not even exist.”

Find it: Roosevelt Avenue and 74th Street. Updates at Facebook


Woodside native Mo Rahmati dabbled in retail, Uber driving and working at Citibank before launching this Afghan food truck in January. The menu is inspired by the traditional food his mother makes, including korma, kabuli and mantu. The food truck has gotten such a positive response, a bakery in College Point is also in the works. “There’s only a few Afghani restaurants [here], all they do is kebabs. But not everybody in Afghanistan just eats kebabs all the time,” Basinski says. “When he put the cart out just a few months ago, the lines started coming. There’s a desire for food from Afghanistan.”

Find it: Chelsea (20th Street and Sixth Avenue). Updates via @nansenseNYC on Twitter and Facebook


The 14th Annual Vendy Awards are Sept. 22 from 12:30-5 p.m. on Governors Island | tickets $100/general admission, $60/ages 8-12 at vendyawards.org

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