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April 29, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Round up some pals and ride on over to the food truck rodeo

Photo: Mobile Food Rodeo

Photo: Mobile Food Rodeo

Seattle’s Mobile Food Rodeo returns this weekend with a truly moveable feast spanning two days and two neighborhoods. The revelry begins in the International District on Saturday May 3 (5-11 p.m.) and moves to Fremont Sunday, May 4 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) Some 60 food trucks are slated to participate.

“We believe that this is where you will discover the next Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell, talented future chef-preneurs who have great food concepts and are looking to kick start their culinary career with curbside cuisine,” says event founder and organizer Ryan Reiter, whose family started the Fremont Sunday Market and Ballard Farmers Market.

In the seven years since Skillet Street Food got rolling, Seattle’s food truck scene has steadily expanded. SeattleFoodTruck.com, a website that tracks the trucks, says they’ve added 73 new trucks to their site already this year. (The total list is about 160.)

Chowing down curbside has caught on nationwide in that same period. When Dataessential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry, surveyed consumers five years ago on their food truck awareness 40% responded that they had never heard of food trucks. (That was back in 2009, a year that saw the launch in Seattle of Marination Mobile and Maximus/Minimus among other pioneers.)

Photo: Mobile Food Rodeo

Photo: Mobile Food Rodeo

Furthermore, when Dataessential surveyed consumers again this year “75% reported that food trucks have influenced their behavior at restaurants and grocery stores. Seven percent of consumers surveyed said they visited a food truck at least once a week.”

Food trucks are influencing new flavor and ingredient trends in restaurants and retail across the country, the analysts say, from ballparks to fast casual chains to small plate menus. They cite ethnic mash-ups (Korean BBQ pizzas), and upscale comfort foods (think duck fat fries, fancy grilled cheese and mac & cheese) as well as health-driven dishes (vegan dishes are found almost three times more often on food trucks).

A good number of mobile operators go on to open brick-and-mortar restaurants, as we’ve seen here with Skillet Diner, Marination Ma Kai, and Roux, the stationary brand extension of Matt Lewis’s mobile po’ boy dispensary, Where Ya At Matt.

Even Hollywood is jumping on the bandwagon—or should I say, chuckwagon.  In the new movie “Chef,” Jon Favreau stars as a prominent L.A. chef who rediscovers his lust for life, love and, not incidentally, cooking, by teaming up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son to launch a food truck.

If you are among the minority who’ve never lined up at one of these curbside attractions, check out the scene at this weekend’s event, which will include music, entertainment and a “Taco Libre Showdown” where the public votes for their favorite taco.

Photo: Mobil Food Rodeo

Photo: Mobil Food Rodeo

Last year Marination Mobile snagged top prize for the Holy Moley (chicken in a mole sauce made with Theo Chocolate). They are keeping this year’s entry top secret but the competition will include chipotle lime shrimp salad in a corn chile waffle “tacone” created by Funguyz Food Trolley.

Admission to the Mobile Food Rodeo is free but purchase of a VIP Express Pass reduces the average wait times. Food prices vary at the different trucks but each will have a $5 sampler plate. Get more details here and share some of your food truck faves and finds with readers in the comment section below.

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