Lunch Rush

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A s June blooms, this city is finally achieving an enduring approximation of spring, and hungry residents are pouncing: eating al fresco has become de rigueur in no time flat.

But there are places around town where the food service is outside year-round, including a spot at the corner of Sachem and Prospect Streets: Ingalls Rink, a.k.a. The Whale, where Yale’s varsity ice hockey teams play their home games, and where lunchtime turns the lot out front into a food court of food carts.

Enticements and competitive differentiations are made through a roofless tunnel of colorful signs, mouth-watering aromas and polite inducements from handlers. At Thai Awesome, where hot-green umbrellas sprout like a grove of neon palm trees, Kim Apiwat serves up a lot of that cart’s most popular item, Garlic Chicken. She’s been working at Awesome for the past 10 years, since the old days when this caravan of carts was parked on Prospect Street-proper. About three years ago, the carts migrated to the rink parking lot, especially convenient for Yale students and employees, plus patients at the nearby health center. The carts pay Yale for the parking, and slots are determined by seniority, so there’s no scramble for position as the wheeled conveyances arrive in the late morning to prep for the day.

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On the busiest days, typically when the weather is good and school is in session, roughly 20 vendors form into two inward-facing rows lined with sushi, noodle soups, burritos, rice dishes and plenty else, selling on weekdays from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (give or take). Even in the pouring rain, customers will line up to make their selections. Regulars are recognized and their orders filled with the ease of a Starbucks barista during the morning caffeine rush.

Israel Campos (pictured third above) was manning his El Poblano truck on a recent afternoon, proudly identifying the burrito, which you can have him fill pretty much however you like, as the cart’s most popular item. “It’s easy to carry. You can walk and eat!” he says. When things get slow, he might check in with his wife Alecia to see how her day is going. But it doesn’t take a phone call: she’s at their second cart, just down the way. When asked about the hot soup he’s savoring, Campos mischievously points a chopstick across the parking lot. It’s from one of the Thai food carts, and Campos laughs when he says that the sellers often sample each other’s offerings.

With lunches in hand, customers carry their booty to a selection of nearby picnic tables on a grassy patch with limited tree cover, where Andi Kwaczala recently savored the sunshine and her midday meal. When asked if there is a cart she favors, she doesn’t hesitate. “Ali Baba, every time,” Kwaczala says. “The lemon chicken is to die for.” She makes the short walk from the biotech building down the street about once a week.

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Fifth-year mathematics graduate student Anup Rao sampled several cuisines before finding his favorite. “I tried different things initially, then settled on Ethiopian,” he says as he forks through spicy lentils, a spinach-potato side dish and a carrot and beans combination. Echoing a refrain of grad students everywhere, Rao summed up the reasons behind his affection for the carts: “The food is good, and it’s cheap.” Most meals from the carts will cost you much less than 10 bucks.

If the immediate tables are too crowded, Ingalls cart customers take seats in front of Kroon Hall, Yale’s forestry building located across Whitney. A bit farther down, folks hovering over telltale to-go containers also occupy the tables behind Rosenkranz Hall.

On a recent weekday, the Sugar cupcake truck was parked nearby on Sachem Street, tempting passersby with treats. Single cupcakes, which sell for $3, make a sweet ending to swallow as you bid goodbye to The Whale—until your next plunge, anyway.

Ingalls Rink Food Carts
Corner of Sachem St and Prospect St (map)
Weekdays 11am-2pm (give or take)

Written by Lauren Langford. Photos #1, 3 and 4 by Dan Mims. Photo #2 by Lauren Langford.

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Lauren recently relocated from the Washington, D.C. area to New Haven, where she lives with her husband and their future dog. The daughter of two English teachers, she earned her journalism degree at the University of Maryland and still Fears the Turtle. Lauren's other interests include traipsing through the endless aisles of Ikea and watching classic episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

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