State of the Carts

T he last time Daily Nutmeg visited the food trucks at the corner of Prospect and Sachem Streets, in 2014, they were located in the parking lot at Ingalls Rink. But the times, they are a changin’, and the carts are now arrayed again as they were in years past, along both sides of Sachem. What’s totally new is a patio on the south side of the street—part of the construction of Yale’s new Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray residential colleges—furnished with large designy picnic tables offering diners a convenient place to sit and a more convivial lunch scene.

For the most part, lunchers seem content with both their seating and their eating options. Roma Chowdhury, who works down the street at Yale Health, says she likes the new arrangement, with plenty of space for everyone. She comes to the picnic tables every day, even if she’s bringing her own lunch. But she often buys from the vendors. “It’s worth it,” she says, “for just five, six bucks.”

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Not only is lunch at the carts a bargain, it’s also a colorful smorgasbord of food from around the world. Ethiopia, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, India, Morocco, Latin America and other regions are represented, and many carts are known for a favorite dish that diners return for again and again. At Ali Baba’s Fusion, it’s Lemon Chicken ($6), “served with Basmati Rice, lettuce and Baba Ganoush sauce [and] chickpeas,” while, across the street, Ali Baba’s other cart specializes in Kati rolls “served with a mixed salad and mint chutney” ($2.50 each, 3 for $7). At Meeha Uma, the most popular dish is Katsu Curry (a mashup of chicken katsu and beef curry for $7), while at Aladeen’s, falafel in a platter ($6) or a sandwich ($5) is a vegetarian go-to. Lali Grill’s Rosemary Chicken ($5 sandwich, $6 with rice) was mentioned as a favorite by several diners, while Lali’s neighboring parent cart, Lalibela Ethiopian, focuses on traditional Ethiopian food that was the lunch of choice for a couple of graduate students sharing my table.

After scanning the carts and talking with many of the vendors, I settled on Latin food from The Portabello cart, ordering the Carnitas Pork (Chancho) Arepas ($6): “grilled sweet corn cake[s] made with white yellow corn meal, mozzarella cheese and fresh corn” served with “rice, sweet fried plantains (maduros), escabeche vegetables, pico de gallo, guacamole, Mexican crema fresca and Chipotle sauce.” Francisco Mendez (pictured first with Zenaida Muñoz), who owns the cart with his brother, says they’re often the last ones on the street, staying sometimes until 4 p.m. As seems to be the case streetwide, the arepas portion was huge. On a prior visit, I sat with UConn students Kenneth Andersen and Gleimy Rodriguez, who were sharing one lunch, which Rodriguez said was “more than enough for two.”

Many carts set up shop early, around 10:30 each morning. By 2:00 some are packing up. In all, I saw 14 carts, with spaces assigned to several more. City deputy economic development director Steve Fontana says 16 carts and 2 or 3 food trucks are licensed to ply their wares on Sachem Street.

Though the most recent arrangement along the sidewalk isn’t making everyone happy—I talked to one graduate student who felt the parking lot was safer and one vendor whose position isn’t as good as it was—Fontana says the Ingalls parking lot was always intended as a temporary site. Carts were moved there in 2011 when the city was doing road and sidewalk repair, and after the job was done, Yale allowed them to stay. Revisions to mobile food ordinances and the completion last year of construction on the residential colleges paved the way for the trucks and carts to move back to the sidewalk. Everyone in the Ingalls lot who wanted to stay was grandfathered in, Fontana reports, and spaces were assigned by lottery.

Around 1 p.m., most of Sachem Street’s diners clear out, and just a few of us are left scraping our plastic forks on the bottoms of our Styrofoam containers, search for the last delicious morsels, perhaps pondering what cuisine we’ll try tomorrow.

Ingalls Rink Food Carts
Sachem Street at Prospect Street, New Haven (map)

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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