Small Rental Kitchen? Hit a Food Truck

Can't create the meal-of-your-dreams in your tiny, rental kitchen? Never fear, your palate might be pleased right outside your apartment door - at a food truck.

2009 was the year of the food truck, with everyone from barbecue pit masters to gourmet ice cream vendors sidestepping pricey retail rentals in favor of going mobile across city streets.

The thrill of the chase seems to be a huge part of the appeal, with many vendors using Twitter as a sort of treasure map to help devotees mark the spot for the tacos or grilled cheeses that will hit the spot.

But in a new twist, the latest trend in mobile food seems to be immobility. With so many mobile businesses cropping up at the exact same time that so much commercial real estate is sitting vacant, it was bound to happen: Food trucks are putting it in park and turning into pop-up food courts all around the country.

To wit: 90 percent of 400 food trucks in Portland, OR never leave their spaces. Instead, they pay a modest $500/month rental fee to be part of a multi-truck "pod" that turns otherwise vacant parking lots into food courts with wheels. Whether the wheels ever actually roll seems to be moot to the throngs of hungry customers who flock to the lots.

Ten lucky vendors also got in on the launch of Portland's vibey Mississippi Marketplace, which ups the ante with chairs and tables, restrooms, and - most important in Oregon's dreary winter season - heat!

But as with all start-up ideas, it's important to jump through all the right hoops at City Hall. That's a lesson a group of LA-area trucks learned the hard way when they launched the Santa Monica Food Truck Lot on the first Monday of the year. The Lot did gangbusters on its launch day, but was quickly shut down when it turned out the lot wasn't zoned for food truck usage. Fingers crossed for the people of Santa Monica that the issue is resolved quickly, and that the tacos flow freely once again!