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Sacramento Street Carts: Where Horton Has Not Yet Heard the Who

Poor Sacramento. It shoots itself in the foot and wonders why nobody comes to visit it in the hospital. Sacramento is not a “destination city” and never will be as long as the City Council has anything to do with it.

We don’t know what tourists even look like. We don’t get visitors, except for the obligatory 4th grade field trip to Sutter’s Fort the schools keep insisting on.

Did you know famous food guy Anthony Bourdain is coming here Sept 17th? He was asked if he’d ever been to Sacramento before, which is kind of like asking if this pillow padded tutu makes me my butt look fat.

Here’s a recent interview question to Bourdain from a Sacramento Press article:

Have you been to Sacramento? Have you spent much time here?

I haven’t spent much time, unfortunately. I’ve been through for one night, and didn’t get a chance to see anything.

Look how sorry he feels for us. “Unfortunately”, indeed. But what he says epitomizes this town. People don’t come here, they just pass through on their way to San Francisco or Lake Tahoe. If we’re lucky, we’re a pit stop. Which means local entrepreneurs should go into the bathroom business.

“Sacramento: Come for the Capitol. Stay for the toilets.”

I was in Manhattan recently and was awed by this Halal street cart across the street from our hotel, thinking how much Sacramento could SO use this kind of thing. But no. We have city ordinances preventing any kind of street cart to truly thrive. Rules like, you can’t operate for more than 30 minutes on any day that ends in “Y”.

The Sacramento Bee recently published an article with the headline: “Sacramento Says No to Hot New Food Trend“. Of course they said no. It’s got four bad words in it.

1. Hot

2. New

3. Food


4. Trend
Check out this line at 2am at 56th and 3rd in Manhattan on any given day of the week including Mondays.

halal cart 56th and 3rd street food

If you ever go to Manhattan, make sure you go to the street cart with the line.

halal cart nyc street food 56th and 3rd

It’s at 53rd and 6th Ave. and there’s a line for a reason.

halal cart nyc gyro plate

This is the gyro plate a mix of chicken and lamb and it was yummy! And….are you ready for this? It was SIX BUCKS!

You wouldn’t know that “street meat” was an OK item to eat. It just sounds bad. And maybe some of it is. But you should try this stuff and see the long lines, which is what SOME people in Sacramento need to see before they “pooh-pooh” it with ridiculous city ordinances designed to clearly prevent such businesses from operating.

I could totally open one of these “street meat” carts and I’d put it right across the street from the Hyatt Hotel on a large sidewalk area near the Capitol. And I’d blast my boom box and be singin’ all:

♫♪ “My street cart brings all the boys to the lawn….” ♫♪

In other words, my street meat would draw a crowd. And nothing draws a crowd better than a crowd. Because people are so nosy and curious and want to know what all the hubbub is about. It’s like those spontaneous outdoor public entertainment events, where somebody covered in chrome is doing backflips while juggling guppy-filled fishbowls and an audience forms and people start clapping.

Other people walking by stop to see what all the commotion is about and other people, say that one random tourist that Sacramento does get, whips out his camera and then someone else whips out their camera and all kinds of people are taking pictures with their iPhones and sending photos off to Facebook and Twitter and Whrrl so that now, people all over the country are seeing this really cool thing happening in Sacramento, and is that the Capitol in the background? This of course, leads to more people showing up and strangers on the sidewalk start talking to one another because they are sharing something so awesome and now you’ve got yourself a local cultural phenomenon, not to mention a sense of community. I mean, you always get that one long-haired lady in the rainbow-colored tie-dyed muumuu and finger symbals who dances to everything in front of everybody even when it’s inappropriate, but it’s all part of the charm, right?

I’m not the only one who sees such obvious neglected potential. The Sacramento Bee article quotes Randall Selland of the Selland Family of Restaurants, which operates gourmet eateries Ella Dining Room & Bar and The Kitchen who’s interest in starting a street cart is on hold because of the city’s tight restrictions: “It’s such a cool thing, but it just goes back to Sacramento being so backwards.” Amen, my brother.

Do I even need to say this out loud? We need street carts, dag nabbit! And when the city finally relents and gives in to the people (and common sense), they’d better not blow it right out of the gate. Whoever opens one should take a lesson from the Halal cart on 53rd and 6th in Manhattan, which, by the way, is open until 4am and has a constant line. And do you want to know what the secret is to that street cart’s reputed $10,000 per day income? It’s the simplest trick, yet the most difficult to achieve….are you writing this down, you future entrepreneurs?

Make food that tastes good.



UPDATE: 10/25/2011: A recent trip back to New York City has discovered the the “Halal Guys” now operate from three different corners at the intersection of 53rd and 6th. All three belong to the same group, and you can take advantage of everyone else’s paranoia by going to the cart with the shortest line. As long as they are wearing the T-shirts that say, “Halal Guys”.


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  4. Sunriver says:

    You folks need to rattle your city council, but you know what else Sacramento needs before it allows food carts? Garbage cans on every block with regular garbage pickup. We were just there visiting about a month ago (grew up there and then I fled to Oregon) and I was disgusted by the amount of trash we saw everywhere. Get rid of the garbage on the streets, allow small mom and pop businesses to thrive and work on a marketing campaign to invite your neighbors to the north to visit and the city could find it's niche again! I share the dream!

    1. Thank you so much for this feedback! It's like when somebody has a messy house for so long they don't see the trash anymore and need someone on the outside to say, “What a dump!”, like Bette Davis in that movie whose title I don't remember now. Where did you see this trash? Was it downtown? Midtown? Somewhere else? Because I don't see it, or I've gotten used to it and ignore it. Now I'm going to pay attention!

  5. Bob says:

    The best chefs in the world could open cheap eats food carts 5 to a block in Sacramento, but this small-minded cow town would be as dull as ever.

    1. Do they doubt that the people would embrace such a concept? Or are the wrong people in power?

  6. janegassner says:

    You said it, sister! Or, brother. Do Nanny Goats In Panties have a gender????

    1. Of course they do. That's why they have Billy Goats in Boxers. To make it easier to distinguish the two genders. Plus, boys don't often wear panties.

  7. Thank GAWD I'm going to a street festival today, because after reading this, I badly need some street meat. Y'know, I think Chicago must have strict laws against food carts, because I've never seen any. Huh. I remember visiting Toronto and their tantalizing hot dog carts. OH THE SMELL! Some neighborhoods of Chicago do allow those Mexican corn trucks, tho I've never tried that. That gyro platter looks amazing. I'd stand in line for that. Hell, I'd even come to Sacramento for that.

    1. I was just thinking I should write a best selling novel about a street cart vendor in Sacramento, like the Lucky Dog carts in New Orleans in Confederacy of Dunces. Maybe THAT would make it cool enough to get things started here in Sac. Yes! I will get right on that.

      And the first time I heard someone say “street meat” it sounded OK. Maybe you need to say with a New York accent because now when I say it or read it here, it just sounds so….you know. Explicit.

  8. SueAnn says:

    You know…I have never done a street cart…I must go to NY and give it a try. Sounds delish!!! And what the heck…Sacramento…get your heads out of your butts!! And give the public their street carts!!

    1. Amen, sister! Thank you!

      (hugs back!)

  9. Ruth says:

    Funny, it so happens I am spending the night at a hotel here in Sacramento, and I looked in the guest services directory under “Area Attractions” thinking, you know, maybe I'm missing something.
    Apparently not. The list, in full: Blue Diamond almond growers visitor center, the state capitol, an IMAX theater, Old Sacramento Visitors center, the zoo, and Sutters Fort.
    However, having lived several other places, I'd like to point out: There are some pretty good restaurants (albeit no street carts–yet–we're counting on you), there's no snow to shovel, we have that second saturday thing so midtown is fun at least once a month, it IS darn convenient to Tahoe, SF, and wine country, and finally, thanks to having no tourist attractions, we're not overrun with obnoxious tourists.

    1. You make some good points, Ruth. And I agree with the restaurant thing and the 2nd Saturday thing.

      Wait – are you really at a hotel in Sac?

      Also, seriously? Blue Diamond has a visitors center?

      1. Ruth says:

        Yes, I really am at a hotel here, using up some hotel points and having a little personal writing retreat.

        Seriously, Blue Diamond. I could never make up something like that.

  10. Coastaldigs says:

    Fabulous! This should be allowed to happen anywhere someone is willing to spend the startup money. One of my favorite places to eat in LA is a street meat taco truck in Pasadena near Colorado Blvd. in Old Town on Friday and Saturday nights. Long line, good eats low prices and lots of tourists. Love, “Mrs. Slug” from Adventures of Mr. Slug and Friends

    1. I really need to pay attention to punctuation more. I thought you were plugging your blog as if you were a fan but disguising it as some totally obscure reference as in, “Boy I sure love Mrs. Slug from Adventures….” then I realized: “Ohhhhh, she's signing her name…DUH!”

      Anyway, I wish I had known about your taco truck when I was living in L.A., I've been to Old Town a few times. Actually when I first heard about Old Town is when I realized we are just about the only city who calls our Old Town, “Old Sac”. Nobody refers to it as Old Town except out of town visitors, which of course we only get 1 or 2 a year, by my calculations. We also don't put the word “The” in front of Freeway names. We also don't have nicknames for our freeways, except for one, which there's a reason for that and not because Sacto is cool, it's because Sacto is lame and it's a long story and I won't bore you with it. Obviously we Sacramentans have a lot of catching up to do.

  11. Ali says:

    I hereby vow to you (and myself) to use the phrase “street meat” in every possible situation.

    and, i'll vote for you for mayor, too, as soon as they allow votes from around the world…

    1. My first act as mayor will be to allow anybody from all over the world to vote for me. Or something like that. It might have to involve time travel somehow for it to work.

  12. Nicky says:

    Margaret, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I can tell you I have no doubt your street meat would draw a crowd. A large crowd.

    1. I can't decide whether to cringe or laugh every time I either hear or try to say “street meat”.

  13. Jayne says:

    I think you need to run for Mayor. Seriously. Here's your platform. It's really simple because people have short attention spans and are basically stupid. Are you ready?

    “Sacramento. I can make it better.”

    I would totally vote for you.

    1. Nicky says:

      Hear hear! I also think you should hire Jayne as your campaign manager!

      1. My offer letter will go out to her first!

    2. I love that. Simple and direct and screams out what the people want to hear.

  14. scott_free says:

    Make food that tastes good? I think there's a hole in your reasoning, Margaret. That kind of thing might work well in NY, but it doesn't work in California. Not in a state where people choose Pizza Hut over Domino's. Uh-uh.

    1. What??? Are you saying Domino's tastes better? Don't make me come over there!

  15. Liz says:

    i like your new city motto!

  16. I passed through Sacramento once. I thought it was pretty, but it was also a little blurry — I forget how fast we were going.

    Have you been nominated for public office yet? City Council? You could institute a new policy on work attire. Tutus only. Think of the notoriety then! Sacramento needs you, Margaret.

    1. Thank you, FL. My first act as Mayor (or whatever) will be to let people from all over the world vote for Mayor to insure my incumbancy in perpetuity. You know, so you guys can vote for me.

  17. Pricilla says:

    Wow, even little Superior, MT. lets the Chinese food truck come on Tuesdays. It's such excitement too. Something different to eat! The line goes on for feet.
    Superior is erm. less than populous.

    1. Ha! Mmmmmm, Chinese food….

  18. Nezzy says:

    Hey girl, your street cart 'ell bring 'em in! Yep, that's just what your city need a good old chuck wagon. You may have just found the answer of bring us out of recession. Stand back Sacramento and let her through!!! You go girl………..

    Have a great weekend ya'll and a fantastic Friday!!!

    1. Thanks, Nezzy! I like the Chuck Wagon idea. You have a faboo weekend too, dear!

  19. Surfie says:

    Sacramento needs to change their ordinances and then bribe the Halal cart to come to Sacramento to operate. Then there could be a bidding war between Sacramento and Manhattan! Better yet, they should come to Myrtle Beach so I can have that chicken and lamb gyro plate. It looks so yummy!

    1. Excellent idea! I will propose that to the City. First Sacramento, then Myrtle Beach!

  20. Rachel says:

    The Halal cart food? Best I had during the NYC trip. Even better than Stage Deli, definitely better than Hilton's food.

    I live in the suburbs of Denver, no food carts there. Pout.

    1. Hilton's food – Pfffft!! With room service stopping at midnight or whatever and a cheeseburger costing $20 and the Halal cart right across the street until 4am, it was an easy choice! I'm sorry to hear that your Denver suburb does not have street carts. And I would be suspicious of them if they did because that would be odd.

  21. Teri C. says:

    “My street cart brings all the boys to the lawn….”
    That was the best one liner 😉
    Yeah I must say though, I do just pass through the town. I took a seminar at a hospital once in Sac, then I got lost trying to get to the Sanrio store in the Mall, and then there is always congestion in Sac. So I must say, I try to avoid the place at all costs since I am always getting lost there.
    You never hear anyone in Cali saying, “Dude, I am so going to Sacramento for _______.” It is always, LA, SF, Arcata.
    Sad but true, they do need something new.

    1. Arcata???? Wait, did you know I lived in Arcata? Did we already talk about this and I forgot? Or did you just randomly come with that?

      And I don't blame you for avoiding it, because there are no advantages worth putting up with the disadvantages for. Unlike L.A. or S.F.