Find out where locals spend their Friday nights, May through September.
By Tim Hauserman
Photography by Gina Munda
Reno’s Food Truck Friday brings 35 of the region’s mobile vendors to the middle of Idlewild Park along the Truckee River. One of America’s largest weekly food truck events, it provides a cornucopia of delicious concoctions, live music and an opportunity for a wide range of folks to gather in a relaxing location near downtown Reno.
In fact, Idlewild Park itself is one of the stars of the show. There is plenty of deep grass under the ancient shady trees, and the tight lineup of trucks is set between the park’s pond—shimmering in the sunlight—and the river. A visit to the event is basically a slow walk in the park, but with food options as varied as the crowd.
“What I love is how we evolved in our culinary experience,” says event founder Steve Schroeder. “We started out with burgers and pizza, and now 100 different trucks are registered with us. We rotate in 35 a week.”
Not only does this offer variety on any given night, it also creates a slightly different culinary adventure week-to-week. Recent offerings have included: fusion-flavored eggs rolls, tri-tip nachos, fish and chips, Asian fusion and poke rolls, gourmet vegan entrees, Midwest-style breaded tenderloin, Southern barbecue ribs, Hawaiian pulled pork, salmon tacos, sushi burritos and poke tostadas, grilled cheese, French fries or mac and cheese loaded with pulled pork, old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, falafels, hot dogs, chicken strips, Greek deli, chicken wings, ice cream, gelato, freezes, and mini-donuts. There is also a wide selection of beer on tap, as well as mixed drinks, wine, fruit squeezes and fresh lemonade. In fact, the question might be…what is not served? And the biggest trick is how to narrow it down. One solution: Bring a big group of friends and share.
Each week a local musician plays in a grassy corner of the park, but the music is truly in the background, and savoring the food is the focus. Food Truck Friday is also a people-watching extravaganza: You might see a large man in a pirate costume with several parrots available for photo ops, or a clown blowing up balloons, or a group of young men in knight costumes ready to do imaginary battle on the grass. Each week there is something new going on.
“The vision I had was a fun eclectic food experience. Food can transcend culture, religion and language. People can still look at each other and point, ‘What is that and where did you get it?’ And a conversation ensues,” says Schroeder.
For example, Jessi Burgess likes to regularly gather here with her women friends. They sit at a picnic table, relaxing and chatting, while their children crawl around in the grass. “It’s a great family event—you can bring your babies and meet up with other moms,” says Burgess, who adds with a laugh: “But I’m really here for the fallacos (a taco with falafel filling).”
Food Truck Friday is also a great business opportunity, of course. “We have 4,000 people here on a Friday night, and once they try (a particular truck’s) food, people (hire) them for catering events. It’s creating an industry for local food trucks,” says Schroeder.
For the food truck operators, it is surely a chance to sell a lot of food and introduce themselves to a wide audience. But it can also be a lot of fun. “I love it. There are lots of happy, happy people here. It is the best social mash-up you can find. It’s great people-watching, like a modern-day cruise atmosphere,” says Kerri Schmitt, from Codfather, which dishes up fish and chips and corn fritters.
While Codfather has been a regular for several years, Zucker Donuts just joined Food Truck Friday this summer. After the first week, owner Irene Stambaugh was hooked. “It was a really good night for us,” she says. “People like to have donuts with beer, and the beer cart was just three trucks down.”
The only downside to such a big crowd? Uh, the big crowd. “Parking is always a struggle,” Schroeder admits. “We just rented several parking lots from the Washoe County School District that are nearby to meet the need.” But he also urges people to ride their bikes if they can, since Idlewild Park sits right on a popular bike route. In fact, he recently added a free bike valet service, operated by a different nonprofit organization each week (tips support the organization). And if you ride to and from the event, perhaps you can work off a little of those corn fritters.
Ever since Carolyn Reynolds moved to Reno from Las Vegas a few years ago, she visits Food Truck Friday frequently throughout the summer, and especially appreciates Reno’s relaxed atmosphere. In Vegas, she says, they would probably charge an entrance fee and a parking fee. Here, all you pay for is the food. And her best piece of advice for first-timers: “Go straight to the drinks, so you have one in your hand while waiting in line for food.”