By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor
As storms brewed and gradually worked their way toward Waco, hundreds spent St. Patrick’s Day taste-testing some of the trendiest mobile food in the state. Specialty restaurants on wheels, some from Waco and others from afar, made the trek to 4th Street and Austin Avenue Saturday for the annual Texas Food Truck Showdown despite approaching storms.
The showdown closed early due to the inclement weather threat, stating on their Facebook page that, though everyone was looking forward to a night of music and food, “The safety of the community comes first.” Fortunately, the weather did not push visitors away until the showdown winners were promptly announced.
Crazy Burger, a Fort Worth-based burger food truck, was declared the overall champion based on its signature portabella mushroom burger, taking home a grand prize of $5,000.
The nearly all-day event is a cultural festival of sorts, featuring arts and crafts vendors, interactive activities and live music in addition to the line-up of food truck competitors. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the public was invited to purchase tickets and make their rounds, carefully choosing which of the trucks they wanted to get a taste of. Each ticket earned the customer one serving of whatever specialty meal the food trucks prepared in advance, which was the only available food between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The overall champion and categorical winners were determined by a panel of five celebrity judges, each of whom had extensive backgrounds in the food industry.
Artisan Oven stole the show for “Best International Food” with their Chipotle Chicken Khachapuri: a sourdough, crusty pizza with fajita chicken smothered in a white chipotle sauce. Fort Worth food truck Bite My Biscuit won the “People’s Choice Award” in 2017 but took home first place for “Best Between the Bun” this year for their chicken fried steak biscuit. Holy Frijole’s street corn won them first place in the “Most Unique” category, and “Best Dessert” was claimed by Coldstone Creamery on Wheels.
The winner of this year’s People’s Choice Award will be announced Monday.
The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce initially created the state-wide event in 2015; luring trucks from neighboring cities and counties, the showdown was the first food truck showdown of its kind in Texas.
Amanda Haygood, director of sports and special events for the Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the planning process for an event of this caliber is extensive.
“There’s a lot of prep work that goes into this, for sure,” Haygood said. “We do a lot of marketing to get the trucks here, and then we turn around and do marketing to get the people here.”
Haywood, who is in charge of a large portion of event planning and coordination, said each detail of the event involved much thought and preparation.
“It’s things that you don’t think about – the logistics,” Haywood said, “like ordering the tents, getting all these arts and crafts vendors here.”
McClennan Community College (MCC) freshman Isaac Overton and MCC sophomore Gabby Nevarez were vendors at beloved ice cream sandwich truck and local favorite Pokey-O’s, for much of the day.
Nevarez has worked at Pokey-O’s for three years and was present for the duration of the event.
“It was slow at first, because not that many people want ice cream in the morning, but around noon, it started picking up,” Nevarez said. “At times, the line was pretty much touching the other trucks, or wrapping around into weird loops.”
Despite the chaos and long lines, Nevarez said she enjoyed working the event.
“It’s been really fun actually. I have so much pride in this truck and our product. I feel like we’re people’s favorite,” she said. “Even though we might not be the best dish, we’re the people’s favorite.”
Overton also acknowledged the magnitude of the event and the number of customers they served throughout the day.
“We go through these sleeves of cups, and there’s fifty in each sleeve,” Overton said. “We probably went through at least fifteen.”
Overton said the showdown is characteristic of Waco and its mixture of families and college students.
“This kind of describes Waco,” Overton said. “Always having fun events, very family-friendly but also college town vibes.”
Overton moved to Waco only two years ago from Corpus Christi. “Waco feels like home though,” he said.
Waco native Olivia Dorton, a freshman at Reicher Catholic High School, volunteered at the showdown for the National Charity League, a non-profit that encourages mother-daughter connection with each other and the community.
For volunteering, Dorton received one ticket for redemption at any of the food trucks, and had a rainbow painted on her face from the face painting stand.
“I got a grilled cheese from May the Cheese Be With You,” she said. “It was really good.”