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The Arts District's Food-Truck Plaza is Back, But It Really Shouldn't Be This Hard, Dallas

Does this kid look like he's having any fun to you?
Does this kid look like he's having any fun to you?

Yesterday The Dallas Morning News reported that food trucks serving the Arts District had received notices of violations. They were operating in a public right of way and that's no good.

The trucks responded by moving from where they were -- a plaza across from the AT&T Performing Arts Center -- into a private parking lot down Flora Street. Trucks can do what they like on private property, given the owners' consent.

I stopped by yesterday and checked out the setup. Five trucks packed into the lot served hungry lunch goers. Still, it felt like a temporary solution. The trucks were cramped and the space felt stuffy. So I called Joey Zapata, who oversees code compliance for the city, and asked what the deal is. Why can't we give the food trucks a little breathing room?

Turns out they just got some.

The Arts Center pointed out their use agreement with the city today. It says the Center has control of the grounds surrounding the Winspear and the Wyly Theatre. So that's that. The trucks can park on the plaza and everyone's happy.

Almost.

I asked Zapata why trucks can't just park in parking spaces on the street like other cities I've visited. He told be they couldn't operate a business in a public right of way without a permit.

More permits. The same permits that valet companies use to block off a section of curb for parking and exchanging cars. Zapata says they're looking into offering similar permits to food trucks. If the trucks can afford the permits and the spots they're allowed to use are flexible, it would be a decent deal for the trucks, and it would make Dallas' food-truck scene way more usable and dynamic.

Imagine working in an office building where a different truck parked across the street every day. Monday is banh mi day; Tuesday is kimchee french fry day; Wednesday you get a loaded pastrami; and so on. Food trucks are supposed to be mobile, after all. That's why they've got tires on them. But with all these constraints the city has effectively given them all the boot.

What's happening at the Arts District may be working for people working near the Arts District, but it certainly doesn't work for people who can't walk there. I visited the plaza Tuesday and tried to park in the lot where the trucks had been forced to move. They wanted 10 bucks. I wanted to buy a sandwich that cost $5.

Check out this short blog post from Ruth Reichl, the editor of the much-missed Gourmet, which describes her happening upon a food truck. She ordered some dish called Eggslut, which she describes as "a tender egg, held together with no more than a wish, on top of buttery pureed potatoes," which makes me question my efficacy as a food writer forever. But the point is she happened upon the food truck. There's serendipity involved. An element of chance.

The way things are set up right now feels stodgy, forced and completely devoid of fun. That's what needs to change if Dallas wants a chance at a decent food truck scene. The problems with the food many of them serve -- well, I'll save for another rant.


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