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How to order food at an New York City street vendor

You're going to find so many of these food trucks all over the city, it's important that you know what you're doing when you order.

It's not necessarily difficult but sometimes the questions may be fired at you with intensity and street noise, and you'll be standing there with a confused look on your face asking “What!?”, so I thought I might be able to help.

Ordering breakfast at an NYC street vendor

How to order breakfast at a New York City street vendor

When you're ordering breakfast (or a lunch) you're probably going to see a vendor that looks more like this this one, “Nino's Coffee & Grill”. The color schemes are fairly consistent throughout the city so you'll know what to expect at each.

In most cases, the majority of what is on offer will be printed on the front. If you're in Midtown, and FiDi you're going to find that prices vary between trucks but not by much. You want to be in a business area, not a touristy area to get the best prices with the morning rush.

  1. Walk up (or get in line if someone is standing right at the window);
  2. Announce what you'd like;
  3. Take a step back;

In most cases, you'll pay when it's done, not when you order.

When you're standing there, you'll notice many people come up and grab a pre-ordered meal. These people are regulars and generally hand over some cash and are immediately given their bag. If you keep going back, you might get special service like this, too!

Recommended order: Bacon, egg, and cheese, on a roll. Throw in a little ketchup for something different, and they're going to ask if you want salt and/or pepper. Coffee? The question you get asked is “Milk and sugar?”, respond how you like it!

You'll notice that the prices very usually amount to something that results in some change. It's polite to tip $1 or at least the change you're given (especially if you're a regular).


Snack trucks are everywhere and include hot dog vendors, pretzels, and good old fashioned snack carts covered in lollies.

These ones are more straightforward. If it's lollies, grab something you want and place it in the window. They'll just tell you how much and you hand over your cash.

Hot dogs and pretzel vendors in many cases won't display prices if they're going to charge something outrageous. If you're around Flat Iron then you'll notice that you can get most things for $1, so stick to these and not the ones in the tourist-heavy areas.

You don't have to tip (but it's always well received if you want to).

Recommended order: Look for the vendors advertising $1 hot dogs. Ketchup and mustard. Just don't look at the hot dog water.

Lunch & Dinner

How to order lunch and dinner at an NYC street vendor

This is where the range gets a bit more diverse and you're going to find some awesome options. Indian, middle eastern, noodles, Mexican, the options are endless. If Just like breakfast, the options are generally going to be printed on the front of the truck and the process is the same.

One thing that you will get asked if you go for a “Chicken on Rice” or similar is “White and red sauce?”. This confused me at the beginning: White sauce is a creamy greek youghurt style addition that adds a bit of flavor to your meal. I love it. Red sauce is spicy. If you don't like spice, you can ask for a little, but just know that it's going to be all over your dish, so be careful and try sparingly at the beginning!

Recommended order: Chicken on rice with tomato, onion, and lettuce. White sauce with a little red sauce. Cheap and absolutely delicious.

P.S. One thing to know is that while these trucks look portable, you'll normally find the same ones in the same spot every single day!

Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

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