Denver street food: The best meals-on-wheels of 2010

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Lori Midson
Panang curry from Liang's Thai Food
The first mobile food vendor on wheels was launched nearly 150 years ago, in 1872, when a Rhode Island native called Walter Scott trotted his horse-drawn freight wagon, stocked with sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, coffee and pies around the town of Providence, satiating the bellies of late-night factory workers.

A century and a half later, street wagons have come full circle, weaving their way into the culinary landscape as seamlessly as diners and fast-food chains. The roving meals-on-wheels movement -- which began in earnest in Los Angeles in early 2009, when Mark Manguera, Caroline Shin-Manguera and Roy Choi, a former chef of Le Bernardin and RockSugar, unleashed a fleet of Korean barbecue trucks -- has since gained serious momentum, with cities like Austin, Portland, New York and Denver slinging upscale grub from the confines of tricked-out air stream trailers, antiquated ice cream trucks, mail trucks and wagons, wrapped with expressive, bold graphics.

But food trucks, at least in Denver, aren't the only pushers of awesome pavement cuisine. This past year also saw the upward mobility of food carts, especially on the 16th Street Mall, which, until very recently, was little more than a pedestrian promenade of mirror-image hot dog vendors, save for revolutionary rebel Biker Jim, who, as we all know, is game -- pun intended -- for just about anything.

We spent hours upon hours over the past several months digesting Denver's street-food scene, and we've compiled a roundup of our ten favorite street-food warriors that launched in 2010, all of which should be added to your New Year's resolution list of where to eat in 2011.

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Lori Midson
Pinche Tacos
303-898-2905
Seasonally at Cherry Creek Fresh Market and Stapleton Farmers' Market; catering, too.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Pinche-Tacos/114537258571358?ref=ts

Kevin Morrison, who ruffled a few conservative feathers earlier this year when he rolled out the Pinche Tacos wagon (pinche is Spanish slang for "fucking") has spent the past year smartly thumbing his nose at the ridiculous controversy in lieu of dispensing his godly street tacos at local farmers' markets, the Justice League of Street Food parties and Civic Center Eats. The tortillas -- made locally -- are slapped on the griddle and surfaced with everything from carnitas, braised chicken and skirt steak to caramelized onions and queso, the latter of which is the star of the la plancha taco, a lacy orb of salty cotija, griddled until golden and topped with avocado and a lob of tart tomatillo salsa, with limes on the side. And since Morrison also turns out terrific tacos pummeled with scrambled eggs, chorizo and potatoes, there exists a rare opportunity for breakfast hangover relief that doesn't subject your throbbing brain to fluorescent lights or the clang and clamor of a dining room.

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Lori Midson
Liang's Thai Food
Monday through Friday at 16th and Tremont

The waits can be ridiculously, unnervingly long at this Thai wagon on the 16th Street Mall, especially when the loud-mouthed, relentless douchebag who hustles knock-off handbags immediately next to Liang and her cart, wafting with the smoke of the wok, decides to jump the queue and bark orders for himself and his minions through the sliding glass window. But the soft-spoken Liang, who's as tiny as her cart, does her best to appease the patient lingerers, turning out delicious Thai curries fragrant with kaffir lime leaves, greaseless egg rolls swelled with vegetables, and a chile-specked papaya salad that sings with citrus.

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Lori Midson
El Caribe Arepas
720-432-4205
Seasonally at the Cherry Creek Farmers' Market and the City Park Esplanade Farmers' Market, and year-round on Friday and Saturday at Denver Urban Homesteading, 200 Santa Fe Drive
Twitter: @quieroarepas

Every Wednesday and Saturday at the Cherry Creek farmers' market, again on Sunday at the City Park Esplanade farmers' market and throughout the year on Friday and Saturday at Denver Urban Homesteading, Igor and Beckie Panasewicz feed Venezuelan arepas to the masses from their vendor booth littered with bags of Harina P.A.N. white corn meal, plates of plantains, vats of earthy black beans and heavy pans harboring aromatic stewed meats scenting the open air. The arepas -- freshly made, thick, griddled corn cakes, split and packed tight with everything from ham and locally smoked salmon to marinated chicken, avocado and mozzarella -- are crisp-edged (almost crackly), smoldering, messy and obscenely good. There's good news on the horizon, too, for Igor and Beckie: They're just about ready to launch a food truck.


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