Candi and Sean Hogan of Salsibury order from Empanada Dada in Lowell. The Hogans live in Salisbury and follow Empanada Dada on social media so they know where to find him.
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Gourmet food trucks have carved out a seat at the table of the culinary industry. Their growing popularity is noticeable at festivals, sporting events and entertainment venues throughout the country, particularly in warmer months.

And despite the lack of cultural gatherings under current regulatory conditions, food trucks have weathered the pandemic better than traditional restaurants. One reason for the staying power of the mobile meal providers is the small staff and overhead costs, usually sole proprietorships with one or two employees.

Justin Schutrick of Oxford orders three chili dogs with chili fries for lunch at Janet’s Chili Dogs, a food truck on Water Street in Fitchburg.

Another reason food trucks have kept the “pan” in pandemic is the natural course of their operations: no dining in, outdoor seating (or in cars) and readily available hot meals.

Ranging in fare from sweets to spicy, from vegan to veal, many of the businesses are ethnic-themed twists on American favorites.

Chilean choices

One local fleet is that of Nashua’s Peter Varas, who just added a barbecue specialty truck to his armada that began with his Chilean offering, Pomeraine Food Truck. Varas, whose kitchen is at 21 Herrick St., plans to have both trucks back on the road by late August.

Ryan Barbin of Lunenburg adds condiments to his bacon cheese dog at Janet’s Chili Dogs in Fitchburg. Barbin, a regular customer of Janet’s, says, ‘It’s always delicious.’

“We shut down briefly because the events and festivals we usually cater at had been canceled,” he said.

But Pomeraine is available for private bookings and policy-compliant gatherings in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Varas, a former owner of an Argentine restaurant in Chelmsford, worked in his family’s restaurants while growing up in Chile.

“I love this industry and I love my culture,” he said. “I want to be able to share the cuisine with everyone.”

Featured items on the new truck will be traditional American favorites: pulled pork, smoked items, briskets and pulled chicken, but he’ll adjust the menu based on tastes and demands of clients.

The Chilean experience is more exotic but equally savory and includes chacareros, completos and empanadas. But, again, the menu is flexible for clients. To book a visit from Pomeraine, find them on Facebook or call 978 869-7851.

Tuns of puns

Aimee Jarden of Lowell picks up an order from Bob Cuesta at the Empanada Dada food truck in Lowell.

Punny names are also a theme for some trucks. Some available tags for entrepreneurial aspirants might be: Dinner Rolls. Eat Fleet. Patty Wagon. No? How about Wok ’n’ Roll? Mess Haul? Motor Mouths? Muenster Truck? OK, here’s a keeper — Chow Mein Street. Right?

Well, one name you cannot use is Empanada Dada. Bob Cuesta already owns that clever moniker for his Lowell-based food truck. Subtitled “Cuesta’s Fiestas” (Cuesta likes rhymes), Empanada Dada is exactly as it implies. His one-man operation specializes in empanadas, with a rotating variety of flavors.

“I can’t find them anywhere that are this good,” said Nicole Cerullo of Tewksbury. “Whenever I see him parked, I always buy some.”

Cuesta is a second-generation Cuban. Empanadas are a staple of that nation, and his preparation of them is a legacy of learned tricks and recipes.

The business is not just the 80 or so square feet of truck or trailer space from which sales are made.

Bob Dick of Lowell is a fan of Bob Cuesta’s Empanada Dada food truck in Lowell.

“All food trucks must have a commissary kitchen as their home base to store and prepare food,” he said. (His base is the congregational church at 11 Mammoth Road.)

Macaroni at Marconi?

Consumers can be comforted by the knowledge that both the kitchens and the service trucks are bound to strict oversight by local boards of health. And each vendor must get a permit to operate in other townships, where secondary inspections are common.

The Marconi Club in Fitchburg is the home base for CAPO’s Food Truck, which, on weekends, is parked outside the club, serving up lasagna or meatballs. If you haven’t guessed, CAPO is an Italian-themed rolling restaurant owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Keith and Christine Russo.

Although slowed by the quarantine and its consequential cancellation of civic and municipal events, CAPO keeps rolling. For three years, the Russos have been delighting diners in Westminster, Leominster and Shirley with a variety of authentic Italian dishes.

Primarily located at Marconi’s, CAPO is also available for private catering with a flexible menu. To book a visit find them by email at capothesauceboss@yahoo.com.

Capiche?

Dog in place

Not all gourmet food trucks are mobile. Janet’s Chili Dogs has been a fixture on the Fitchburg cityscape for decades. Permanently addressed at 652 Water St., Janet’s is owned by Debby Williams, who said the pandemic has been a mere speedbump for her business.

“We didn’t shut down and barely slowed,” she said, citing the nature of the business.

She continues to serve her signature hot dogs from the stationary trailer, which is flanked by picnic tables for safe distancing.

Only seasonal ebbs and flows seem to affect her business, but it is open all year, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wheel eat now?