Since 2013, when the city of Portland loosened restrictions on food trucks, the area has become home to a growing number of mobile kitchens. On sunny days, you’ll see them parked along the Eastern and Western promenades, downtown and – most frequently – stationed at local breweries, ready to counterbalance the effects of a boozy afternoon. Some of the best-known carts are now so firmly a part of the culinary landscape, it feels as if they’ve been here for decades.

But what about the newcomers? Over the past several weeks, I visited eight rookie carts and trucks, all in their first or second season. From spruce-tip-flavored ice cream to Cambodian sandwiches, their creative, sometimes zany offerings showcase how kitchens on wheels can expand and enhance the diversity of Portland’s dining options.

Admittedly, tracking down a particular truck when you’re hungry can be a challenge. Instagram and Facebook are usually the solution, although in a pinch, a good, old-fashioned phone call works just as well. Better yet, just head to the corner of Spring and Temple streets, where there is almost always a cart or two waiting, burners blazing, ready to surprise you.

LITTLE BEE HONEY ICE CREAM

Where I visited them: Longfellow Square

Where to find their schedule and location: Facebook: facebook.com/littlebeehoneyicecream

Instagram: @littlebeehoneyicecream

Telephone: 650-7170

What do they serve? Ice creams sweetened with honey, usually from Maine

Why you should track them down: For creamy frozen desserts (all $4 per serving) that incorporate both common flavors and more unusual ones, like spruce tips, honey, sea salt and orange blossom. If it’s on the menu, order a scoop of the spruce tip ice cream – subtle, with a distant piney flavor that hums Christmas carols in the background of every bite. Orange blossom is just as good and tastes like an upgraded Creamsicle.

Owner and chief churner Jenny Siler incorporates Maine honey into her recipes to reduce ice crystals in the frozen custard, which in turn keeps the ice cream soft and allows her cut back on the amount of sugar in the mix so that you can really taste the cream and subtle flavoring. Until this winter, Siler owned and operated Deering Center’s Black Cat Coffee with her husband Keith Dunlap. The couple sold their cafe but kept the frozen treats business, electing to buy a cart rather than find another building. Parked every weekend at Longfellow Square, Siler and her co-scooper, daughter Vivica Dunlap, are able to do what they never could while pulling espresso shots: enjoy the summer sunshine together.

MR. TUNA MOBILE SUSHI BAR

Where I visited them: Congress Square Park

Where to find their schedule and location: Facebook: facebook.com/mr.tunamaine

Instagram: @mr.tuna_maine

No telephone

What do they serve? Temaki (hand rolls)

Why you should track them down: So that you can get a taste of chef/owner Jordan Rubin’s creatively flavored temaki sushi (all $6 each or three for $15). Rubin, a veteran sushi chef, keeps Mr. Tuna’s menu short and very focused – you won’t find anything except hand rolls here, and that’s a good thing, because the snug, conical parcels he folds together with impressive speed and tidiness are among the best free-form sushi in the area. Sure, you can find old standbys like spicy tuna and unagi (grilled eel) on most days, but Rubin really shines when he layers traditional ingredients with surprising additions, like coconut curry and Maine halibut, or mango and yuzu kosho (a fiery Japanese condiment made with citrus rinds). Or my favorite, a hand roll loaded with spicy Maine crab, chunks of raw scallop and matchsticks of sweet, cooling cucumber.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent more than I care to admit on temaki. Partly, that’s because Mr. Tuna operates multiple carts at the same time, so it’s easier to get your temaki fix than you might expect. Every time I go in search of another vendor, Mr. Tuna is right there, tempting me with sushi. So I give in. And that’s no bad thing.

THE TRUFFLE TRUCK

Where I visited them: Pine Tree Shopping Center

Where to find their schedule and location: truffletruck.com/find-the-truffle-truck

Twitter: @TruffleTruckUSA

Instagram: @truffletruckusa

Telephone: 805-3711

What do they serve? Italian dishes, with a focus on sauces and toppings that incorporate truffles.

Why you should track them down: No, not for the novelty of finding a luxury ingredient (truffles) for sale from the back of a kitchen on wheels, but for the admirably high standard of the food. Primarily the excellent truffle tajarin ($15), a bowl of house-made taglierini – rough-surfaced, spaghetti-like noodles cooked to a springy al dente, then finished in a pan with a buttery truffle sauce, grated parmigiano Reggiano and molecule-thin shavings of shaved black truffles. Order a bowl and find a place to sit, stat! You won’t want to let the rich, heady sauce get cold enough to seize up (which it will).

Perhaps pasta isn’t your thing. In that case, executive chef Corrado Cassoni also has polenta with fried eggs, bathed in that same pungent truffle sauce ($13) on the menu. It’s the sort of dish I can imagine eating as a decadent late breakfast.

Don’t look for Cassoni when you visit, however. After a six-week trip to launch The Truffle Truck, he is back home in Turin. He and Italian hotelier Edoardo Giacone consult remotely as part of the trans-continental partnership that owns and operates the business along with their friend and co-owner, Anthony Fratianne, a local lawyer.

HAKKA ME

Where I visited them: Austin Street Brewery

Where to find their schedule and location: Facebook: facebook.com/Hakka-Me-1426533674078077

Instagram: @hakka_me

Telephone: 583-5743

What do they serve? Updated renditions of classic Cantonese dishes

Why you should track them down: If for no other reason than to sample chef/owner John Wen’s lu shui ji ($8), chicken thighs slow-braised in soy until their meat obligingly slides off the bone with a gentle poke of your chopsticks. Better still is the saturated green paste mounded on top. Wen makes it from scallions he quick-sautés to set their color, blitzed together with ginger and a little salt. It, like many of the dishes he prepares for the truck, is based on his grandmother’s recipes, most of which celebrate his family’s Hakka heritage.

Wen learned to cook at his family’s restaurants, first in New England and then in Florida. When he returned to Maine, he started the Hakka Me cart “to bring a healthier element to those recipes,” he told me. Among them, slyly spicy Chinese eggplant dressed in oyster sauce ($4), calamari and garlic chives ($7) and crunchy, intensely garlicky, wok-sautéed choy sum greens ($4). Your best bet at Hakka Me is to order “The Box,” ($11) which lets you taste any three dishes, with one double portion as your main. And if you spot lu shui ji on the menu, don’t hesitate!

FIRE & CO.

Where I visited them: Definitive Brewing Co.

Where to find their schedule and location: The truck is parked semi-permanently at Definitive Brewing Co.

Telephone: 299-6995

What do they serve? Pizzas baked in their mobile wood-fired oven

Why you should track them down: To get a glimpse of the most unusual motor vehicle you’re likely to see in town: a 70-year-old antique truck, clad in rough wood and stainless steel, retrofitted to house a wood-fired pizza oven. Among the approximately 10-inch hand-thrown pies, you’ll find traditional varieties like pepperoni ($12) or meatball ($15), as well as a few oddballs, like Dude Where’s My Pizza ($15), topped with Vidalia onions, mushrooms and goat cheese. But where the Fire & Company truck really shines is when it finds ways to integrate smoked meat from its sister business, Noble Barbecue. Take the unlikely combination of kimchi and house-smoked brisket pizza ($15): “Think of it like sauerkraut on a Reuben sandwich, just kicked up a million notches,” the pizzaiolo told me when I ordered it. When I took my first bite, it didn’t remind me much of a deli sandwich. But its layers of spicy fermentation, woodsmoke and soothing, creamy melted mozzarella did leaving me reaching, over and over again, for another slice.

The Fire & Co. food truck, which serves wood-fired pizza, is a semi-permanent resident at Definitive Brewing in Riverside.

NOM BAI STREET KITCHEN

Where I visited them: Norumbega Cidery, New Gloucester

Where to find their schedule and location: facebook.com/nombaiportland

Instagram: @nombaiportland

Telephone: 651-8848

What do they serve? Southeast Asian num pang sandwiches

Why you should track them down: Because num pang, a Cambodian version of Vietnamese banh mi, might just be the ideal summer sandwich. It starts with a French baguette-style bun that is hard-seared to impart a kiss of char, just like something you’d grab at an outdoor cookout. The extra toasting also makes the bun so crispy, it unleashes a shower of tiny crumbs with every bite. Then there’s the chili-mayonnaise sauce that num pang (literally “sandwich” in Cambodian”) deploys in place of pâté – it’s lighter and brighter, and it highlights the sweetness of the shredded carrot, daikon and cucumber. Filled with either grilled chicken or tofu (both $9) and garnished with sprigs of fragrant cilantro, each num pang offers nuance and depth that seems to extend far beyond the bounds of its toasty bun.

Now starting its first full season, Nom Bai is a collaborative project dreamed up by two good friends: chef/owner Sovanna Neang and co-owner Matthew Glatz (who also operates The SaltBox Café food truck). When Glatz learned about Neang’s desire to run her own food cart, he remembered the assistance he had received in starting SaltBox Café, so he pitched in on the launch of Nom Bai – first helping to find and outfit a mechanic’s 1984 Grumman box truck used at the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and once it was ready for the road, even lending a hand in the new mobile kitchen during last year’s trial run. Who says friends and business don’t mix?

Richard Carey, co-owner of the Fire & Co. food truck, pulls a pizza from the wood-fired oven while a Salty Tom pie (with tomatoes and basil) sets up on the counter.

FISHIN’ SHIPS

Where I visited them: Congress Square Park

Where to find their schedule and location: fishinships.com/events

Instagram: @fishinships

Telephone: 756-2860

What do they serve? Fried fish dishes, seafood croquettes and desserts

Why you should track them down: Because summertime is synonymous with fried fish, and chef/owner Bethany Taylor – formerly a schooner chef who purchased Fishin’ Ships in 2017 – knows her way around both tiny kitchens and a fryer. In addition to the eponymous classic O.G. ($10), a generous portion of beer-battered fish and thick-cut fries, which is every bit as good as anything you’d find in a London chippie, Taylor serves up a few surprises on her new menu. Among them, a Fish BLT ($10), featuring flaky fried pollock and applewood bacon on a sweet, knotted brioche roll freckled with black sesame seeds. Be forewarned, though: Napkins are mandatory for this spectacularly messy sandwich.

Every bit as good as the seafood at Fishin’ Ships are the desserts. On my recent visit, I found two of summer’s greatest hits, or so I thought. The tart, deep-fried strawberry-rhubarb hand pie ($6) reminded me of long childhood car rides across New England and the stains my sister and I ground into the back seat of my mother’s Chevy Impala. But Taylor’s twist on s’mores ($5) turned out to be a postmodern poutine that layers graham crumbs, chocolate squares and marshmallows on French fries. I may never live this down, but I’ll admit: They were fabulous and had me daydreaming about what it would be like to toast Needhams over a campfire.

CREPE ELIZABETH

Where I visited them: Allagash Brewing Co.

Where to find their schedule and location: crepeelizabeth.co/calendar

Instagram: @crepeelizabeth

Telephone: 808-0039

What do they serve? French crepes

Why you should track them down: Because pretty much everyone loves a thin, golden pancake, especially when the weather is nice. At Crepe Elizabeth, chef/owner Brandi Haaf and her husband Lonnie Stinson prepare two types of classic French crepes: savory and sweet. Both are well worth a try. The ham and cheese ($5) is filled with gooey cheddar and Jarlsberg, with a little elastic mozzarella in the mix to make the folded pancake grip tight to slices of cold-smoked ham. Be sure to ask for a squirt of Haaf’s homemade hot sauce that gives the crepe a vibrant, not-too-fiery kick. On the sweet side, don’t miss the Nutella and banana ($6) crepe. No matter what you order, take the time to watch Haaf, who trained in Kansas City under crepe chefs from Brittany, as she decants thin batter onto the griddle, then pushes it hypnotically to the edge with a long wooden spreader. In a flash, the crepe is ready. You’ll devour it just as quickly.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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