It’s that time of year again! The 12th Annual Vendy Awards, New York City’s leading street food competition, has chosen the four finalists who will duke it out for the coveted top prizes – the Vendy Cup and the People’s Choice Award. The finalists were selected from nominations submitted by everyday street food lovers from around the city, and they will meet for a head-to-head competition on September 17th at Governor’s Island.
The four Vendy Cup finalists are: Cachapas on Wheels, Tacos el Rancho, Traditional Chinese Cuisine, and Gladis’ Empanadas. Of these four, just one can win the title of the city’s best food vendor and walk away with the coveted Vendy Cup. The People’s Choice Award, the other big honor up for grabs, will be decided via scorecards by the crowd.
- Cachapas on Wheels: When Ivette and Jesus Villalobos’ dad quit his job as a taxi driver to buy a food truck, they were there to help out with the family business. Since graduating from college, they have taken over the truck while their dad runs a restaurant in Inwood. Having spent part of their childhood in Venezuela, Ivette and Jesus are excited to share the street food they grew up eating. One of their most popular menu items is the yoyo, a sandwich using sweet plantains as the bun, which is a specialty of their hometown of Maracaibo. The Villalobos family is from Maspeth, Queens but you can find their truck at Hanover Square and Varick and Houston Street in Manhattan.
- Tacos el Rancho: As a teenager, Felix Soriano worked as a dishwasher, where he was mentored by a chef in Chelsea who taught him how to prepare Italian and French cuisine. When Felix decided to branch out on his own, he wanted to serve the food he grew up with in Oaxaca, Mexico and decided to launch in Sunset Park, where he has lived for 22 years. Tacos el Rancho makes home-style Oaxacan food with fresh produce, homemade salsa and handmade tortillas. Since finishing school, Felix’s two sons, Dennis and Nelson, have become partners in the business. The Soriano family is passionate about food and loves spending time together – you can taste the love in their tacos!
- Traditional Chinese Cuisine: Yuanzhen Wang lives in Flushing, Queens with his wife and three daughters. He’s been running his food truck for four years with his daughters working alongside him. Before moving to the U.S., Yuanzhen was a chef in China and wanted to share the specialties of Henan, the central Chinese region where he’s from. Every day next to Washington Square Park, you can find his truck serving his signature spicy lamb burgers and fresh hand-pulled noodles to hungry NYU students.
- Gladis’ Empanadas: Gladis Cocha lives and vends in East Williamsburg. She moved to Brooklyn from Quito, Ecuador 12 years ago and has been a street vendor for nine years. Before launching her own business, Gladis sold fruit on the streets of Brooklyn. You can now find her every day selling her chicken, cheese and beef empanadas (also referred to as “pastelitos”) at the corner of Debevoise Street and Grand Avenue in East Williamsburg. Gladis is known throughout the neighborhood for her big smile and fresh “secret recipe” salsa.
More information on the 2016 Vendy Cup contenders can be found here. The Vendy Awards will also be premiering a series of videos featuring each of the Vendy Cup finalists; the videos will launch September 1stand will be available at vendyawards.streetvendor.org/newyorkcity/
Another honor given out at this year’s event will be the “Hero Award,” which will be given to The Halal Guys, a former Vendy Awards finalist in 2005. Since then, the halal gyro food cart has grown into a global phenomenon and has opened restaurants in and around New York City. Earlier this year, the owners gave a $30,000 donation to LaGuardia Community College in Queens to provide scholarships to students. President and co-founder of The Halal Guys, Mohamed Abouelenein’s own three children studied at LaGuardia Community College and The Halal Guys continue to operate a cart outside the college.