Tyson Bee's Street Food (Franklin Field)
Our first stop on our Grand Food Truck Tour was Tyson Bee's, Penn's one–and–only Thai–Korean food truck. That's how owner Maria Hernandez, who has been running the truck with her husband Pedro for seven years, describes it. "My husband worked with the previous owner and other restaurants to make a few changes to the menu," she explains. "He learned how to do this kind of food for a few years, and we started working on our own about seven years ago." The quesadillas and burritos on the menu, however, wink to the Mexican Hernandezes', and Ecuadorian chef René's, cultural and culinary background.
Some may say crazy, most would say bold, but after giving it a go, I'm convinced that all would walk away from their Tyson Bee's experience a convert to food–truck fusion. We ventured forth with Maria Hernandez's favorite Thai basil chicken over rice, as well as her son's favorite Korean barbecue beef short rib kimchi burrito, and we left a bit shell–shocked, yet wholly satisfied.
NYC Gyro (34th and Walnut)
Next up is a favorite of the southern–part–of–campus crowd—that is, the tidal wave of vitamin–D–deprived students that escape DRL at 1:30 p.m., flustered engineers squeezing in a bite between classes, and HUP workers milling around in their ubiquitous blue scrubs. NYC Gyro sits under Meyerson Hall on the corner of 34th and Walnut. Owner Issam cut his teeth at various gyro and halal trucks in Philadelphia and New York City, working for 14 years as a chef. Five years ago, he opened NYC Gyro, and the rest is history. When asked about his personal favorite item on the menu, Issam smirks. "All of them, because I'm the best! I mean, look at that," he says, pointing to the line snaking down the Walnut Street sidewalk. "The students love it!" That much is undeniable—Issam steadfastly refuses to play favorites, but I've heard from a NYC Gyro enthusiast or two that you can't go wrong with the chicken on pita.
Chez Yasmine (Upper Quad)
In his 35 years as an HIV researcher at Penn's Wistar Institute, Jihed Chehimi grew frustrated with the food truck options on campus. (If only he'd had the Dining Guide!) Now, after leaving his position at the Institute, he's taking matters into his own hands. He describes his food as Mediterranean, influenced by his Tunisian upbringing with elements of French (medical school in Paris) and Swedish (the home country of his ex–wife and three children). The sprawling menu is dotted with references to regulars: Each item is in honor of a customer, university colleague, graduate student, or another Chez Yasmine fan. If you're looking to try it out, Chehimi recommends the Swedish salmon smörgãs and the Tunisian sandwich: You might even get a chance to be featured on the truck's Facebook page, where Chehimi highlights the Humans of Chez Yasmine on the regular.
Liam's Kitchen (under the bridge, near Chestnut)
You've probably seen this vibrantly painted truck below when walking across the bridge. Despite it only opening in November of 2021, Liam's Kitchen is instantly recognizable. Liam, as owner Aiyi explains, stands for her kids' names: Lorenzo, Ian, Aiyi, and Maximo. "We wanted to share what we eat at home with the community—our family is very diverse, mixed with Chinese and Dominican," explains Aiyi. "During the pandemic, we wanted to make it known that at the end of the day, food connects all of us. That's why I quit my other job to open a food truck." Liam's specializes in Hong Kong cuisine, which fuses European and Chinese food. Aiyi says people love the crispy chicken and bubble tea in particular, but in her opinion, you can't beat the beef noodle soup. If you too are coping with the city's two–faced weather and looking for a quick soup fix, Liam's Kitchen is the place to be.
Cristy's Mexican Food (under the bridge, near Chestnut)
After ten years working in another University City food truck, Cristy's Mexican Food owner Cristina decided to branch out and opened her very own food truck in late 2018. It’s lucky for us that she did; customers rave about her green salsa in particular, which comes slathered on tacos, inside burritos, and over quesadillas. As for Cristy herself, she can't pass up chicken tinga, one of the many family secret recipes that her truck specializes in. "Everything on the menu has come from Mexico," she explains, including the candy–colored Jarritos bottles that are calling your name from the side of the truck. Next time you're fiending for Mexican, ditch the Chipotle and give Cristy's a go. You won't regret it.
And so, our Grand Food Truck journey comes to an end, many steps and a week's worth of leftovers later. We came, saw, and conquered just a few of the seemingly endless food trucks that are sprinkled around campus, and it's safe to say that not a single one disappointed. For when your dining dollars (or morale) are running low and you're looking for a pick–me–up, one thing's for sure: We'll always have our food trucks. Bon appetit, everyone!