Hot dog carts, ice cream spots and taco shacks feed ravenous wanderers
by Aidan Morgan
According to Science, the two greatest inventions of humanity are cooking and housing. (What about the wheel, you say? The wheel sucks.) Cooking kills microbes, produces pleasing aromas and brings out new flavours and textures in your food. Houses keep out rain and mosquitoes. Put those two things together and you've got civilization. Or at least you've got a comfortable place to eat.
Despite the manifest superiority of eating indoors, we are a perverse bunch that like to pretend we're better than our house-building ancestors. Hence the popularity of backyard barbecues (bugs), picnics (dirt, bugs) and even patio dining (loud drunk people, bugs).
Street food, on the other hand, makes a bit of sense. Street food is eaten on the go. The entire affair, from handing over your money to throwing the last bite down your throat, takes just a few minutes and requires only one hand. When you're eating street food, you're thumbing your nose at Nature and all the stupid grains of sand and tiny insects and UV rays it likes to throw at you.
Here are a few places for street food in Regina and the very particular things I think about them.
THE FRANK CART
REGINA CITY HALL PLAZA AND THE SOUTH END OF THE SCARTH STREET MALL
Every Wednesday and Saturday, the Regina Farmers' Market features kiosk after kiosk of fresh local vegetables, herbs, baked goods and preserves. But if Nature's bounty doesn't warm your cold heart - or if it's not Wednesday or Saturday - the Frank Cart will sell you a hot dog at the foot of the Regina City Hall fountain. There are smokies, all-beef hot dogs, Grayson sausages and Italian sausages. The Frank Cart also has a range of fixings and sauces that will annihilate your breath but make you deeply happy. I tried an Italian sausage ($5.50) with cheese (75 cents) topped with bacon bits, honey mustard and hot sauce. I also recommend the hot buttery pretzel ($3.50), which should be eaten while it's still hot. Because then it will be the butteriest. (Open weekday afternoons)
QUEEN CITY FOOTLONG
NORTH END OF THE SCARTH STREET MALL
On the southern end of Scarth Street's pedestrian mall, The Frank Cart and its bevy of girls in short shorts dominate the dog trade. At the opposite end, the slightly less pulchritudinous but still worthy Queen City Footlong offers a similar menu, including the eponymous footlong hot dog. For the second year in a row, Queen City is featuring a bison sausage for $5.50. I went for a Grayson sausage ($5.50) with cheese (50 cents) in a brown bun with honey mustard and relish.
There's one thing that Queen City Footlong needs: a vegetarian option. The Frank Cart has its pretzels, which isn't much of an option for the meat-free, but it's something. (Open weekday afternoons)
MILKY WAY ICE CREAM
901 VICTORIA AVENUE
It's been 55 years and Milky Way will not stop serving ice cream, sundaes, banana splits, cyclones and ice cream sandwiches to the public. Who will put an end to their endless configurations of dairy (and what does that sentence even mean)? I only ask because I'm a) lactose intolerant and b) dumb enough to buy a butterscotch ripple cone every summer without taking Lactaid beforehand. I eat it like a crazed mole rat on a meth bender. Then I spend the evening splayed on the couch with little dairy elves stabbing me in the guts. But I know I'll end up doing it again next year, because damn, they have some fine ice cream. I could always opt for their frozen yogurt, but the pain is worth that burst of butterfat pleasure. The Milky Way also sells hamburgers, hot dogs, chili and even popcorn. (Open 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. every day through July and August.)
LA CUCARACHA COCINA MEXICANA
2815 13TH AVE.
La Cucaracha may be the only restaurant I know that can get away with naming itself after an insect. The place may not have an indoor dining area, but with its emphasis on authentic Mexican food and dishes prepared from scratch, it aspires to a status a bit higher than a hot dog stand. And that, I think, is where La Cucaracha runs into some problems.
Good street food is quick, cheap and tasty. La Cucaracha hits the flavour vertex of that triangle extremely well. The poblano taco ($4.49) is a great vegetarian option, with roasted poblano peppers and an excellent blend of flavours. They also make aguas frescas on the spot for you, fruit drinks that refresh you on a hot day without being overwhelmingly sweet or ice cold.
Unfortunately, La Cucaracha is not quick. The wait time is quite reasonable for an indoor restaurant with air conditioning, but when you're sitting on a bench or at a picnic table, you become uncomfortably aware of the time it takes to get to you. I didn't have a stopwatch running, but it took just long enough that I started to wonder if the kitchen had forgotten my order.
Nor is La Cucaracha cheap. The bill can quickly climb past $20 for two people. Burritos go for $9.99, quesadillas for $8.99 and tacos for $4.49. I had an agua fresca ($3.99) and the chef's daily special ($9.99), which was advertised as two pork tacos and Mexican black bean soup. Surprisingly, the soup contained only three or four black beans in a clear broth with onions. When I asked about it, it turned out the kitchen had run out of the black bean and given me Spanish onion soup instead. It seems like poor practice for a restaurant to offer substitutions without informing customers first.
The food is tasty and the ingredients are fresh, but La Cucaracha has a few bugs to work out. I recommend phoning ahead to order. And don't be afraid to ask whether the food on your plate is the food you asked for.