Roy Choi's Korean fusion truck Kogi helped kick off the food truck trend. Samantha Trauben/Getty Images for International Rescue Committee
"City of Gold"

Restaurants on wheels

Ellen Rolfes Sep 18, 2023
Heard on:
Roy Choi's Korean fusion truck Kogi helped kick off the food truck trend. Samantha Trauben/Getty Images for International Rescue Committee

This month Econ Extra Credit is taking a look at the restaurant industry and the economy around food. We’re watching the film “City of Gold” from 2015. Subscribe here to get the whole series in your inbox.

Throughout “City of Gold,” the late food critic Jonathan Gold drives his truck around Los Angeles like a tour guide, pointing out notable restaurants packed into unassuming strip malls. 

At one point he drives by King Taco, a taqueria that got its start in 1974 out of a converted ice cream truck. One of King Taco’s locations, he explains, has a food truck parked in front to honor its origin story.  

“If you come on a weekend night, there will be an hour-long wait for the truck and you can walk right up to the counter in the restaurant itself,” Gold says in the film. “I’ve had the tacos at the truck and at the restaurant, and it is correct, you do want the ones from the truck.”  

As part of our monthlong look at “City of Gold,” let’s do the numbers on food trucks in LA and beyond.  


That’s the number of food trucks in the U.S. in 2023, up 6.9% from last year.  


The rise of social media fueled the modern food truck scene in Los Angeles. Chef Roy Choi, who was featured in “City of Gold,” attributed his truck Kogi’s success to Twitter, where customers could track the Korean taco truck’s movements. (In 2009, Choi’s more than 8,000 Twitter followers was considered impressive.) 


Marketplace’s hometown of L.A. took second in the Food & Wine 2023 readers’ choice poll for best food truck city. Portland, Oregon got the top spot.  

5 mpg 

Food trucks are heavy. The typical truck gets about 5 miles per gallon.  

$55,000 to $180,000 

The costs to open a food truck are dramatically lower than those for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The Food Truck Association of Los Angeles estimates startup costs at $55,000 to $180,000. Despite that lower barrier to entry, food trucks and restaurants face very similar business challenges.


It’s not cheap to make your restaurant street legal. In L.A., licensing and permit fees total almost $30,000, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Food Truck Nation Project.  


In Los Angeles, the price of eating out was up 6.2% in August compared to a year before. That’s a challenge for food truck owners, whose customers are less price tolerant. “People who are going to food trucks are not looking to spend a lot of money,” said chef Susan Feniger. In response to rising labor and food costs, Feniger said it only makes economic sense to deploy her Border Grill food trucks to larger festivals and for catering gigs. “We are not as much out on the street as we used to be.” 

74.8 degrees Fahrenheit 

That’s the average daily high for downtown L.A. The dry and warm Mediterranean climate makes it food truck season all year round. But extreme heat, like the kind the U.S. has experienced this summer, can be dangerous for food truck workers.  

“City of Gold” is available to stream on Tubi for free, on Kanopy for eligible library card holders and on Prime Video and DirectTV Stream with a subscription. 

After you watch, send us your thoughts and questions at

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