The 14th annual Vendy Awards go down at Governors Island this Saturday, when 25 of New York's best street vendors go head to head in five categories: best dessert, best rookie, best market, best breakfast (a new category this year), and the coveted Vendy Cup.
The Vendys have previously crowned winners in categories like Best Vegan Vendor, and last year, in a nod to the President's racist labeling of Mexicans in this country, the Vendys had a special "Bad Hombres" category. The annual event serves as a fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group for the more than 10,000 street vendors working in New York City.
The contenders for this year's Vendy Cup are Burmese Bites in Long Island City, La Sabroso de Aracataca in Jackson Heights, Franky's Souvlaki in Astoria, Jiannettos Pizza in Midtown and Downtown, and Royal Grill in Midtown.
Joe Jiannetto grew up working at pizza shops in Staten Island, and his truck, Jiannetto's Pizza, has been serving up grandma-style pizza (square pies are becoming increasingly popular in New York's crowded pizza scene) since 1998. The pizza is made with mozzarella as the base, then tomato sauce, and dusted with parm and basil.
Luis Alfonso Marin Valencia, who owns and operates La Saboroso de Aracataca, emigrated from Columbia 35 years ago as a dancer and artist. His popular arepa cart pays homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with yellow butterflies painted on, and a Marquez quote “I feel Latin American from any country, but without renouncing the nostalgia for my land: Aracataca.” The arepas are made of cheese, corn flour, sugar and milk, fried on a griddle until browned, and then topped with another kind of cheese.
Franky's Souvlaki truck (Clay Williams / Gothamist)
For Franky Englezos, street food is a family business. His family started selling souvlaki in 1979, and Franky’s Souvlaki has been on the same Astoria corner for 30 years. He will be serving a gyro platter, souvlaki skewers and a souvlaki pita wrap along with a salad.
Before Myo Lin Thway, who came from Burma in 1994, opened Burmese Bites, he got a degree in mechanical engineering and previously worked in the diamond district. But his dedication to street food has paid off. Burmese Bites was previously nominated for a Vendy back in 2015. This year the cart will be serving their signature Keema Palata, a griddled flatbread filled with seasoned ground chicken, along with a sliced mango salad and and coconut curry chicken noodle soup called Ohno Kaukswe.
Royal Grill is run by a husband and wife team, MD and Hira Alam, who emigrated from Bangladesh in 1980. They have operated their stand on 44th Street and 6th Avenue for 10 years. They will be preparing their specialty chicken tikka masala and biryani with a unique blend of spices.
Tickets for Saturday's Vendy Awards, which include all-you-can-eat tastings from the various contestants, are still available here. Check out all the finalists this year.