211 W. Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Phone: Varies by cart. Check the website for contact info.
Hours: Varies by cart. Most are open around lunch and dinner, weather permitting.
The Short Course
To avoid wait: People eat and go fairly quickly, even if the picnic tables are full when you arrive.
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom amenities: You can use the bathrooms in Bill’s Beer Garden on the other side of Downtown Home and Hardware.
High chairs? No
Got milk? Depends on which cart you pick. We saw sodas, water, and smoothies.
Kids’ menu? There’s a kid’s quesadilla at El Manantial, mini sandwiches and wings at Old Carolina, and a grilled Mac and cheese sandwich at Great Grilled Sandwiches. Other carts may offer kid-friendly fare, too.
Anything healthy for kids? Hut-K focuses on healthy vegetarian dishes. Steamed dumplings at MeiMei’s may be another option.
Food allergy concerns? Some of the posted menus include allergy information, but make sure to ask at each individual cart.
In a small concrete courtyard off West Washington, eight food carts circled a cluster of picnic tables. It looked like a modern day wagon train, only with more than one appetizing chuck wagon.
My family of four was visiting Mark’s Carts, which offers a variety of ethnic dishes from eight different food carts in a casual outdoor setting. Now in its fifth season, Mark’s Carts is open seasonally from April to October.
Half the fun at Mark’s Carts is walking around the courtyard, taking in the overall look and feel of each truck, reading the menus, and checking out what other patrons are eating. The carts for the 2015 season, all individually owned and operated, include revive, Great Grilled Sandwiches, The Stop, Hut-K, Simply Spanish, El Manantial, Old Carolina BBQ and MeiMei’s Dumplings.
Revive serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and more. Great Grilled Sandwiches offers an international collection of gourmet sandwiches. The Stop sells Chinese street food like the Jian Bing (a Chinese crepe) and Mala Bowl soup. Hut-K serves “nutrilicious”, or nutritious and delicious, Indian street food. Simply Spanish offers tapas, paella, and sandwiches. El Manantial sells Mexican favorites and new classics. Old Carolina BBQ specializes in Carolina style ribs and pulled pork while MeiMei’s offers classic and bold fusion Asian dumplings.
There was no way we could try everything, but we happily sampled dishes from three carts. MeiMei’s Dumplings appealed to our kids, 8 and 11, who ordered steamed pork dumplings and potstickers made with all natural pork shoulder and shiitake mushrooms. We also indulged in deep-fried cheese, jalapeño and bacon dumplings. Everything was a hit. The kids enjoyed the mild flavor of the potstickers, which were steamed and then pan fried, producing a doughy, chewy outside. My husband and I liked the hot zip of jalapeño plus gooey cheese goodness of the deep fried dumplings.
At El Manantial, my husband indulged in Deshebrada de Res on a tostada with seasoned beef brisket, an achiote and chile mulato sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado and pico de gallo. “The beef is very good and tender. Delicious!” He also picked up a couple authentic Jarritos Mexican sodas for the kids, which they guzzled.
Meanwhile, I went outside my comfort zone and tried something new: the Shanu Chaat from Hut-K with spiced, crushed chickpeas rolled in colocasia leaves on multigrain papdi with sauces made from mint, cilantro, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mangoes, lime, tamarind, and dates. While I found the green color of the dish unappetizing, the spicy, tangy taste and different textures and flavors won me over. It was unlike anything I would ever cook myself. It was yummy, especially washed down with a sweet mango lassi yogurt drink.
Overall, we found Mark’s Carts a fun experience and are making a list of things to try on our next visit: the Jian Bing at The Stop, a calamari sandwich and bacon wrapped dates at Simply Spanish, the Cubano panini at revive, the grilled macaroni and cheese sandwich from Great Grilled Sandwiches, and pulled pork from Old Carolina BBQ. There truly is something for everyone and every taste bud at Mark’s Carts.
Before you go, check the weather forecast as the carts close when the weather is bad. Carts are individually owned and operated and set their own hours, most opening for a stretch around lunch and dinner. Call ahead when in doubt.