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Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:28 a.m.

Mark's Carts offers a terrific alternative dining option downtown

By Julie Halpert


Mark's Carts has quickly become a popular downtown dining option.

Joseph Tobianski |

When Mark Hodesh started offering space for a few food carts behind Downtown Home & Garden in May, he never envisioned that his enterprise would become so popular. Now, just three months later, the half-dozen carts are a popular downtown casual-dining option. On a recent summer day, everyone from professionals on a lunch break enjoying the midday sun to families with young children flocked to the new community gathering place.

The notion of a food cart is "kind of romantic. It's easy to cheer for," Hodesh said.

Mark's Carts features food stands that provide a variety of healthful cuisine, everything from Spanish, to Indian, Asian and vegan. The choices can be overwhelming, and it took us nearly 15 minutes to decide which type of food to order on our first visit.

Like any stand, you place your order and wait for it, but if you want to get food from different carts, it can take some time during the crowded lunch hour. Everything is made fresh and ready-to-order, which means long lines at peak times.

We tried to sample from as many carts as possible on our first visit. I'll start with the standouts:

• The beef brisket sandwich at the Humble Hogs Heritage Bistro cart. The beef was incredibly tender, benefitting from a five hour low-temperature braising process. It was nicely complemented by Carolina-style cabbage slaw and was served on delicious Zingerman's bakehouse white bread. The Korean barbecue beef sandwich from eat, which specializes in hot meat on a bun, was similarly first-rate; however, eat has been so successful that its owners recently closed their cart so they can open a stand-alone location.


Mark's Carts
Off Washington Street between First and Ashley streets, downtown Ann Arbor

  • Hours: Varied, based on the cart. Details are on the website. Carts will be allowed to stay open until the first Saturday in November and will be allowed to resume business on March 1, 2012.

  • Plastic: Some carts take credit cards; others don't.

  • Liquor: No.

  • Prices: Inexpensive. Tacos are $3; many dishes are in the $8 range.

  • Value: Good.

  • Noise level: Moderate.

  • Wheelchair access: Acceptable, but it is a tight space.

• The homemade ice cream sandwich from The Lunch Room, which offers only vegan food. Refreshing vegan coconut ice cream was surrounded by two homemade chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate chip cookies were also soft, chewy and delicious. Let me just say that vegan never tasted so good.

• I also enjoyed this cart's hummus sandwich. The hummus was made with hand-squeezed lemon juice and homemade tahini and topped with vegetables from the Farmers Market. This was served on fresh Motown multigrain bread made by Avalon.

• The vegetable samosa from Hut-K Chaats. I've had the pleasure of dining in this restaurant before and was pleased to see this cart. The samosa was as good here as it was in the restaurant. It had a dense, flavorful taste and is a healthier version of the traditional vegetable samosa, in a multi-grain wrap instead of a deep-fried crust. It was great when washed down by Hut-K Chaats' mango, avocado and soy drink.

Runner-ups include the corn dogs at Debajo del Sol, with quality meat wrapped in a thick cornmeal crust, perfect when dipped in the mustard-flavored sauce. Patatas were a lighter version of the French fry and came with a tasty aioli dipping sauce.

I also enjoyed the two types of tacos from Darcy's Cart. The black bean taco had a full-bodied taste, and the spicy green chile cheeseburger taco contained a nice mix of ingredients: grass-fed, local ground beef; onion; green chiles; melted cheese; fresh tomato; and creamy chipotle garlic sauce. The slightly spicy taco was even better when washed down by the unique-tasting watermelon juice.

San Street, one of the Zingerman's community of businesses, provided an interesting dish: three tiny buns with an assortment of fixings. I most enjoyed the Fun Guy, which had an abundance of delicious shiitake mushrooms, while I thought the other two rolls, which featured pork, weren't as solid.

My daughter and I didn't care for Humble Hogs' less traditional macaroni and cheese, which used gruyere cheese that didn't work well. That's too bad, considering there are few options here for non-adventurous child diners, except for a kids meal with peanut butter and jelly offered by The Lunch Room.

There also weren't many dessert offerings. Darcy's Cart was already out of the flourless chocolate cake on our first visit, but we got to sample it the next time around. It had a heavenly, fudgy texture, though the piece was tiny.

Prices are reasonable at the carts, but bring cash; many of the stands don't take credit cards.

There's so much variety — and generally high-quality ingredients — that you can't go wrong venturing to Mark's Carts. It's an upscale version of street food, with enough selection to please most palates.

Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for



Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

I like the lead photo in the slide show where the gate definitely says "No Dogs" and there is one in front of the carts.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

Maybe it was Miley Cyrus?

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

Darcy's Cart has amazing breakfast burritos! They're huge and delicious, and $5-7. Highly suggested!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

I love the concept of street food and they have a good variety, all using high quality ingredients. The concept also comes with the assumption that low overhead keeps prices down. Like many of the full-scale restaurants in town, the carts are hideously overpriced. $8 for a small handful of Paella? I know it's expensive but that's ridiculous. It didn't surprise me to lean that the San Street buns are part of the family that charges $87 for a sandwich. The exception is Darcy's, where $2 for a taco is about what you'll pay in a humble taqueria in Chicago. There are two culprits. First, the county has obnoxious regulations that make street food an expensive proposition. Probably a bigger factor - it's what the market will bear and us consumers keep on spending inflated prices without question.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

Jake C - yes, true it's the only alternative. Again, that's the problem- lack of choice. So we keep on overpaying these guys and Zingerman's and we'll set the market way too high. By the way Biercamp on State has fantastic pulled pork and brisket sandwiches for 5-6 bucks. Incredible flavor, great value. BUt it's not downtown. Will post on it soon at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Jake C

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

A better way to look at it is where else can you find a high-quality lunch for $5-10 in Ann Arbor that only takes 5 minutes max from order to eating? The only place with a similar quality that I can think of is Le Dog's soups, but otherwise you need to call 15 minutes ahead to a restaurant and ask for take-out. Frita Batidos is nice too but can take 10-20 minutes for your order to be ready. Or you can just head down to Mark's Carts and stroll around until you find something that catches your appetite and budget.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

Most of the food at Mark's Carts is very good. However outside of the &quot;lunch room' cart most of the carts are often closed after the lunch hour. I walk by Mark's Carts most days and would love to sample the eats but when I walk by at 5:15 almost all of them are shut down for the day. If Mark's Carts is open so should the carts be open. This is no different then how a mall works and Mark's Carts is a mall of street food vendors. I may not shop every store or even know where I plan to shop when I arrive at the mall, but all the stores are open for me to choose. when I am there This is not the case at Mark's Carts The 'lunch room' is suffering because of the laziness of its peers.

Jake C

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

I think you're dramatically misinformed if you think the carts close when they do because of &quot;laziness&quot;. At least 2 other carts besides Lunch Room are open for evening hours according to Mark's Carts website. And those who are only open from 11-2 or 11-3:30 probably do so because it would not be economically profitable to stay open later with the types of food they serve. Lunch Room's vegan fare may be acceptable to serve all afternoon long, but the pork belly from San Street may not be the kind of food that should be sitting on a warming tray for 7 hours. Or maybe their business just drops off enough after 3 PM to not make it worth staying open. Not too different from how some restaurants like Palio's and Pacific Rim don't have lunch hours.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

My kids and I really enjoy going to Mark's Carts. and think it's a fabulous addition to the city's dining options.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:04 a.m.

As co-owner of The Lunch Room, I am very grateful to the reviewer and and for recognizing the incredible efforts of all cart vendors and courtyard owner Mark Hodesh to bring a fun, delicious, affordable, community-oriented food experience to downtown Ann Arbor. As the weather cools, join us for hot foods and drinks and a courtyard firepit (coming soon!). I would also like to give credit where it is due: the hummus used in The Lunch Room's Reverend Joseph sandwich is prepared by Linda Conrad, master chef of Mama Mofoods seitan and Kita's hummus. It is she who squeezes the lemons and makes the tahini. Thanks, Mama, for helping us produce a terrific sandwich!