Chincoteague Food Trucks

“The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of invention.”—Plato, The Republic

On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, water is the necessity, and food trucks are the invention.

It has been a decade since Chincoteague Island issued a permit for brick-and-mortar restaurant construction, something that’s given the food truck scene an opportunity to flourish.

The barrier island, famous for its wild ponies and windswept shores, is wedged between the sea and the mainland, separated by five miles of brackish bays and tidal wetlands. Managing fresh water and its corollary is crucial. “Food trucks are a draw for potential business owners because we have a limited sewage capacity,” says town manager Mike Tolbert, who explains that food trucks are the kind of eateries that have minimal wastewater impact and a few zoning stipulations. “Costs to start these businesses are not prohibitive,” he says.

Chef Justin Kerchner found the easiest way to pursue his seaside culinary dream was to open Better food truck in Chincoteague. Photo courtesy of Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce/By Rob Osterrmaier

The Original & More

Larry Parsons is excitable. Decked out in a coordinated green tracksuit, he talks music, bodybuilding, and barbecue from his RV-turned-office at Woody’s Serious Food. The eatery on Maddox Boulevard at the traffic circle on the island’s main thoroughfare is as much an attraction with games and outdoor fun as it is the island’s first food truck. 

In 2008, at age 50, Parsons realized the days of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle were behind him. He saw a lack of barbecue on the island and leased a spot where reggae now plays, customers have fun, and the service is “faster than McDonald’s.”  

He beams with pride when he talks about Chincoteague’s food truck business, explaining that they bring in lots of money to the local economy. He says that because of infrastructure challenges, food trucks help supplement the town’s dearth of restaurants to support the 1.5 million visitors who descend on the island each summer. “Our food trucks serve as an alternative to new restaurants,” he says. The 2022 Economic Impact Study by Virginia Tourism Corp. cited the Eastern Shore as the fastest growing tourism region in Virginia, with $47.5 million in revenue from the food and beverage sector alone. “This has been a good thing,” claims Parsons, who frequents all his competitors.

Down Maddox Boulevard, Wendy Massey transformed her love of cookie baking into a homemade cookie sundae empire, BYOC—Build Your Own Cookie. “We’re locals,” she proudly declares. “Larry’s my cousin. My husband’s family owned Misty and Stormy,” as she name drops two of the most famous wild ponies to set hoof on the island. “All our eight cookie flavors are homemade, and chocolate chip is the most popular,” she says.

Jim Lucas focuses on gourmet hot dogs at Island Dawg. Shark & Manders redefines handhelds with sandwiches baked in pizza dough; their Sharkburger is reputed to be one of the best on the Eastern Shore, piled high with cheese and served with epic French fries. 

On the hunt for something better to eat on the island led chef Justin Kerchner to start Better, where he serves seasonal, fresh food like shrimp and grits, crispy Brussels sprouts, and made-from-scratch soup. Chef Yen Nguyen brings international flair to the scene with her AmaRin Bahn Mi food truck parked outside AmaRin, her successful Vietnamese coffee shop. Even beverages are part of Chincoteague’s booming food truck culture. Pony Pop serves customizable fountain sodas, shaved ice, and milkshakes.

In 2023, there were 14 food trucks on the island’s nine square miles of usable land.

Going Brick & Mortar

Despite the challenges, transitioning from food truck to physical establishment does happen on the island—and with great success. The creative confectionery of Sandy Pony Donuts still operates their truck, but their permanent storefront is on Maddox Boulevard. It’s a staple in Chincoteague’s sweet scene, serving delightfully delicious donuts, açai bowls, smoothies, and bubble tea. 

Another success story is Pico Taqueria, whose team gained serious culinary chops criss-crossing the country—from Palm Beach to Santa Barbara to Charleston—before first opening their food truck and then their outdoor restaurant on the island. “We knew it would be less expensive to start up as a food truck, and it could give us a foot onto the island,” explains Rosie Moot, who co-owns the 37-employee establishment with the Moot clan—her husband Dylan, his twin brother Nate, and Nate’s wife, Kate.

“I like Chincoteague because the people want small mom-and-pop shops. They want people who own the businesses to be part of the community,” says Rosie Moot. “Our goal was to be part of the community, but it costs so much to open a restaurant. The food truck was a great starting point.”

Food Trucks of Chincoteague

Island life means surfing, sand, sunshine, and—on this island—ponies and food trucks. These mobile meals around town are part of the charm of Chincoteague, drawing crowds on ideal summer days, but most will tell you the food makes the wait worth it.

Backyard Firepit

Facebook: Backyard Firepit, 6312 Church St.

All the fixings of indulgent barbecue: brisket, pulled pork, and ribs smoked to delicious perfection.

Cosa Pizza, 6146 Taylor St. 

Wood-fired ovens go mobile in this locally loved pizza joint, offering satisfying options for a range of diets like their special (still yummy) cauliflower crust.

Grandma’s Waffles & Coffee

6382 Maddox Blvd.

Serves authentic Belgian waffles with various toppings at the Whiteraven’s Nest farmers market.  

Having a Meltdown

Facebook: Having a Meltdown, 4474 Chicken City Rd.

Bites for the classic American comfort food experience, especially those of the cheesy variety with their signature gourmet grilled cheeses. 

K&J Teriyaki

If you’re lucky enough to catch this truck (look around T’s Corner by the Food Lion), dig into Korean-style teriyaki plates with meats, rice, dumplings, and more.

Hungry yet? Click here for more food truck options on Chincoteague!

Department of Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly credited the photo featured to the Virginia Tourism Corp. The photo was courtesy of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce/By Rob Osterrmaier.

This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue. 

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum