Library Mall is a little bit like Epcot theme park, but much easier on the wallet.
The colorful carts parked where UW–Madison ends and State Street begins feature cuisine from all around the world: Africa, Costa Rica, Greece, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East, and South America. For those who like their lunch from places a little closer to home, there’s also old-fashioned comfort food, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Tex-Mex fare.
Free entertainment comes in the form of bongo drums, passionate orators, and student groups engaging in comical stunts to raise money for charity. Many carts provide their own soundtrack, though it’s clear that much of the music is intended to drown out the notes from a certain piccolo player dressed head to toe in blaze orange.
The city of Madison has a rigorous process for obtaining a cart spot. Vendors are ranked based on how long they have been in business, any code violations, and ratings from a panel of reviewers. The judges — mostly city employees — taste test each one by dining at four to six carts a day within a weeklong period each September.
Street-food culture is taking hold on the southeast part of campus, too, where the city has established additional vending spots for carts in the area bordered by Broom Street, West Washington Avenue, Regent Street, North Randall Avenue, and University Avenue.
The carts don’t operate year-round, but the diehards linger long after trees have lost their leaves; their return is a hopeful sign that spring is finally on its way to campus. As outdoor temperatures begin to rise, diners lounge on the grass surrounding the Library Mall fountain to remove their shoes and feel Lake Mendota breezes on their faces. Others squeeze onto the concrete steps surrounding the mall’s elevated area to sit in the sun, food balanced in laps, and enjoy some of the best people-watching in town.