Science & Technology

Library Mall Food Carts

library mall

Photo: Jeff Miller

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.

Published in the Summer 2011 issue


  • Marla Johnson June 13, 2011

    Lunch carts are a popular feature in downtown Portland – I’m happy to see them making an appearance in Madison.

  • Sabine K-W. July 15, 2011

    Well, they didn’t exactly “make an appearance”, they’ve been there for a while – even before my college career.

  • Tom Kessler July 17, 2011

    I want to get in on that taste testing process!

  • Lara Cap July 18, 2011

    I LOVE this part of campus, adds a little zing to state street!

  • Kailey July 18, 2011

    Five recent UW grads are eating at every Madison Food Cart this summer! Check out the blog here:

  • July 18, 2011

    Awesome! We’ll enjoy following your progress. The carts are right by the On Wisconsin offices and it’s safe to say we did a lot of “research” for the story.

  • Tamara July 24, 2011

    Loose Juice – Great lemonade.

  • Hector A. Acosta July 24, 2011

    There was a cuban food cart, which will normally will cure my cravings from backhome. Pretty good food.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *