Looking for tacos to celebrate Taco Tuesday? You probably won't have to go that far. According to a Yelp-based study on taco trucks by the Discovery Analytics Center at Virginia Tech there are 8,061 of them across the U.S. with Los Angeles taking the lead.

Data collected by the Discovery Analytics Center on May 1, 2019, finds the number of taco trucks in the United States has grown to 8,061. The top five cities with the most taco trucks include:

  • Los Angeles, CA: 1,146
  • Houston, TX: 398
  • Austin, TX: 354
  • San Francisco, CA: 335
  • San Jose, CA: 237

Background: The increase in taco trucks is compared to data collected in September 2016, which found there were around 5,500 taco trucks after a political pundit during the 2016 presidential campaign warned that “you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” Based on social media response to that comment, many people seemed to like the idea of ubiquitous taco trucks and researchers at Virginia Tech wondered if there might already be a taco truck on every corner. To further explore, researchers used data from Yelp to show how many taco trucks already existed in the U.S.

Virginia Tech researcher Nathan Self explains that Yelp has an API that provides access to every business it knows about. “Since Yelp is relatively pervasive we figured it could provide a good approximation. Using the API we searched Yelp for every restaurant that matched the search term "taco" and that is listed under either of the "foodtruck" or "foodstand" categories.” 

Methodology: Results are presented through interactive visualization. To show the geographical distribution of the taco truck data across the U.S., Virginia Tech aggregated nearby taco trucks into hexagonal bins. This makes for a more aesthetically pleasing and easier-to-digest visualization than plotting 5,000-some dots. Each hexagon is colored to represent the average Yelp rating of all the taco trucks in that area and each hexagon has a hover-over text listing the nearest city and the number of trucks represented by each. To find the closest taco truck nearby, click on a hexagon to bring up a zoomed-in map of the area and a list of each truck there and their Yelp ratings and top reviews.

The Discovery Analytics Center at Virginia Tech is at the forefront of scientific innovation, a leader in Tech’s efforts in “big data” research and education on campus. The center brings together computer scientists, engineers, and statisticians to meet the research and workforce needs of today’s data-driven society. Faculty and students tackle knowledge discovery problems in important areas of national interest, including intelligence analysis, sustainability, and public health.

Schedule Interview

To secure an interview with Nathan Self, please contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at sandrea@vt.edu or 703-399-9494. 

Chart of where to find taco trucks in the US