The local Vendys grew out of a famous competition in New York City, which has held them since 2005 as part of the nonprofit Street Vendor Project. Philadelphia's version benefits the Food Trust.
Saturday's outing will have a dozen competitors - chosen through an online vote - up from eight last year.
Three of them were also finalists last year: King of Falafel (the granddaddy of Middle Eastern street food, which has been in business at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard since 1989); Sugar Philly (run by three friends out of a truck named Sheila); and Sweet Box Cupcakes (whose owner, Gretchen Fantini, won the best-dessert prize last year).
This year's talent, most of it itinerant, includes:
The Smoke Truck, which features barbecue by Mark Coates, who briefly operated the bricks-and-mortar restaurant Bebe's Barbecue in South Philadelphia.
Vernalicious, whose owners Verna Swerdlow and David Jurkofsky prepare eclectic comfort foods such as grilled cheese and banh mi; it's been on the road for less than a year.
The Foo Truck, whose specialty is Asian street food such as pork belly, braised meatballs, and lemongrass chicken (no relation to Susanna Foo).
Delicias, run by two Venezuela-born arepa and empanada specialists on the 3400 block of Market Street.
Yumtown, a seasonal operation - normally found at Temple University - whose locavore approach might be dubbed "farm to steering wheel." Among the selections are meat loaf sandwiches, soups, and empanadas.
Tacos Don Memo, a Penn campus veteran whose fish tacos draw lines stretching down 38th Street.
Lil Dan's Gourmet, an Italian-inspired truck - mostly sandwiches - that shifts between Drexel's campus and LOVE Park.
Little Baby's Ice Cream, the upstart dessertery that will open a Fishtown storefront in August.
Lil' Pop Shop, the West Philadelphia popsicle specialist whose farmer's market stands qualify it as a mobile operation.
Besides Sweet Box, last year's winners were Gigi & Big R Caribbean/American Soul Food and Cucina Zapata.
In interviews, the returning competitors offered no trash talk, but the King of Falafel seemed confident. Nabil Akkeh, the former electrical engineer from Syria who runs the stand with his wife, Hined, said he deserved the nomination. "I work hard for my customers and I appreciate them," he said from his spot across from the visitor center. "I'm honest and put out good, fresh food."
Sweet Box's Gretchen Fantini said the pressure was greater this time. "Last time, I was out only three months and all of the papers were saying I was the underdog," she said. "This time, I feel I have to outdo myself."
Each vendor will choose which items to prepare from his or her menu, and cook enough to feed the several hundred people attending. A panel of judges will pronounce the winners at the end of the event.
Like the other contestants, Fantini did not want to divulge her menu, but when pressed, she mentioned her signature red velvet cupcakes, "something minty, something vegan, and a surprise." Fantini said she would maintain her truck after opening Sweet Box Bake Shop at 339 S. 13th St. by September.
Tickets for the Vendys ($55 and up) are available through http://phillyvendys2012.eventbrite.com. Last year's event was a sellout.
Contact Michael Klein at email@example.com.