This article examines the modernization of food retailing and the governance of urban space through a connected comparison of southern Italian migrants to New York City and Mexicans living in San Antonio, Texas. Street foods were common and restaurants scarce in the regions of Mexico and of southern Italy that either sent large numbers of migrants to the United States or were incorporated into its national territory. We ask why street foods became iconic symbols of ethnic Mexican food in the United States when ethnic Italian food became associated with restaurants. We consider a number of analytical themes in seeking to explain these divergent histories of street foods, including climate, gendered agency, and racial thinking. We conclude that histories of municipal governance, created through empire building and migration, had a determinant role in situating culinary niches within urban landscapes. As newcomers in a vast metropolis, southern Italians were readily confined to existing restaurant structures, whereas Mexicans in nineteenth-century San Antonio, despite their dwindling numbers and political influence, successfully preserved and expanded traditional patterns of street food retailing.