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21Jul/100

India Jones Chow Truck's Sumant Pardal

India Jones Chow Truck's Sumant Pardal

Most days, Sumant Pardal can be found sitting at a small, folding wooden table outside the India Jones Chow Truck, hanging out with his customers and watching them enjoy his amazing Indian street food. We ordered up some butter chicken ($7), a gobhi (cauliflower) paratha ($3.50) and some samosa spring rolls ($3), and sat down with the chef and owner of the mobile Indian street-food joint for an enlightening conversation.

Pardal has been in the restaurant business for 33 years: he founded the East India Grill chain of restaurants, which he's since sold. Now, at India Jones, he specializes in Punjabi food, particularly frankies: a roti is wrapped around fillings like lamb, paneer and mushrooms to form what the Zagat Guide's blog calls "the Indian equivalent of a burrito." His butter chicken, a mild curry with rice, is also a staple of the India Jones menu.

Pardal likes to talk with his customers. Topics we touched on included the Miracle Mile food-truck parking situation; the bigger, better new India Jones truck; and the possible expansion of the India Jones brand.

If you've visited a food truck on the Miracle Mile, you've probably heard at least a little bit about the precarious parking situation on Wilshire Boulevard. If not, here are the basics: Brick-and-mortar restaurants feel the trucks are taking their business. They unsuccessfully lobby the city to stop the trucks from parking on the Miracle Mile. Even though parking on the strip is now limited to one hour instead of two, the trucks continue to draw the lunchtime crowd. So, Pardal tells us (and LAist has also reported), Museum Square management and employees have allegedly begun employing a new tactic: they're parking (either their own cars, or, according to another LAist report, junkers) at all the Miracle Mile meters, and letting their business eat the cost of the tickets they're getting. Pardal doesn't think this approach will be viable for long.

Pardal is an active member of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, and regularly advocates for food trucks' presence in the city. He and fellow members of the SoCal MFVA recently sat down with Councilmember Tom LaBonge to talk about an alternative parking arrangement for the trucks. It's been proposed that the trucks could use the side streets, and that the city would charge them a flat parking fee. That way, the restaurants would feel less threatened, and the trucks could keep on doing business. As we talk about this, we shake our heads ruefully at the plight of the Shrimp Guys truck, which takes up two parking spaces, and so must be getting twice the tickets that the other trucks are getting.

Pardal recently switched to a bigger truck: his new ride is two feet wider and a foot longer, but - thankfully - still only occupies one parking spot. It has more kitchen space, two extra burners on the stove, and a double-door fridge that can hold around $6000 worth of food. It isn't your standard-issue Road Stoves truck: it's a private lease. Road Stoves, in fact, wouldn't lease to Pardal, he tells us - they told him they already had the Dosa Truck, and they didn't want to have two Indian food trucks out on the road. Pardal turned fellow trucks Kabob n' Roll and Louks on to his private company, and they now also lease their trucks through them.

Pardal will soon launch another truck, which he's planning to call China Jones: it'll feature Chinese street food. What's on the menu? Pardal says it's all in his head; he's made the dishes many times. "Give me a bowl of water, a chicken, and some cornstarch, and I'll make you something great," he says. He's planning to expand his Jones brand even further - Jakarta Jones (Indonesian street food) is just one of the potential variations he mentions.

Even if the trucks don't succeed in winning over LaBonge and the City of LA, India Jones has already converted one of the enemy - the meter maid who's tasked with ticketing the trucks up and down Miracle Mile. After completing her windshield-papering jaunt along Wilshire, she often stops at the India Jones truck to get some grub.

15Jul/101

LA Street Food Fest 2: July 24

LA Street Food Fest crowd at February's event

It's coming up soon - the second installment of the LA Street Food Fest. For round number 2, the Fest has moved from LA Center Studios to the Rose Bowl. This time, the good eats won't be marred by long lines and sold-out noms - there are only a few thousand presale tickets available, you can only purchase them online, and one price gets you all you can eat, rather than your having to wait - and then pay - at the trucks and carts once you get in. The event's also in the evening (from 5:30 to 9 PM), so there's less chance of frying in the hot sun, as queuers and eaters did at the last LA Street Food Fest in February. While you eat, you can watch a concert, vote in the Vendys-style cook-off, and hang out in the beer garden. Ooh, and the entry price includes free parking, a boon at any festival-type event.

Food truck-wise, all your favorites will be there: here's the complete list. Top three trucks I'm most excited about hitting: The Manila Machine, to try their lumpia (Filipino egg rolls); the Fox Pizza Bus, to get some wood-fired pie from a double-decker; and The Mighty Boba Truck, because I'm always up for some milk tea. Top three trucks I already love and will be hitting at the Fest: the Gastrobus, for their awesome daily specials like the plum juice they had recently; Louks, whose pitas I just cannot praise highly enough; and Coolhaus, because even though their free-ice-cream-sandwich days appear to be over for now, I will gladly pay full price for their balsamic fig and mascarpone ice cream.

Visit the LA Street Food Fest website for more information.

2Jul/103

Enter the Ninja: Yatta-! Truck

Yatta-! Truck

The Yatta-! Truck, which serves sushi with an American twist, has been on the road since June 5. I stopped by this past Friday on Miracle Mile. The menu offers several unique rolls, including the All-American, a deep-fried cheeseburger roll. It also gives you the option of building your own sushi, which you do by using the brightly colored popsicle sticks sitting in cups on the side of the truck. You pick the sticks corresponding to the ingredients you'd like in and on your roll, and then you hand them to the folks at the truck's order window. "You be the Chef!" is the Yatta-! Truck's tag line.

Yatta-! Truck Creation Station

I'm not quite confident in my ability to design my own roll without accidentally picking flavor combos that will turn out to be unexpectedly gross, so instead I chose one of the five pre-designed rolls on the menu: the Cream Cheese Explosion, a deep-fried cream cheese and spicy tuna roll. It was $3.50 for four pieces. The cream cheese and spicy tuna was a great combination - the cream cheese tempered the tuna's spice. My only complaint: deep-frying the roll cooked the tuna a little too much for my liking. I'd have preferred a greater contrast between the crunchy, hot batter on the outside and the cold, tender tuna inside the roll. I don't know if that's asking too much, culinarily speaking, but hey, if Acapulco can make deep-fried ice cream... (Yes, I'm talking about Acapulco, the Michelin 3-star restaurant that has introduced Southern California to such gustatory delights as the Mucho Macho-tizer Platter. Stop looking at me like that.)

Yatta-! Truck Menu

This truck comes complete with a ninja. Yes, a masked, sword-wielding ninja who will obligingly strike badass poses if you ask to take a picture of him. Despite his garb, he's not fierce at all; in fact, he's very sweet and friendly. We shot the shit while I waited for my order to come up, and he told me the Yatta-! Truck has two regular spots: where we were currently standing, at 5900 Wilshire Blvd; and 2nd and Santa Monica Blvd, in the city of Santa Monica. It also hits downtown and Venice fairly often. Look for its latest stops here. In addition to tasty sushi, the Yatta-! Truck gave me the opportunity to say a sentence I may never again utter in my lifetime: "Hang on; I gotta say goodbye to the ninja."

Yatta-! Ninja

Photos by Oliver Seldman