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4Jun/100

Knockout Tacos

We bumped into Knockout Tacos by Pan Pacific Park, on the truck's first full day out. Chef-owner Chris Goossen used to work at Bottega Louie downtown. His family is in the boxing business, hence the truck's concept. His cousin in Temecula did his truck's distinctive blue wrap with its red boxing-gloves logo.

KO Taco Truck

We got three tacos: BBQ pork burnt ends with baked beans and Southern-style coleslaw ($3.50), carne asada ($2.50), and pollo asada ($2.50). The pork delivered a, uh, one-two punch of deliciousness, although it could perhaps benefit from being shredded instead of sliced - the size of the pieces made it a tad dry. Maybe that's the "burnt ends" part - perhaps it's supposed to be a bit chewy. The sweet, tender beans knocked me for six. (Oh, sorry, wrong sport; that's a cricket metaphor.) I now want to add baked beans to all the BBQ tacos I eat. The pollo asada was wonderfully tomatoey and vinegary. I loved the cotija cheese on both asada tacos.

Pollo and carne asada tacos from KO

I know I end a lot of my reviews with "Next time I'll eat..." Hey, I've only got so much room in my stomach. Whenever I visit a food truck, I pick three or four menu items, decide which two to have this time, and leave the other two dishes for my second trip. My next-time choices at KO Tacos are: the tacos de papa with Yukon Gold potatoes, and the habanero albacore taco - even though I'm a spice lightweight (Another boxing reference! Yay!) and may have to remove some of the salsa before chowing down.

KO Truck Menu

We have a unanimous decision! The winner, and still the heavyweight champion of the taco world, is... Wow, I can't believe I just stooped to that metaphorical level. KO Tacos are great: no figures of speech necessary.

Photos by Oliver Seldman

3Jun/101

Silverlake Jubilee: Crepe'n Around

Silverlake Jubilee

The Silverlake Jubilee took place on the weekend of May 22 and 23. Myra Street was closed down from Sunset Boulevard to Hoover Street, and vendors and people filled the road from 10AM to 10PM on Saturday and Sunday. There was juice you could drink straight from the coconut; serving bowls made out of old vinyl records; more hipsters than you could shake a stick at (I shook one at as many of them as I could manage); and a whole crapload of food trucks. I counted: Derbs (whose truck is tiny!), the Fatburger Fatmobile, Mrs. Beasley's, Nana Queen's, Barbie's Q, Fishlips Sushi, Uncle Lau's BBQ, Del's, Flying Pig, Louks, Dosa Truck, India Jones, Lomo Arigato, Vesuvio, TastyMeat, Slice Truck, Komodo, Buttermilk Truck, Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee and Smoothies, Dim Sum Truck, Frysmith, and Crepe'n Around. Phamish was there, despite having endured a nasty-sounding situation the previous week in which their truck had been taken hostage: they were using a temporary truck with a banner but no wrap.

Phamish's new temp truck

I'd been excited about visiting LA's two crepe trucks, so I was psyched to see Crepe'n Around at the Jubilee. After I set up camp (husband + toddler + stroller + bag + friends who also had all of the above) on the sidewalk next to the truck, I went to place my order. I chose a teriyaki hanger steak crepe ($6). It came in a red-and-white checked paper scoop tray, with the crepe folded over in a cone shape, like a sushi hand roll. Inside: seared hanger steak, pepper jack cheese, mixed greens, pickled onions, wonton crisps, and teriyaki sauce.

Crepe'n Around menu

The meat was juicy, but a little fatty and tough in places. It was coated very evenly with just the right amount of sauce - I was expecting the occasional teriyaki-heavy bite of meat, but none came. The greens and the wontons added a nice crunch. I have to say I didn't even notice the cheese's presence. Perhaps its flavor complemented the other ingredients so perfectly that it simply vanished into the crepe, or maybe the chef forgot to put it on. The crepe itself was the tiniest bit overdone, but I liked it; the very slight crispiness of the browned parts added a bit of nutty flavor. My beef (get it? get it?) with the overall package: a crepe seemed like too delicate a vehicle for such a hearty sandwich. The pieces of steak weren't what I'd call thinly cut, which made the whole package kind of chunky and unwieldy. Also, the teriyaki sauce soon soaked through the crepe. I got three quarters of the way through my meal, and then, as Chinua Achebe might say, things fell apart. Maybe if I'd been eating this dish on a plate with a knife and fork, my experience would have been different, but as hand-held street food, this didn't hold up very well. I think next time I'll try a more traditional savory crepe, like ham and brie.

Crepe 'N Around Truck

I couldn't resist getting a dessert crepe. While Nutella looked tempting, I asked the Crepe'n Around crew if they had any lemon juice on board: I just wanted plain old sugar and lemon ($4). They graciously obliged me. This crepe was perfectly done. It could have used a couple fewer squeezes of lemon juice, but it still absolutely hit the spot.

I appreciated the Jubilee's zero-waste effort. There was no water being sold in bottles - instead, there were a couple of water filling stations where you could bring your own bottle to replenish your H2O supply. At several points along the block-party route, there were bins in banks of three: one for trash, one for recycling, and one for composting. As ever, though, the occasional dumbass threw the wrong stuff into the wrong bin. I didn't see any event staff sorting the trash into its correct receptacles; I hope they did at some point.

Trash setup at the Silverlake Jubilee

I enjoyed the Jubilee. It was like a mini-Sunset Junction. Its acoustics astounded me: unless I stood right by the stage where the bands were playing (which, sadly, I'll have to wait to do until my kid is older and has hardier ears), I could barely hear the music at all. That meant I didn't need to shout myself hoarse or lip-read my friends to have a conversation. Excellent. The only time I was silent was when I was shoving crepes in my face, or inhaling nutella louks from - where else - Louks.

Photos by Oliver Seldman

23May/102

Chef Brian's Comfort Truck

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Too bad you can't copyright sliders. The mini-burger trend that's been sweeping the nation must annoy the White Castle people no end, since they're the ones that popularized the greasy little things to begin with, and they're not seeing any extra bank from the recent proliferation of petite meat patties. Tiny burgers have become a staple on gourmet food truck menus: they're quick to make, convenient to eat, and not half as messy as a regular-size burger. It's also easy to put all kinds of gourmet spins on them. Chef Brian's Comfort Truck does just that, offering seven varieties of slider - six chicken and one beef.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

I got the jerk beef sliders (two for $4). They came on sweet, doughy buns reminiscent of the ones from King's Hawaiian, and each was topped with a slice of pineapple. The meat had an authentic jerk flavor, and it was spicy, without being so hot that it blew my head off. The beef was medium-well done - just how I like it. That's one of the reasons I've become a slider convert: it's hard to undercook a miniature patty, whereas people often tend to undercook regular-size burgers, because they like rare meat. I'm a fan of more well-done meat (do I hear snickers from the peanut gallery?).

Photo by Oliver Seldman

My husband got the BBQ chicken sliders (also two for $4). They weren't quite what either of us expected - the menu's description of the sliders didn't mention that they were battered. Looking back, the words "deep-fried" on the menu should have tipped us off: most deep-fried chicken has a layer of breading on it, helping keep the meat inside juicy. Our initial confusion didn't change the fact that the sliders were very tasty; the barbecue sauce had a good balance of acid and smoke flavors.

Next: Chef Brian's Golden Fried "Crack" Tortilla Chips ($2). Holy crap, these were good. I found myself hoping my 2-year-old son wouldn't eat too many of them, so I could have more. (No such luck - he loved them as much as I did.) They're flour tortilla chips that taste like they came from heaven. They're buttery and flaky and there are far too few of them in each serving.

Crack Chips from the Comfort Truck

A week or so later, I hit up the Comfort Truck for the second time. They were on Melrose and Spaulding, and they'd tweeted that they were giving out free jerk beef sliders and Comfy Jerk Beef Wraps (usually $3) to their first 30 customers. I came by and grabbed my freebies, plus an extra order of crack chips and a soda. The sliders were just as good as I remembered them, and Brian and Nikki were lots of fun to chat with.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Several brick-and-mortar burger joints have deployed mobile divisions: I even saw a Fatburger truck at Silverlake Jubilee today. Maybe White Castle will start its own food truck. With the huge amount of competition out there now, the original kings of the slider might want to show these upstart burger-slingers where it all began. Still, there's plenty of room in this world (and in my stomach) for both a classic White Castle burger and a jerk-spiced, pineapple-topped beef patty. Vive la différence.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photos by Oliver Seldman

15May/100

TastyMeat!

With a name like that, how can a girl resist? I'd been waiting for TastyMeat to hit the 5700 block of Wilshire Blvd. When it did, I was there.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

TastyMeat serves Greek-style wraps. The truck's specialty is the Bamwich, beef/lamb (a.k.a. "bam") shawarma served on a pita, with romaine lettuce, roma tomato, red onion, tzatziki, red feta sauce and tahini. I got the footlong version ($8) to share with my husband. It was, uh, tasty. (See what I did there?) Seriously, though, the meat was shaved to the perfect thickness, and deliciously garlicky and tangy. I could taste the yogurt and vinegar in its marinade. The beef: lamb ratio balanced the flavors well - that distinctive, slightly lanolin-y lamb taste was there, but the richness of the beef tempered it. By the time I was three-quarters of the way through the Bamwich, though, the pita had soaked up the sauce - it turned into a soggy mess, and the sandwich fell apart in my hands. I think the eight-inch version ($6) would hold up better: it'd get eaten too quickly for the bread to disintegrate.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

The red feta sauce, which comes in both mild and spicy incarnations, gets its color from paprika. It's also drizzled over the feta fries. Its creamy tanginess complements the crisp, golden fries well. They were really tasty (I did it again, see?) and the portion was so generously sized that my husband and I barely got to the bottom of it. Were there to be a food-truck feta-fries battle, however, I'd put my money on Louks' honey feta fries: the addition of a sweet element makes the dish multidimensional.

TastyMeat's wrap - that's a truck's painted design, menu and other graphic elements - was looking a bit patchy when we visited. Maxson, TastyMeat's owner and chef, explained that the wrap company had gotten it halfway done, and then it'd rained every weekend since, preventing them from finishing the job. He praised the company - Gorilla Print and Wrap - as the best wrap place around, and said their prices can't be beat.

Vegetarian-friendly?: Yes, there are several options: a falafel wrap ($5 for 8-inch, $7 for 12-inch); a grilled cheese pita ($3); pita with hummus ($4) and the aforementioned feta fries.

Vegan-friendly?: Go with the pita and hummus, or leave the tzatziki and feta off the falafel wrap.

6May/100

Kassava Truck

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Kassava is a Caribbean restaurant on West 3rd St, opposite the Cedars-Sinai medical office towers. I always make a point of stopping there after my son's medical checkups to grab some Jamaican beef patties. During one visit, the chef told my husband that Kassava had a truck, but that it was usually only out at night, serving hungry bar crowds. So when I saw that it had started making lunch stops on Wilshire, I took my butt over there faster than you could say "jerk chicken."

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

On this visit, I found out that Kassava not only has one truck - it has two! That doubles my chances of finding a great beef patty every time I want one, which is pretty much once a day. And Kassava's beef patties ($3 each) are the stuff of dreams: juicy, perfectly seasoned ground beef inside a supple golden pastry shell. The chicken patties (also $3) are spicier than the beef, and come in three varieties: curry, jerk and regular. There's a spinach patty for vegetarians.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Get a side order of fried plantains. No ifs, ands or buts: just get them. They're sweet, buttery and caramelized. They're also high in potassium, a good source of complex starch, and low in fat. Don't think about all the butter they're cooked in.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

The truck also offers jerk chicken, curried goat and oxtails, as entrees or roti. My husband got the goat roti ($8). It's basically a Jamaican burrito - chunks of curried goat and cabbage wrapped up in griddle bread. He said the meat was well cooked, and the roti was delicate and flaky.

Kassava's restaurant menu will give you a good idea of what to expect at the truck. The food on the truck is slightly cheaper than at the restaurant - understandably so, since you don't get a sit-down experience. The reduced price is an added perk, however, for those of us who like perching on the curb eating our lunch and watching the world go by.

Track Kassava's trucks on its Twitter feed.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

5May/103

Even Quicker-Fire Review: Worldfare

What's Its Deal?: Worldfare's repurposed double-decker bus is sort of like the mullet of food trucks, except that here, the business is down below, and the party's up top. You order your meal at the side window, where you can look into the bottom-deck kitchen; when your food's up, you climb the stairs to the top deck, where there's a counter you can eat at.

What Do They Have?: Bunny Chow ($4), a South African street food. It's a hollowed-out bread roll filled with short rib stew, BBQ pork, chicken curry or veggie chili.

Is It Good?: Yes, but pricey. Two Bunny Chows (short rib and BBQ pork) and truffle mac and cheese balls ($11 for the combo), a lychee lemongrass mint drink ($2.50), and a 8-ounce Piedmontese World Fare burger with fries ($10) set us back more than $20. I enjoyed the Bunny Chows so much that I can't wait to hit up World Fare again. Here's the problem, though: they're tiny. The truck displays a picture of three Bunny Chows in a row, which led me to believe that $4 would buy me three of them. Nope; just one. The truffle mac and cheese balls didn't blow my mind, but they were still tasty. Ditto on the burger and fries. The drink was sweet, tart and refreshing - I'd definitely get it again.

Anything Bad?: Yep. Why are there not tables and chairs on the top deck? They won't slide around if you bolt 'em down. If I want to stand and eat, I can do that outside on the street.

4May/100

Cart for a Cause

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Cart for a Cause has been hitting the streets of LA every Tuesday lunchtime since March 23. Each week, a different celebrity chef mans the truck and prepares a gourmet meal for $10 a plate. 100% of the net proceeds go to St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, a program which feeds the homebound elderly. It's a one-for-three deal: every lunch sold at Cart for a Cause equals three square meals for one senior citizen.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

We visited Cart for a Cause on April 6 at the Pacific Design Center, when chef Dong Choi of West Hollywood's Comme Ça restaurant was manning the stove. He offered two menu options: Le French Dip and Quiche Lorraine. For $10, you got an entree, a drink (Pom Wonderful is one of CFAC's sponsors, and was offering a range of teas and coffee drinks; Fiji Water is another sponsor), a bag of Everybody's Nuts California pistachios, and a cookie.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

The French dip sandwich was a delicious shiny-topped roll filled with melt-in-your-mouth rare roast beef. It came with gravy for dipping. The Quiche Lorraine had big, chunky cubes of ham suspended in the egg custard: it looked beautiful, but the ham had a touch too much fat on it for me. The quiche's crust was divine - I could have eaten it all day.

I have to say, I was kind of disappointed with the cookies, and coming from me, that's a harsh criticism. I will eat and enjoy almost anything with sugar in it. Hostess Ding Dongs or Pierre Hermé macarons, they're all going in my mouth. I got an oatmeal raisin and a chocolate-chocolate-chip cookie at CFAC, and they were both a bit too crumbly and dry.

CFAC will be out and about until the fall. Chefs often volunteer with the truck more than once: Comme Ça has served lunch twice so far. Past chefs have included Eric Greenspan of the Foundry; Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook from Animal; and Alex Becker from Nobu West Hollywood. Check CFAC's Twitter feed and Facebook page every Tuesday to see who's on board and where the truck's going to park.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

23Mar/105

First Friday 3/5: Willoughby, Fresser's & Dim Sum

The first Friday of March fell on the 5th. My husband and I headed down to the monthly street festival on Venice's Abbot Kinney Blvd to get our food-truck fix. The Brig bar always hosts several trucks in its parking lot on First Fridays (and plenty of other days too): the Dim Sum truck had announced its intention to be there, and I was really excited to try it.

As we began the search for a parking spot, we saw the Flying Pig truck doing the same. Once we got over to the Brig, it was easy to see why the Pig was having trouble - food trucks ringed the Brig parking lot, with no room for any more to squeeze in. At 6:30 PM, half an hour after the official start of First Friday, the crowd was already beginning to pack the parking lot. If you weren't queuing, you were standing and eating, which created a problem I've seen before at multitruck gatherings: it was hard to tell where lines began, and if you stood too near a food truck for a couple of minutes, a queue would sometimes start to form behind you. The multitasking became overwhelming at times: I was eating, chatting, making sure I wasn't accidentally in line for a truck, moving out of the way for people coming to and from trucks, and attempting to corral a toddler who wouldn't eat anything except food other people had dropped on the ground.

Before its official launch on February 27, the Dim Sum Truck served goodies to the VIP area at last month's LA Street Food Fest. I hadn't tried it yet, so the truck was my first stop when I got to the Brig. I ordered bao, or baked BBQ pork buns (2 for $3). The bread was sweet, egg-glazed on top, with tangy shredded pork inside. The pork-to-bread ratio was, in mathematical terms, probably 1:2. In nomological terms? Perfect. Next I opted for the Peking duck taco. It needed a touch more hoisin sauce and a touch less fat. I like the method they use to take orders: there are paper menus with checkboxes out front of the truck, and they take your sheet of paper when you've checked what goodies you want.

Next up was Willoughby Road. Chefs Adrian Ochoa and Jeshua Garza went to high school together, then studied at the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena before paying their sous-chef dues under Ludo Lefebvre and Ming Tsai respectively. The Eagle Rock Farmers Market was where Ochoa and Garza first sold their BBQ with Asian- and African-influenced flavors; their truck has been on the road since January 11.

We got the brisket tacos ($7), which my food-hating toddler devoured. They came with cotija cheese and smoked tomato salsa. The brisket's marinated in harissa, which is Moroccan chili sauce. (My son was soon also marinated in harissa.) Our sides were creamy mac and cheese ($3), and black-eyed peas with dirty rice ($3). I am a devotee of Asian Soul Kitchen's BEP/rice combo, and I'm sorry to say that Willoughby Road's version did not quite measure up. It was already mixed, depriving me of the right to choose my own ratio of peas to rice (ratios again! I haven't done this much math since grade school). Willoughby's peas were cooked till they fell apart, whereas ASK's peas had a bit more bite to them. I prefer my peas firm. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

My husband had been chasing Fresser's for weeks; recent truck troubles meant they'd had to cancel a few scheduled stops. He got the hot pastrami sandwich ($9.25). I don't like pastrami; I tried a bite, however, and was pleasantly surprised by how juicy and lean it was. I was too stuffed to order anything of my own from Fresser's, but next time I'm going to have the pot roast sandwich ($9.25). This Yelp review makes me want to try the white chocolate coconut fudge, too.

9Mar/100

Quickfire Review: Lomo Arigato

Recently I've been hitting the food trucks hard, so hard in fact that I have a backlog of reviews to do. Rather than do up a full review of each truck, I thought I'd experiment with a quickfire review format. This is the last in a series of five mini-reviews.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Truck: Lomo Arigato

What I ordered: Lomo saltado (beef stew with french fries; $7)

Was it good?: Like Frysmith's chili fries, these fries soaked up the juices of the beef stew in which they swam, and were all the tastier for it. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the onions were plentiful (and you know I love me some onions). There was white rice on the side, but I'm not big into plain white rice: I see it as a chunk of calories I'd rather spend on something with a bit more flavor.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Overall experience: The dudes at Lomo Arigato don't go the extra mile for their customers. That's a compliment, not a criticism: read on for an explanation. See, right before my husband and I arrived at Mid-Wilshire, the parking goons had shown up and demanded the Lomo guys move their truck. We walked up a minute later to find the truck with doors down, and the chefs standing on the street talking. "We asked if we could just move the truck into a space down the street," one of the guys told us, "but they said, 'No, it has to be a mile away.'" We all agreed that this sounded dodgy, and that because the goons really had no good reason to move the trucks along, they were now just inventing random parking laws. Still, the Lomo guys weren't going to protest right now; they wanted to keep serving lunch. "We'll open back up real quick before we move, though, just for you guys," chef/owner Eric Nakata said, and he pulled up the doors and hopped back in the truck. How nice is that? We got our lomo saltado with a side of awesome customer service!

Vegetarian-friendly: You can get both the lomo saltado and the chaufa (fried rice; $7) with tofu. It's unclear whether they do the tallarin (Peruvian spaghetti; $7) with tofu as well - I'll ask, and add a note here when I know.

Vegan-friendly: The lomo with tofu is vegan; the chaufa has egg, so it's not. The tallarin is vegan if you can get tofu on it.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

8Mar/100

Quickfire Review: Frysmith

Recently I've been hitting the food trucks hard, so hard in fact that I have a backlog of reviews to do. Rather than do up a full review of each truck, I thought I'd experiment with a quickfire review format. This is the fourth in a series of five mini-reviews.

Truck: Frysmith

What I ordered: Chili cheese fries ($5)

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Was it good?: Made with beer and chocolate, the chili was some of the best I've had in a long while, on top of fries that got soggier and more starchily delicious as they soaked up their topping. Capping it off were lashings of grated cheddar cheese. I ate it with a fork, and got it all over my face, and I loved every minute of it. Plus, it didn't give me a stomachache, despite my having eaten it as my first meal of the day, and despite it being filled with fatty, greasy cholesterol-y insanity. I'd already decided it was OK by me to suffer a little for some chili cheese fries, and now I'd had all the fun without the punishment. Magical. They didn't have their famous kimchi fries ($6) the day I went, but next time I'm going to get them.

Overall experience: Brook Howell and Erik Cho, the owners and operators of Frysmith, were very friendly and welcoming. We talked about the look of the truck: they achieved that brushed-metal finish themselves, with gallons of paint stripper and a sander. Running a fry-centric truck means customizing its kitchen. Whereas most food trucks have a standard kitchen with one small deep-fryer, Frysmith has four large fryers in a row, with a big window so customers can see the action taking place. The guy who built their truck installed Plexiglas: an error, it turned out, because as soon as the fryers fired up, the window got so hot it started to warp. Real glass is going in soon, Brook says.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Vegetarian-friendly: They have vegan chili fries ($4.50), with organic tomato, mixed beans, soy chorizo and smoked paprika. You can get them with cheese...

Vegan-friendly: ...or without cheese. I know it doesn't seem like much of an option, but it's important to remember that often with these trucks, there are only a few items on their menus, so what looks like slim pickings for vegetarians/vegans actually makes up a sizable chunk of the menu.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman