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17Jan/112

10 Most Reliably Delicious Food-Truck Menu Items

Sometimes I'm not in the mood to try a new truck; sometimes I want to eat food I already know I love. Other times, I hit the street in pursuit of a specific taste memory I want to relive. In these situations, I have a growing list of favorite menu items that I'm sure will be great every time. Here, in no particular order, are my 10 most reliably delicious food-truck dishes.

1. Bamwich, TastyMeat! ($8 for footlong, $6 for eight-inch version). Beef/lamb (hence "bam") shawarma wrapped in a pita, with romaine lettuce, roma tomato, red onion, tzatziki, red feta sauce and tahini. Shaved thin, the meat tastes like it's marinated in garlic, yogurt and vinegar, making it tangy and piquant. If you're a slow eater like me, get the eight-inch instead of the footlong - it's less likely to fall apart and unleash its innards into your lap.

2. Beef gyro, Louks To Go ($5). Beef, tzatziki, tomato, onion, and french fries all rolled up inside the best pita I've ever eaten. It's soft and tender, and you can taste the olive oil in it. Of all the meat options on the Louks truck, I've found the beef to be the most dependably delicious. This dish made me a raw-onion convert - I love their crunch and peppery bite in the sandwich, and I even love the crazy onion breath they give me, although I'm sure my friends and family aren't quite as enthused about that part.

Louks beef gyro

3. Lemongrass chicken or pork banh mi, Phamish ($6). Considering how often I visit the truck, it's ridiculous that I haven't yet reviewed Phamish. This Vietnamese sandwich comes with pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro and jalapeno peppers on a baguette. I opt to leave off the garlic mayo. The lemongrass chicken and pork are intensely flavorful; while many friends of mine love Phamish's lemongrass tofu banh mi, I find the tofu soaks up a bit too much marinade for me - but it's still one of the tastiest veggie sandwich options in town. I tend to think the chicken and pork stand up better to the marinade's flavor onslaught, maintaining their own personalities. The bread is flat-out awesome - the outside's crunchy without being mouth-splintering, and the inside is pillowy soft. Of all the items on this list, this sandwich travels the best - it's the perfect to-go meal.

4. Crack chips, Chef Brian's Comfort Truck ($2). Oh, delicious deep-fried flour tortilla chips! Why are there only 6 of them in a serving? I've tried making these at home, but they never come out so gloriously golden. This is the only food-truck menu item I've brought home, eaten in five minutes flat, then considered driving all the way back to the truck immediately, just to get more.

Crack chips from Chef Brian's Comfort Truch

5. Balsamic fig and mascarpone ice cream, Coolhaus ($5). Hunks of fig dot this dense, subtly flavored ice cream. Coolhaus' thing is that you get the ice cream between two cookies, but I barely notice them when I'm eating ice cream this good. That said, oatmeal raisin cookies work really well with the flavors of fig and sweet cheese.

6. Mini meat pie ($3 for two), Kabob n' Roll. I like my meat pies doughy, not flaky, and as deep-fried as humanly possible. These small empanada-like meat pockets fit the bill. The ground beef inside is rich with gravy. The pastry melts in your mouth.

7. Butter chicken, India Jones ($7). These tender chunks of chicken breast come in a thick, creamy sauce with a side of basmati rice. It's an appropriately sized portion rather than a gargantuan mound of food - which means you'll have room in your stomach to order several other items from the India Jones menu - and it's been consistently good every time I've had it.

8. Holding the joint number 8 spot are: the carne asada taco from KO Tacos ($2.50), and the carne asada taco from Don Chow Tacos ($2).The KO taco's filled with super-juicy beef and tangy, crumbly cotija cheese. Don Chow hasn't been around my neck of the woods lately, and I've missed regularly nomming on their perfectly seasoned carne asada taco.

(Bottom) Carne asada taco from KO Taco Truck

9. A hot dog from The Greasy Wiener. When you have a hot-dog craving, the Greasy Wiener satisfies every time. You can go for the basics if you're in a no-frills mood: the Greasy Wiener's namesake dog has mustard, grilled onions, a dill pickle spear and one topping (we get sauerkraut). If you'd like a bit more 'zazz, go for a Berkowitz, a bacon-wrapped dog with chili and cheese. Your craving for a dog may lead to a burger jones - ours often do. If so, the Wiener has Iggys: two Angus beef sliders topped with American cheese on King's Hawaiian rolls. They're a no-fail burger solution.

10. Barbecued meat, Barbie's Q ($8 for a sampler plate). Whether it's pulled pork, barbecued beef, or smoked chicken, the meat on this truck is absolutely top-notch. A friend once skipped the sides (excellent collard greens, cheesy grits, and mac and cheese)  and ordered nothin' but a big old plate of meat from Barbie's - and that was his entire dinner. That's pretty much a ringing endorsement right there. Oh, and by the way? He ate that plate - and then he ordered another one, to go.

I considered adding some other menu items to this list, but I can't yet call them reliable: either I've only had them once, or I sampled them a second time, only to be ever so slightly disappointed. That said, I hope to be adding more dishes to the list very soon. One item I would love to include: the cheeseburger dumplings from Dim Sum Truck. I was so disappointed on the first Melrose Night when the truck sold out of them before I got a chance to order any. You will not thwart me twice, oh elusive dumplings! I may have only eaten you once, but, by God, I shall have you again!

What are your most reliably delicious food-truck picks? Post them in the comments, and we'll compile a reader-suggested list of favorites.

14Sep/100

Food Truck Festival for Heal the Bay Sep 25

On September 25th, you can help fundraise for Heal the Bay - just by eating your lunch! Latitude 33, a beachside condo community in Marina Del Rey, is throwing a benefit that begins at noon, right after Coastal Cleanup Day, and goes till 4 PM. Over 20 food trucks will be there, and 10% of their sales will go to Heal the Bay and the International Bird Rescue Research Center.

Confirmed food trucks include: The Grilled Cheese Truck, Papas Tapas, Big Swirl, Frysmith, Del’s Lemonade, Vesuvio, India Jones, Crepe'n Around, Ahn Joo, Worldfare, Buttermilk Truck, Lake Street Creamery, Morsels Truck, Border Grill, Dosa Truck, The Sweets Truck, Dim Sum Truck, Organic Oasis, Dogtown Dogs, Slice Truck, Get Shaved, The Shrimp Pimp and Canters.

Latitude 33 is located at 330 Washington Blvd in Marina Del Rey.

Beyond O2 Water on Main Street in Santa Monica is also a proud sponsor of the event and is supplying water.

30Aug/100

Food Trucks at Fairfax High Sep 18

UPDATE SEP 9: Munch LA has been cancelled. We'll let you know when it's been rescheduled.

This is a food truck event I'm super excited about, because I can walk to it! On September 18 from 11AM to 5PM, Munch LA is holding what it's describing as a "food and fashion extravaganza" at Fairfax High School, at the intersection of Fairfax and Melrose Avenues in Hollywood. There will be more than 30 trucks there, as well as fashion vendors like Hudson Jeans and Paige Premium Denim. Here's the list of trucks so far:

Ahn Joo, Baby's Badass Burgers, Big Swirl, Calbi, Crepe'n Around, Del’s, Dim Sum Truck, Don Chow Tacos, Dosa Truck, Dumpling Station, Phamish, Fishlips, Flying Pig, Frysmith, Greenz on Wheelz, The Greasy Wiener, India Jones, Kabob N Roll, Komodo, Lake Street Creamery, Let’s Be Frank, Louks, LudoTruck, Nana Queens, Slice Truck, South Philly Experience, The Sweets Truck, Tropical Shave Ice, Vesuvio, Vizzi, and Worldfare.

Tickets are $7 in advance, or $10 on the day. Get them at munchla.com, or at the door. And - even though I'm taking the heel-toe express - there's also free on-site parking.

I'm looking forward to sampling Dumpling Station's pan-fried pork and leek dumplings again - they were so amazingly juicy the last time, I've been thinking about them ever since. I also want to have another go at Ahn Joo's beef kimbap. Hopefully the Sweets Truck will have those cupcake-pudding shooters; whether they do or not, I'm still having myself some California Zephyr ice cream from Lake Street Creamery. Vanilla, Meyer lemon and fresh mint leaves - sounds delicious.

Find out more at Munch LA's Web site or follow them on Twitter.

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.

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