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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.

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.

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

29Mar/101

New Truck Watch: 3/27

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Just Rolled Out

Nana Queen's Puddin' and Wings, out and about for only the 12th time today, does a mean butterscotch banana pudding. I know; I ate it on Friday.

Canter's Deli hit the streets with its new food truck on March 19.

Chef Brian's Comfort Truck (whose wares I am sampling as I write this post!) marks its eighth day on the road today.

Cart for a Cause is a food truck helmed by a different celebrity chef each Tuesday. Each meal combo costs $10, and proceeds benefit St. Vincent Meals On Wheels. It took its maiden voyage on March 23 with Nobu Matsuhisa at the burners. It hasn't yet been announced who's on the truck tomorrow: check CFAC's Twitter and Facebook pages for news as it breaks.

I mistakenly thought The Greasy Wiener was the new Canter's truck, but it turns out the Wiener stands alone. It launched on March 13.

On The Way

There's a second Dim Sum Truck on the way in one to two months, this one featuring exotic dumpling fillings.

Papa's Tapas truck doesn't have a rollout date just yet, but keep an eye on its Twitter feed for more info. I'm hoping there's some bacalao on the menu.

Derb's Gourmet's last tweet was on Jan 1, and it still shows no signs of rolling out. I shot them a tweet to see what's up. I'll let you know what I find out.

Louks was going to have a second truck by now, but its original one crapped out, so now its new second truck has become its first and only truck. It's currently having another one custom-built, and will soon be a two-truck operation.

Photo by Oliver Seldman

Photo by Oliver Seldman

19Feb/101

Review: Louks To Go

One lunchtime when I was knee-deep in work, my husband decided to hit the food trucks on Miracle Mile and bring home some good stuff. He came back with a beef gyro ($5) from Louks To Go. I was blown away, and since then I've been waiting for another opportunity to visit this Greek street food truck.

Louks To Go Truck

This go-round, I decided to get the chicken gyro ($5). Like the beef, it comes with tzatziki, tomato, onion, and - the magic ingredient - FRIES, wrapped up inside the pita. You'd think fries and pita together might equal too much starch in one dish. That may be true in terms of nutritional balance, but not when it comes to flavor and texture: the oil in the fries and the grilled pita, plus the softness of both pita and potato, went perfectly together. Louks' pita bread is the best I have ever eaten.

My food truck adventures have made me a big fan of the well-applied onion, and this gyro did not disappoint. The onions were a great crunchy counterpart to the tender meat. The chicken was sliced very thin, and it was extra juicy and lean. My husband got the beef gyro again. I took as many bites of it as I could get away with.

Vegetarian gyro

My esteemed dining companion got the veggie gyro, which comes with cucumber, tomato, lettuce, tzatziki, feta, fries and onion. They'd run out of regular feta, and though she asked for spicy feta on her gyro, it was sadly nowhere to be found. They'd also run out of lettuce. She wished her gyro had had the creamy and crunchy textures of the feta and lettuce, but she liked it pretty well as it was. It did have a touch too much onion, she thought.

Strawberry Jam Louks Donuts

What you see above are loukomades, from which Louks takes its name. They're Greek donuts, dusted with powdered sugar, with a big dollop of strawberry jam on top. You can also get them with Nutella or honey. They're slightly crispy on the outside and syrupy on the inside; their melt-in-your-mouth texture reminds me of jalebi, deep-fried Indian sweets made from batter and syrup.

The line at Louks To Go food truck

Never again shall I visit Greek fast-food joints like Daphne's now that I have discovered Louks! To be fair, Daphne's is pretty good, but Louks' pita haunts my dreams. For that reason alone, I am willing to forgo the convenience of a brick-and-mortar location at the West Hollywood Gateway, and choose to chase a truck around instead. Next time I'm going to try the honey feta fries ($3).

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, but not a lot: there's the aforementioned veggie gyro, as well as a Greek salad and feta fries.

Vegan-friendly? Not so much: there's feta and/or tzatziki on everything except the loukomades.