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21Oct/100

Sweet E's Bake Shop

My husband and I have an almost foolproof technique when it comes to hitting Miracle Mile food trucks during lunchtime. We show up later in the lunch service, when the lines have shortened, but the trucks haven't yet run out of food or put their doors down. Sweet E's, however, foiled our plan - they'd sold out of much of their stock by the time we made it over to their van, and we were faced with a largely empty baked-goods display. I knew then that their sweets must be "on point," as the young people say.

All smiles at Sweet E's

Sweet E's calls itself a mini bake shop, because its petite creations are "2-3 bites of pure delight." Since I'm a sweetaholic, 50 bites of pure delight is more my thing, but I know it's good to practice moderation, so instead of buying up all their remaining stock, I limited myself to a cookies-and-cream whoopie pie ($3) and a chocolate chip brownie ($1.25).

The Whoopie Pie featured cookies-and-cream icing sandwiched between two dense chocolate cakes. When icing's bad, it's really bad: before I take my first bite of anything iced, I'm always slightly wary of potential lardiness, grittiness, or tooth-piercing sugariness. I had nothing to be afraid of here; the Whoopie Pie's center had the smooth, perfectly blended consistency of ice cream. I also had no complaints cake-wise - they had a great chewy:cakey ratio, and their sweetness seemed like it'd been dialed down a notch so as not to compete with the icing.

Whoopie Pie and brownie from Sweet E's Bake Shop

If the Whoopie Pie's cakes were dense, the brownie was like an edible version of a black hole - just the way I like them. It was hard to believe there was any flour whatsoever in that thing. I couldn't hold it for more than a second without it melting all over my fingers, so, of course, I had to eat it very quickly. (I wouldn't normally have done that, you see. No, really.) In a remarkable display of self-control, I managed to save some for my son. After he'd finished it, he didn't believe me when I told him there was no more, and even demanded I show him the paper bag it had come in, just in case I was hoarding some for myself.

The next time I can make it out to the Sweet E's van, I plan to sample an assortment of the Cake Pops, chocolate-dipped mini cakes on lollipop sticks. I've been running my mouse pointer over the cake pop menu, watching the pictures of the cakes flash by, and drooling. My top three flavors to try: lemon cake dipped in white chocolate; chocolate cake dipped in peanut butter; and pumpkin spice cake dipped in white chocolate.

Sweet E's Bake Shop truck

16Oct/102

Lake Street Creamery

Lake Street Creamery truck

Ice cream + food trucks = perfection, as far as I'm concerned. My trip to Lake Street Creamery only served to strengthen this conviction. The service is exceptionally accommodating, and the (ridiculously good) ice cream comes in unique, interesting flavors.

I love the look of the truck: its powder-blue wrap and classic fonts come straight from the 50s, but its logo is hardcore gangsta. The speakers were blaring the Brian Setzer Orchestra's "Dirty Boogie" album when I visited, which added to the 50s vibe.

Lake Street Creamery menu

The kind folks at Lake Street Creamery obliged us by letting us taste a few of the ice cream flavors. Donut was awesome, but my favorites were Black Jack and California Zephyr. Both were incredibly subtle flavors that still managed to be memorable. Black Jack is licorice-flavored, but isn't so intense that it blows your head off. California Zephyr blends Tahitian vanilla, mint and Meyer lemon. I expected it to be much tarter and tangier, but there was only a hint of lemon - the perfect amount. I eventually opted for a single scoop of Holiday Chocolate ($4), which featured cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and ginger in a base of Ghirardelli chocolate. The bits of ginger gave the ice cream a nice kick, and were the ideal size - big enough to be recognizable as pieces of fresh ginger, without being giant chewy chunks.

The scoop came in an edible waffle-cone bowl that stayed crisp all the way through my leisurely devouring of the ice-cream inside it. Seriously - my husband and I were amazed at this waffle bowl's ability to keep its shape and not get in the least bit soggy. A feat of culinary engineering! It was crunchy and sweet, with a touch of molasses flavor - one of the best waffle cones (and the only waffle bowl) I've had and it's eco-friendly, too.

The Pancake Breakfast flavor had maple syrup, bacon, and big cakey slabs of flapjack, all topped off with a sprinkle of fresh-ground coffee. My only beef? The pork. The bacon flavor was just too overpowering - maybe it was the size of the pieces. I'm not generally a huge fan of bacon in my sweets, however, and judging from the very positive online reviews, this flavor's a fan favorite, so what do I know: try it, despite what I say.

Lake Street Creamery offers floats, too - mix any of the truck's sodas with any ice cream flavor, and, as the English say, Bob's your uncle. Try Donut ice cream with chocolate soda for a Chocolate Donut float. There are also a whole bunch of flavors the truck serves as daily specials. One I definitely want to try is the Don Draper: vanilla ice cream with smoke, bourbon, and caramel sauce. Another is Bananarella: banana ice cream with chunks of banana and a Nutella ribbon. I'm going to have to go back to Lake Street Creamery for a return visit very soon.

Holiday Chocolate ice cream from Lake Street Creamery

Photos by Oliver Seldman

13Aug/101

White Rabbit and Greenz on Wheelz

Greenz On Wheelz truck

A couple of Wednesdays ago on Miracle Mile, I was pleased to spot some new trucks at 5700 Wilshire: the Yalla Truck, Hot Wing Truck, White Rabbit Filipino Fusion, and Greenz on Wheelz. Since I was with some friends, we could sample more dishes than I'd be able to stuff in my gob if I were on my own.

Greenz On Wheelz menu

First, we visited Greenz on Wheelz, which featured sandwich melts and salads. It was their first week on the road. We opted for a Greek salad ($6.50), a tuna melt ($7) and a turkey melt (also $7). Both melts had a large Ortega whole chili tucked inside the deliciously buttery home-made parmesan sourdough bread. I wasn't sure how I felt about the chili, especially because it was canned. Now that I've been visiting food trucks for a while, I'm used to a completely made-from-scratch gourmet experience, and so I guess I'm a bit spoiled. The chili added a tiny bit of heat and crunch, but its size was unwieldy, and I ended up pulling it out of the sandwich. The tuna salad and melted cheese, however, were top-notch, and the barbecue sauce on the side was something special.

Greenz On Wheelz tuna sandwich

Greenz On Wheelz turkey sandwich

The Greek salad was a textbook version, with no new twists, but the quality of the produce made it excellent. The cucumbers were especially sweet and flavorful. The Kalamata olives packed the perfect amount of salty punch.

White Rabbit Truck

Next was White Rabbit. I was under the mistaken impression that there was only one Filipino truck in town - The Manila Machine - so I was happy to see another one. We got a three-taco sampler ($6.50), with chicken adobo, beef, and two kinds of pork: tocino and sisig. Adobo, in its Filipino incarnation refers to meat stewed in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, pepper and bay leaves. Pork tocino is sometimes described as the "kimchi of pork," because it's cured for three days with saltpeter, sugar, garlic and anise wine. It's then fried until it caramelizes, giving it a sweet and sour flavor.

White Rabbit menu

The White Rabbit's menu describes pork sisig as "slowly sauteed and fried pork, mixed in a medley of onions, garlic and jalapeno." It was amazing - the meat was crispy and tasted of salt and lime. The chicken and beef were tasty, too, but the sisig was the standout. We also got a mango drink, which was disappointing: it tasted like a watered-down mango lassi. I dipped White Rabbit's fries into Greenz on Wheelz' awesome barbecue sauce - it was an instant inter-truck food romance!

White Rabbit tacos

We didn't make it to Yalla and Hot Wing Truck, because we were so full: next time.

Photos by Oliver Seldman

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.

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

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.

24Feb/100

TastyMeat! vs. Councilmember Paul Koretz

A local news article has reignited the debate as to whether food trucks are stealing business from brick-and-mortar restaurants - and now an LA City Councilmember has entered the fray. This article, in the Park La Brea News/Beverly Press, covered the ongoing restaurants-vs.-trucks battle on Miracle Mile. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, was interviewed for the piece. He called the trucks "a nuisance," and said they posed "unfair competition" to Mid-Wilshire restaurants in "stationary, permitted locations." He went on to suggest that food trucks should stick to serving construction sites where workers don't have easy access to other food, and "that should be their only place in the city."

Now Maxson Smith, the owner and proprietor of the TastyMeat! truck, is firing back at Koretz in an open letter on the Santa Monica Food Truck Lot site. "Do you feel the notion of free and unrestricted trade [should] apply only to business owners in stationary locations?" he asks Koretz. "I am governed by the same Health Department rules and regulations as any other restaurant in Los Angeles county, and am fully permitted and allowed by state and local law to operate in the manner you feel has “no place” in my city."

Santa Monica Food Truck Lot (on Twitter here) and the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association (on Twitter here) have tweeted the link to Smith's letter, and are asking that their Twitter followers retweet it. They also suggest that food truck supporters email Koretz at paul.koretz@lacity.org.

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.