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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.

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

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.

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.