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Manila Machine

The Manila Machine behind Decades

When The Manila Machine tweeted that they'd be serving lunch behind Decades and DecadesTwo - a mere minute's walk from my house - I knew I'd be a fool not to head over there. The truck had been summoned to the vintage designer clothing store for a Filipino fashion meetup. We arrived at the tail end of the party - only one guy remained, as well as a photo crew from the LA Times Style section, who promised The Manila Machine's Nastassia Johnson and Marvin Gapultos that their writeup would be in the paper next week.

The Manila Machine's Nastassia and Marvin

Nastassia and Marvin are fellow food bloggers who decided they wanted to sling food as well as write about it. Nastassia writes at Let Me Eat Cake, while Marvin's blog is Burnt Lumpia. They launched The Manila Machine on June 10: it features Filipino street food. I'd been wanting to try lumpia - deep-fried Filipino egg rolls with vegetable, meat or fruit fillings - so I was especially excited that the Manila Machine had come to my neck of the woods.

Side of The Manila Machine

Sadly, they were all out of sisig and veggie lumpia by the time we showed up. We got two Original Manila Dip sliders (two for $5); two longganisa sliders (again, two for $5); one beef tapa slider ($3); an order of lumpia Shanghai ($2); and turon ($3), which wasn't on the menu, but which Nastassia advised us to order. It consisted of two dessert lumpia stuffed with jackfruit and saba banana (a type of banana native to the Philippines), and drizzled with caramel.

Turon at the Manila Machine

The lumpia Shanghai were tiny and crispy, and filled with seasoned shredded pork, carrots and spicy ginger. Shredded pork can dry out pretty easily, but these stayed nice and juicy, and had a subtle bite to them without being so spicy that they set this white girl's mouth on fire.

Lumpia Shanghai at The Manila Machine

Because of my husband's aversion to mayo, we got the beef tapa slider without its accompanying sriracha mayonnaise. We both agreed that it would have been better with the condiment. The beef was flavored with calamansi lime, a Filipino variety of the citrus fruit, and was tangy and chewy - it was delicious on its own, but a dash of something creamy and spicy would have complimented it beautifully. The pan de sal rolls -- on which all the sliders came -- were floury and drier than the average American burger bun, especially for those of us used to King's Hawaiian rolls. Because the beef, chicken, and sausage in the sliders was already sweet-tasting, pan de sal was a much better choice for these sandwiches than a sweet roll would have been.

Beef and Sausage Sliders at The Manila Machine

The longganisa slider contained sweet pork and garlic sausage (like Filipino chorizo), caramelized onions, arugula and mango jam. The sausage was tender (that's what she said), with nary a piece of gristle to be found.

Chicken Slider at The Manila Machine

The Original Manila Dip slider came with a side of adobo sauce. "Make sure you dip it," advised Nastassia as she handed us the sandwich through the truck window. It was perfect: melt-in-your-mouth stewed chicken, caramelized onions and floury bun, all dunked in a sweet-and-sour sauce. I dipped and dipped again.

I managed to hold off on eating the turon till I was done with my "real" food. The texture of the jackfruit-and-banana filling was firm and custardy. My only complaint was that the portion was a bit large - or maybe it was just that I'd miscalculated how full I'd be by the time I got to it.

At the end of our visit, food-truck aficionado extraordinaire Joni Yeung showed up to grab a slider and a cupcake, and dispensed some of her wisdom regarding mobile eateries, including how best to navigate a multitruck event (when eating tacos, forgo the tortillas, so you'll have more room in your stomach to hit up other trucks).

I plan to have the veggie lumpia next time The Manila Machine comes round my way. I'm also curious about the Filipino fruit drinks the truck has in its soda area - a calamansi lime drink sounds very refreshing. I'll have to try it in the future.

Manila Machine menu

Photos by Oliver Seldman


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


Review: Grill 'Em All

When I heard that a metal-themed burger truck was rolling out in mid-December of last year, I was inordinately excited. I love hard rock in all its guises, from butt-rock to prog to black, and I especially love Metallica. (In case you don't already know, Grill 'Em All is a burger-themed pun on Metallica's 1983 debut album, Kill 'Em All.) Metal and burgers are a perfect match, putting me in mind of pre-rock-show tailgate parties in sports-arena parking lots. Metal and gourmet burgers, though? Not such a common pairing - until now.


The truck parked at Melrose and Fuller this past Thursday afternoon, in front of the Groundlings building. My husband and I showed up at 4 PM, and there was no line. I stepped up to the counter, and was greeted by co-owner Matt and co-owner/chef Ryan. When I mentioned I wrote for, Ryan said he was really excited when Grill 'Em All first made it onto our Twitter feed aggregator. Then Matt told me he'd read the blog and liked my Don Chow Tacos review. Flattery will get you everywhere, gentlemen. So will being cute metal dudes.


It turned out there was no need to butter up this critic, though: the food was seriously awesome. Ryan recommended we get the double-dipped pommes frites ($3), and gave them a complimentary dousing of truffle oil (usually a buck more). The oil lent the fries an extra depth of salty, pungent flavor. The fries themselves were perfectly crispy on the outside, with molten insides. We also got the H-100s ($4), named for a firework and a hardcore band from Matt and Ryan's home town of Cleveland, Ohio. They were big, panko-encrusted, cheese-infused tater tots, and they were about a billion times better than the Ore-Ida variety. My only complaint? Not enough cheese. We got the chipotle ketchup and the garlic aoli for dipping: both were good enough to eat with a spoon.


Onto the burgers. I had the Waste 'Em All ($6.50), with marinated green chilies, pepper jack cheese and beer-soaked onions. Some people like their burger bun to soak up condiments and meat juice till it almost falls apart: I am not one of those people, and, lucky for me, this was not one of those buns. Much more solid than your average fluffy, spongy burger vehicle, it was chewy, dense, delicious, and may also have been sourdough; I am ashamed to say I ate so quickly that I'm not sure about that last part. The burger itself was a big fat restaurant-style patty, cooked medium rare. There was just a touch too much green chili, which added a slight sourness to the overall flavor. The onions were amazing, though - tender and mellow, with a tiny bit of crunch to them. Beer really does make everything better.


My husband had the Hannah Montana ($5.50). (Typing that sentence makes me laugh.) I, of course, had a bite or three. My first words, mouth stuffed full, were, "Mmm. That's a good burger." That's really all that needed to be said about it. It had American cheese, pickle, lettuce, tomato and ketchup, and it was damn near perfect.


The whole Grill 'Em All experience was cool as hell. The truck itself is a sight to behold, emblazoned with Viking-helmeted burgers, zombie hands wielding ketchup bottles, lightning bolts and crossed spatulas. The food blends no-nonsense American standards with gourmet sensibilities. A metal-themed food truck could so easily have gone too far and ended up in cheesy Dr. Rockzo territory: Matt and Ryan embrace their gimmick without being too earnest or theatrical about it. I'll echo that restraint by concluding this review without making a single Metallica-themed joke. I had devised a tortured pun involving the two horsemen of the food-truck-alypse, but I'll spare you.

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes: there's the humorously named Carcass ($7.50), which features a veggie burger with guacamole, pico de gallo and frizzled onions. You can also have a veggie patty for $2 extra on any one of the burgers.

Vegan-friendly? Get a veggie patty and leave off the bun. The pommes frites are vegan, but the H-100s have cheese inside.


Review: Kimchi 21

It was Saturday evening, and my husband and I were in search of a food truck. We'd checked the trusty Twitter feed aggregator, but no trucks were in the vicinity. Hoping that someone had forgotten to tweet their location, we set out in the car regardless. We'd heard great things about a mysterious taco truck that parked on Olympic and La Brea Blvds Thursday through Saturday nights, so that was our first stop, but sadly, the truck wasn't there. As we drove back along Melrose, my husband spotted Kimchi 21 parked outside the clothing store Foreign Exchange, between Curson and Sierra Bonita Aves.


I'd seen Kimchi 21 on Melrose many times before, but I knew they weren't on That, I found out, was because they don't have a Twitter feed. The server told me that they might start tweeting in May. He didn't explain why it had to wait till then. Their URL is on the side of the truck, but when I visited the site, it was a Network Solutions placeholder page. Maybe they don't care about the whole social media aspect of food-trucking: that's strange, since I'm sure they're a part of the Kogi-inspired Korean-BBQ-taco truck wave, and Twitter seems to be an essential ingredient of that business model.

The line was very short at 6:30 PM, but perhaps we just missed the rush: several people stepped up behind us as we ordered. We got a beef burrito ($5) and two tofu tacos ($2 each), with kimchi on the side. The beef was paper-thin and surprisingly lean. I'd psyched myself up for a few mouthfuls of gristle, but didn't end up having to endure even one. It was slightly dry, however. The burrito also contained the best Spanish rice I've had in a while - the tomato gave it a nice tangy bite without being overpowering. A goodly sum of chopped raw onions topped the whole thing off. I could still taste them half an hour later. That sounds gross, but it wasn't indigestion-related: my mouth was just suffused with oniony goodness. As for the tacos, the tortillas were just chewy enough, and supported all the wet stuff well. The tofu could have done with a bit more marinating, I think; it was creamy and firm, but slightly bland. I couldn't eat more than a mouthful of the kimchi. It had an odd, perfumey foretaste, and by that, I mean it literally tasted like when you spray perfume on your neck and some ends up getting in your mouth. (Anyone else ever done that? No? Just me, then.) After that flavor died down, it was pretty palatable, but I couldn't bring myself to go through the cycle again with another bite. I don't pretend to be a kimchi connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure this was not top-quality stuff.


I'd get the beef burrito again, and I'd love to have a side of the Spanish rice. The tofu tacos weren't special enough for a second go-round, in my opinion. As a whole, the Kimchi 21 experience wasn't the best time I've had at a food truck: compared to the kickass BBQ and warm friendliness at Barbie's Q, or the mind-blowing flavors and attentive service at Coolhaus, neither Kimchi 21's food nor its atmosphere was particularly memorable.

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, you can get tofu tacos, burritos and quesadillas. There's also a kimchi quesadilla.

Vegan-friendly? Not particularly. The tacos, burritos and quesadillas all come with cheese.


Review: Don Chow Tacos

Don Chow Taco Truck
Driving down Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, my husband and I happened upon Don Chow Tacos parked in front of SLOW Vintage Clothing on the corner of Gardner Avenue. It was close to 7 PM, and the truck was almost ready to leave. My husband, my son Owen and I were the only people in line, and our food came up in minutes. We got four tacos: carne asada, soy-ginger tofu, Kung Pao chicken and Chinese BBQ pork tacos (all $2). There was a choice of hot, medium or mild salsa. I opted for the hot salsa on the carne asada taco. The meat was perfectly seasoned and went very well with the hot salsa. I'd 100% eat this taco again. The soy-ginger tofu taco, which I got with the medium salsa, was tasty, too. The tofu was grilled to a nice firmness.

When I first bit into the Chinese BBQ pork taco, I got a big chunk of fat. (I absolutely hate the texture of fat. If that makes me a food philistine, I apologize.) I soldiered on, though, and was soon rewarded: the pork was juicy, tender and lean, and there was just enough sauce to make it moist rather than soupy. I really tasted the soy, ginger and hoisin. There was a generous amount of meat in the taco – they didn’t skimp. It was absolutely delicious. The Kung Pao chicken came with onions and cilantro, but the salsa on top was missing, so I found it to be a little dry. I’m willing to try it again con salsa, just so I can experience it the way it’s supposed to taste. I do have one question, though: where the peanuts at?

Don Chow Truck Staff

The Don Chow staff – Dom, Lawrence, Gary, Ernie and Coleen – were incredibly friendly. Coleen played peek-a-boo with Owen, and Lawrence sang the praises of the taco al pastor (rotisserie pork with chili), a special menu item that evening, and the lengua, another special. I’ll have to try those next time – and there will be a next time, hopefully also involving Round 2 of the Chinese BBQ pork.  In addition, I’m planning to try the Chimale, a Mexican-Chinese tamale with kung pao chicken or Chinese BBQ pork ($3.50). I’m also curious about the burritos, specifically the soy-ginger shrimp ($5).

Vegetarian-friendly? The tofu, which you can get in a taco, burrito or torta, is extremely flavorful. Not just a token gesture to veggie foodies, it’s a well-thought-out dish. The night we went to Don Chow, there was a cheese quesadilla on the menu, too.

Vegan-friendly? Again, you’re limited to the tofu taco, burrito or torta – but they're so tasty that you won’t feel like you’re settling.

Owen-ometer: Two thumbs up from the little man! He absolutely loved the carne asada: he ate most of the meat out of my taco, and once Lawrence saw how much he liked it, he gave Owen a little plastic condiment cup full of extra carne asada. This, too, quickly disappeared into Owen’s mouth. Next came the tofu, and Owen ate that too. He didn’t touch the corn tortillas, even though they were substantial and tasty without being too thick or dry; he was all about the meat (and meat substitute). The truck staff taught him to say “Don Chow Tacos.” On the way home, I handed Owen several pieces of Kung Pao chicken, all of which he eagerly, uh, chowed down on. (I am a bad mother; the BBQ pork was so good, I kept it all for myself.) A little voice kept piping up from the back seat: “More. More tacos, Mama.” I’ve never seen him eat so much!