During the past six months, food trucks have become all the rage in Los Angeles, California. These trucks were in part spawned by the recession and driven by a growing desire from Angelenos to eat gourmet food at lower prices. There is now competition from food vendors to get the best location and reputation – all on wheels.
By Brigid McGuire
s the economic recession began in the U.S., the restaurant industry in Los Angeles, California, began to feel the pinch with fewer and fewer people able to eat out in swanky L.A. restaurants. The demand for quality gourmet food, however, didn’t disappear with the dwindling income of Angelenos. The result was gourmet food on the go, in the form of tasty cuisine served out of a lunch truck.
Now imagine you are eating tender short rib beef smothered in sweet Kimchi sauce. Now take that amazing Asian cuisine, cover it in cheese, and press into a flour tortilla to create a quesadilla. This blend of traditional Korean cuisine and Mexican food may have some people scratching their heads wondering how Korean short rib and Kimchi wandered into classic Mexican street food. The answer is that it’s a Korean-Mexican fusion from Kogi BBQ. These kinds of fusion foods are growing in popularity all over Southern California, and the kicker is that customers don’t go into a swanky hipster eatery to get it. This fusion food can be ordered from a lunch catering truck, usually in a parking lot or street corner.
Most trucks have catchy names and experimental menus to grasp people’s attention and the local foodie’s interest. But unlike upscale fusion restaurants, most of these trucks sell their grub for under $10.
The Don Chow Tacos truck for example, has created tacos with traditional Mexican staples like carne asada (roasted beef) and lengua (beef tongue), but then they move into kung pao chicken or soy ginger tofu. They have also combined the love of both foods into a “Chimale” which is a Mexican-style tamale stuffed with one of their Chinese-flavored meats.
Not all have fusion menus. One of the most popular roaming eateries, The Grilled Cheese Truck, serves up numerous grilled cheese sandwiches, including a sandwich that has pears, honey, and brie on cinnamon raisin bread. Another popular truck is the Buttermilk Truck, serving up egg sandwiches and homemade donuts in the morning and then switching to the Southern favorite of fried chicken and waffles for the night bar crowd.
One that I often frequent is the Fishlips Sushi Truck. The idea of buying sushi from a lunch truck may make some people quiver, but I’ve seen my food freshly prepared in front of me and it beats most store-bought sushi.
On a recent rainy day, I walked the two blocks from my little office and headed toward Fishlips’ white and blue painted truck. They were celebrating their one-year anniversary and had a daily special on hand rolls. I ordered a four piece California roll and the daily special of a crunchy hand roll.I watched the sushi chef prepare my rolls through the glass as he worked like a master of his craft. After having my number called by a smiling man, he gave me some miso soup to combat the ugly L.A. weather and I went back to my office. When I opened my bag, I was surprised at how fresh all of the ingredients were and the hand roll was the size of my fist. The crunchy roll had a freshly-made tempura fried prawn, huge pieces of avocado, rice, cucumber, crab, and some sweet sauce and then it was all rolled up in a cone, with a large piece of dried seaweed. I have had some horribly made sushi from restaurants and grocery stores, and I couldn’t believe that such amazing food came out of that truck. This is by far one of my favorite sushi spots. If only they weren’t on wheels!
The combination of people turning to cheaper eats during the recession and chefs wanting to open their own restaurants, but needing cheap overhead and unable to afford the pricy Los Angeles rent, resulted in this food truck phenomenon. With the help of social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, thousands of people devoutly follow these trucks all over Southern California and now all over the country. Also, with the help of smart phones, people can have up to the minute information about their trucks, since the trucks regularly change multiple locations in a day, have the common flat tire, or are delayed in Los Angeles traffic.
In a recent article in TIME Magazine, many of the trucks had the goal to provide the freshest produce and other ingredients for their trucks. Since many of the trucks had such low overhead for operating their trucks, they could provide the best and then pass it on to their customers, considering most eateries have a 900 percent markup for their food.
Other sites, like Yelp.com, offer people the opportunity to post their own food reviews and photos of the truck’s menu. People can then rate them using a five star-rating system and can have their voice heard by the masses. I personally find this to be a useful tool, since not all food trucks are of high food quality and service, just like any other restaurant.
The trucks aren’t just featured on the internet thanks to the television channel The Food Network’s new smash hit, “Food Truck Wars,” which is a competition show pitting food trucks across the nation against each other in a race to win the most money and prizes. The first season’s winner was SoCal native Grill ’Em All Truck, which is a gourmet hamburger truck.
Another move to make these roaming hunger machines more of a permanent food staple is the introduction of a Los Angeles Health Inspection letter grade, which may soon be voted by the L.A. County Supervisors. It would state that the trucks would officially be on par with every other business eatery in the county, from the highest five star restaurant to the local Wendy’s. The trucks are already inspected by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, but with the letter grade, customers would now know how they stacked up in their inspections. In a recent article with the Huffington Post the Asociación de Loncheros, which is the lunch truck association, stated that they wanted to be held with the same standards as restaurants. If voted, this would affect about 10,000 trucks.These trucks have only been gaining popularity in the past few years and it will take a while to see if they will stand the test of time, but I honestly say that I am not done with the hunt to find the best food truck in L.A.