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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a pescetarian's guide to the LA food truck scene

about a year and a half ago, i stopped eating meat.

i had my reasons -- partly to lose weight, partly in the spirit of ahimsa (non-violence to animals), partly to save the environment. but i knew that going from being a full-on carnivore to eating nothing but veggies would be a total shock to my foodie side. and i probably would be doomed to fail. so i came up with my less drastic "nothing with feet" dietary plan -- in other words, no beef, pork, chicken, turkey. everything else was ok: vegetables, dairy, eggs, fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, chocolate...

in short, i've turned into what people refer to as a pescetarian; more specifically, a junk-food eating one :)

i still allow myself some leeway for "meat emergencies"... like the times i'm visiting friends for dinner and there's nothing but meat on the table. or when i'm traveling and the must-try dish is mouth-watering ribs. or even the time when my friends convinced me to try guinea pig in peru (luckily, the restaurant ran out of the delicacy by the time we got there. whew!). or when i have an overwhelming need to try something i've heard so much about. like the korean bbq pork taco at the kogi truck...

by now, i'm sure you've heard the buzz about all the twittering food trucks that have been making their rounds around the LA foodie scene. while the green truck has been around for a while now, kogi was the first to post their location updates on twitter. which really makes it so much easier to keep track of them as they move around to evade the parking enforcement gestapo :(

sadly, most of these food trucks feature menus heavy on the meat. beef ribs. pork tacos. chicken curry. so what's a pescetarian like me to do?

fortunately, there are options. and if your dietary restrictions are anything like mine, here's a quick run-down of what's available out there. i've also included their websites and twitter usernames if you want to follow them. and if you want to see what they look like, click here to see my food truck slideshow (with my lime green bike tagging along at times for fun)...

asian-mexican fusion cuisine trucks:

kogi BBQ (http://www.kogibbq.com/ @kogibbq) - korean-mexican; they have kimchee tofu tacos and burritos as well as kimchee quesadillas. i made the mistake of trying the pork tacos just to see what the buzz was all about, and i have to admit that since then, the tofu variety pales in comparison :( be prepared to wait in a long line, though. since this is THE truck that everyone knows about, crowds rush to it as soon as they hear it's going to make an appearance...

calbi BBQ (http://www.calbibbq.com/ @calbiBBQ) - korean-mexican; the menu is similar to kogi's, but besides the usual tofu tacos and kimchi quesadillas (which are tastier than kogi's, imho), calbi also has shrimp tacos. yum! and much shorter lines. yay!

bool BBQ (http://www.boolbbq.com/ @boolBBQ) - korean-mexican; sadly, all their menu items are meat-based, so the only option right now is a kimchi quesadilla, hold the meat. i had the chicken pastel once... yes, i cheated, but it was SO worth it!

bull kogi (http://www.kimchibulkogi.com/ @bullkogi) - korean-mexican; they don't tweet much. in fact, i just happened to find them as i was checking out the miracle mile lunch scene. the tofu taco was excellent -- big chunks of tofu topped with crunchy cabbage kimchi. there's a burrito version available, too.

don chow tacos (http://www.donchowtacos.com/ @donchowtacos) - chinese-mexican; try the soy-ginger tofu tacos and burritos. every now and then they have chow fun on special. when that happens, don't think twice -- order the shrimp chow fun stat! btw, the owners of don chow have regular day jobs, so you can usually find the truck hanging around the late-night bar scene.

LA fuxion (http://www.lafuxion.com/ @LA_FuXion) - asian-latin; i should point out that "X" in spanish is pronounced "sh", so be careful! ;) the first thing you notice is the quirky menu featuring XOGOGI, XOGALBI, XOCY, XEN, XUNA, and XOFU. once you get over all those X's, order the XUNA tostada, which is a sauced-up tuna sashimi on a crispy tortilla. if you don't do raw fish, get the XOFU taco, tostada, or burrito. they're spiced really nicely. gian and nick are really friendly guys who run the truck when they're not running around their respective college campuses.

ethnic street food trucks:

marked5 (http://www.marked5.com/ @Marked5) - japanese; the torakku V is a tofu/egg patty (plus lettuce and tomato) smothered in a tasty torakku sauce sandwiched between two rice "buns" and wrapped in seaweed. the trick is figuring out how to eat it without getting the sauce on your hands... because you'll want to savor all of it! i just heard that tran now has a salmon "burger" on special; i need to try it while i can!

fishlips sushi (http://www.fishlips-sushi.com/ @fishlips_sushi) - japanese; this rolling sushi truck is a delight to the eyes as well as the belly! the sushi chef on board assembles the rolls and temari balls only as they're ordered. the fish is pretty fresh; there was one day when they canceled their scheduled stop because they couldn't find fish they considered good enough to serve. and as far as i know, they serve nothing but seafood, so there are lots of menu options! i've tried the california roll, the spicy tuna roll, the crunchy roll, the yellowtail temari, the...

skewers on wheels (http://www.skewersonwheels.com/ @SKEWERSONWHEELS) - japanese-inspired; gabino serves all kinds of teriyakied meat on sticks (hence the name). and also on rice in bowls. so if you have a hankering for a chicken bowl or a beef bowl, his food will make you plenty happy. and i should know, because i scarfed down an entire chicken bowl and didn't feel the least bit guilty about it... because they had NO veggie options and i was VERY hungry! ** update: this truck no longer roams the streets; it was taken over by marked5 and has been converted to their black truck...

india jones chow truck (http://www.indiajoneschowtruck.com/ @indiajonesct) - indian; honestly, i haven't found anything yet on chef sumant's truck that i didn't like. while there are the requisite meat options on the menu to keep the carnivores coming back, there are many choices to keep vegheads like me happy -- paneer frankies, veggie curries, channa masala, potato parathas, and more!

dosa (http://www.dosatruck.com/ @dosatruck) - indian; leena is from the local yoga scene, so she and i had much to talk about when we first met. every now and then, she'll park outside one of the yoga studios on main street in santa monica, hoping to catch yogis as they leave class. there are masala dosas, spinach/mushroom/cheese dosas, sweet potato dosas, samosas and an occasional smattering of veggie specials.

nom nom (http://www.nomnomtruck.com/ @nomnomtruck) - vietnamese; there's pretty much only one veggie option: the lemongrass tofu banh mi sandwich... which i'm addicted to! there's also a taco version, but as far as i'm concerned, the roll wins over the tortilla. and don't forget their iced coffee... it's a great way to fight the need for a post-lunch nap :)

border grill (www.bordergrill.com/bg_t/bg_twel.htm @BorderGrill) - mexican; this is the mobile version of their restaurant right off the 3rd street promenade in santa monica. they have gourmet-quality tacos (fish, avocado, potato), quesadillas (chile, mushroom), tamales (mahi-mahi, corn), and ceviche, with gourmet prices to match. whatever you do decide to order, make sure you add on an order of churro bites. with the cinnamon and whipped cream on top, they're to die for!

good-old american grub trucks:

green truck (http://www.greentruckonthego.com/ @Green_Truck) - organic; i suppose you could say the green truck was one of the pioneers of the "not your usual roach coach" band of food trucks. they'd already been appearing at location shoots and special events for some time before they started to make regular appearances on the street. while they specialize in organic vegetarian food, they also serve items with free-range chicken and niman ranch beef. their signature dish is the mother trucker, a vegan burger that they make themselves. while it's a bit squishier than your usual veggie burger, it tastes wonderful! the falafel wrap is just as good, and if sweet potatoes are in season, make sure you order their sweet potato fries! and like every other place that sells organic stuff, their prices tend to be higher. sigh.

let's be frank (http://www.letsbefrankdogs.com/ @letsbefrank) - hot dogs; while technically not a truck, this trailer is almost as large. while everyone raves about the beef and pork dogs, vegheads will be perfectly content with their veggie dog. top it with grilled onions and organic sauerkraut, squeeze on some spicy mustard, and you'll swear you'll never eat anyone else's dog again.

south philly experience (http://www.southphillyexperience.com/ @SouthPhillyExp) - philadelphia-inspired food; two cousins from south jersey started the truck because they couldn't find decent cheesesteaks here in LA. of course, i had to see for myself if they came anywhere close to the real thing, so i called a "meat emergency" and ordered a cheesesteak wiz wit (with cheese whiz and grilled onions). and honestly, it's about as good as the stuff you get at pat's, geno's, and jim's back in philly. with that finally out of my system, i got the eggplant with broccoli rabe on my next visit and swore that it tasted even better than the cheesesteak! don't forget to pick up a tastykake (the butterscotch krimpet's my favorite) while you're there :)

barbie's Q (http://www.barbiesq.com/ @BarbiesQ) - BBQ; in my mind, there is only one thing to order off john's truck, whether or not you're vegetarian -- the applewood-smoked veggie burger! this is no ordinary VB; he smokes a garden burger, chops it up, smothers it in BBQ sauce, then shovels it into a sub roll. my mouth is watering as i write this...

LA BBQ guy (http://www.labbqguy.com/ @labbqguy) - BBQ; look for the black truck with "Spring Street Smoke House" painted in large flaming letters across the side. once again, i had to call a "meat emergency" and take a few bites from what my friends ordered only because there was absolutely nothing vegetarian on the menu. except for maybe the coleslaw and hush puppies. oh well.

chef on wheels BBQ (http://www.chefonwheelscatering.com/ @chefonwheelsBBQ) - hawaiian-inspired BBQ; this is the kind of food you'd probably find in hawaii -- ribs, tri-tip, pulled pork, loco mocos -- but i usually order either the shrimp or fish taco. the nice thing about this truck is that it parks in almost the same spot every day for lunch... right around the corner from where i live. and if you remember the word of the day (which he tweets), you get a treat for FREE with your order!

and lastly, my personal favorite, the dessert trucks (which are totally vegetarian!):

get shaved (http://www.getshavedice.com/ @getshaved) - hawaiian-style shaved ice; kristin and her husband pat are two of the happiest and friendliest people i've ever met on a food truck. maybe it's because they don't have to stand over a hot fryer. or maybe because they get to spend all their time schmoozing with customers. anyway, the best thing about eating shaved ice is that not only is it refreshingly delicious on a hot summer day, but it is totally vegan! and fat-free! i've tried almost every flavor of syrup they have. as well as every add-on: ice cream, sweet azuki beans, condensed milk, and the sour spray (the ice cream and condensed milk are obviously dairy products, so not vegan). you really can't go wrong with anything you get!

coolhaus (http://www.eatcoolhaus.com/ @COOLHAUS) - gourmet ice cream sandwiches; ok, i've decided that anyone who works on a dessert truck is happy and friendly. natasha and freya always greet me with a big smile whenever i pop by to order one of their massive culinary delights. while they do claim to serve architecturally-themed ice cream sandwiches named after famous architects, the only thing artistic is the way their homemade cookies balance nicely on either side of the large scoop of creamy ice cream. besides the usual vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream choices, they sometimes offer matcha green tea, chai, sea salt caramel, guiness stout, toffee coffee, and other flavors one only fantasizes about. oh, and because freya is one of my people (she's a filipina, like me), she always has at least one tropical flavor that reminds me of my childhood :)

king kone (http://www.kingkone.net/ @kingkonela) - soft serve ice cream; like other ice cream trucks that drive up and down residential streets in search of customers, teddy doesn't stay parked in one spot very long. when you do find him (sometimes after having to scout around a bit), you can help yourself to all kinds of concoctions featuring soft serve ice cream: cones, floats, shakes, and sundaes. lowfat it definitely isn't, but when you want to treat yourself to something decadent, order a rocky mountain cone; it's ice cream on a cone, dipped in thick chocolate (none of that cheap chocolate shell stuff), and rolled in almonds. i had one and thought i'd died and gone to heaven...

there are a few more trucks that i have yet to try and probably many more on the horizon. i'm sure i'll get around to checking them all out sooner or later, and when i do, i'll fill you in on what i find!

update: i've visited even more trucks since i posted this; check out veg-head LA food truck guide, part 2 for more truck love :)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joni... you are SO awesome! What a complete review. I had no idea there were so many awesome veg options at the trucks so I never stopped. I will be sure to now... and name drop "Joni, the Accidental Yogist/Food Truckist"!
xo alex - yogitoes

9:38 PM  
Blogger joni said...

actually, you might get a bigger smile (and maybe service) if you say joni with the bright green bike sent you :)

12:23 AM  

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