Dining

San Diego Food Trucks: “Gourmet Meals on Wheels”

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When one thinks of food trucks, the image of mediocre food coming out of a run-down van, aka “roach coach,” comes to mind. This all changed a couple of years ago when Kogi, based in Los Angeles, pulled out Korean-Mexican fusion food out of its truck and revolutionized such image. It has since galvanized the food truck movement across the country and garnered mainstream respect.

Ironically, the recession has helped spur the growth of modern food trucks. Enterprising chefs and aspiring restaurateurs who do not have the capital to establish “brick-and-mortar” restaurants find themselves able to pool together modest funds to roll out food trucks in their neighborhoods. And the idea of crafting handmade gourmet meals accessible to average Joes – some touting fresh, local, natural, sustainable or organic ingredients – strikes a cord with many. It’s fast, fresh, fun street food with a hip edge.

For the first-time ever, the Food Network is currently airing “The Great Food Truck Race,” hosted by internationally acclaimed chef, Tyler Florence. The race involves seven competing teams, embarking on cross-country trips and opening up shops along the way. The team who generates the most sales will be the winner. The foods are as varied as one could expect, from savory fries and wings, sandwiches and burgers to crepes and tacos, banh-mis and po-boys, not to mention sweets like puddings; just to name a few. Interestingly, San Diego was the starting point of the race.

And San Diego, no doubt, is onboard with the mobile meal wagons. Several food trucks have captured the hearts (and stomachs) of regular patrons and passerbys alike. Many gained fame and fans through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes they would anchor their truck nearby special events and get the food out to the hungry crowd. I’ve made a couple of stops and found that they certainly deliver the delicious goods.

A popular mobile eatery, Tabe BBQ (Tabe means “to eat” in formal Japanese language), offers Mexican tacos and burritos with a distinctively Asian taste. I chose to swing by their permanent kitchen inside a Chevron gas station (unusual as it is) since it’s close to my workplace. The station was established by the original owners based on consumer demand after they rolled out the truck.

I ordered the beef taco – tender, succulent beef cubes (with a sweetness in the marinade) topped with lettuce and sweet-tangy, citrus mango salsa. For less than $3 each, they could probably justify charging a slightly higher price if they load a lot more meat in the taco (although perhaps the burritos may already fit the bill). I also had five-spice fries (under $2), which came out crisp, uniquely flavored (albeit incredibly salty; hopefully it’s a one-time, overzealous use of salt!), along with a condiment of rich smoky hot sauce. Who knew a kitchen inside of a gas station could produce such quality food?

Miho Gastrotruck appears to be another local favorite. Their popularity often has gotten them booked on Fridays and weekends for off-road catering engagements. I was able to stop by one of their daytime locations in a parking lot among several office buildings. I was dying to try out their grass-fed burger or shrimp po-boy.

Miho rotates their menus every week and this time grass-fed peach burger was on the menu. I’m not too fond of peach or cheesy meat in general, so I opted for a plain ol’ burger with light cheese. It was a thick, juicy burger with perfectly charred edges, topped with grilled onions slices with spicy aioli, swiss cheese, and butter leaf on toasted brioche buns.

While I would make a night out and dine in a seafood restaurant, I don’t normally go out for a “gourmet burger” (In-and-Out satisfies my craving once in a while). I couldn’t tell how Miho burger would rank with other epicurean burgers out there, but I could definitely taste the difference (no, it’s not your ordinary burger). Of course, you’d pay the price too; it’s not exactly cheap at nearly $8 each.

Below is list of food trucks within San Diego County (in alphabetical order). The mouthwatering offerings cover a cornucopia of fusion cuisine, such as bulgogi taco, spicy pork, grass-fed burger, truffle fries, shrimp po-boys, fried okra salad, spare ribs, BBQ brisket, specialty chocolate drinks and teas, and a host of other flavorful treats.

Dave de Jour
davedejour.com
“…created and served through the window of his own self contained cooking apparatus, Chef Dave will excite any pallet with mac and cheese on a stick to BBQ spare ribs, Angus beef sliders and grilled tofu…”

Food Junkies
foodjunkiescatering.com
“…like having your own favorite restaurant parked at location with your very own customized menu to meet your every need…”

Joes on the Nose
joesonthenose.com
“…organic espresso bar and … artisan espresso drinks at your special event…. hot, iced, or blended beverage service… decaf options… hot chocolate bar, smoothie bars, and blended coffee stations…”

Miho Gastrotruck
mihogastrotruck.com
“…fresh, seasonal produce sourced as locally as possible… all natural, sustainable meats raised without hormones or antibiotics… hand crafted street food made from scratch every day…unless it has an *”

Tabe BBQ
tabebbq.com
“…unique cuisine blends Asian-inspired dishes with a classic Mexican flair to create one of the most unique flavor experiences in San Diego… irresistible tacos and burritos…”

Get behind the wheel and drive up… roach coach be gone, gourmet food trucks are here to stay!

Copyright (c) 2010. Nathalia Aryani

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

2 Comments

  1. Chef Jenn

    September 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I am a fan of the local food truck. Daves~ the most amazing smoked lentil tacos. Does not sound that impressive but really good. Joes~ order anthing and it will be amazing. Just be prepared to be up all night. Tabe BBQ~ worth trying but I am not sold. I just wanted some more creative dishes. Can’t wait to try MIHO and Foodjunkies.

  2. Anonymous

    September 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    On a second visit, glad to note that Tabe’s five-spice fries were seasoned just right! Also, interestingly, I tasted papaya in their salsa.

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