Food trucks are like buses. They’re great as long as you catch them.
I’ve been hearing about God Save the Cuisine, the new Brit truck that sells such great empire-builders as fish and chips, spiced lamb, and Sunday roast dinners, but I can’t seem to catch up with them.
So, on the off-chance, I catch the Blue Line trolley up to Washington Street, then hike up to 57 Degrees. Once a month, every third Friday, this wine-and-food place throws open its massive rear parking lot to food trucks.
You pay an entrance fee: $2.
It’s well worth it. You can take what you buy from the food trucks in the parking lot to eat inside, in the way-cool, way-big dining-drinking-wine-buying area. Or you can carry on through to the front patio facing Hancock Street.
So, hey, plunge in. Loose bunches of guys off from work, young families, and teens fill this spontaneous “town square,” ringed by 15 trucks, at my count.
First up is a lime-colored truck called “Insliders.” Gal named Jennifer leans down from inside. She tells me they’ve been up and running for four months. They’re beginning to settle in, to learn the ropes of where to go to find customers and not clash with parking laws, day in and day out.
“What kind of slider would you like?” she asks.
It takes a moment to work out the jokey menu names, like the “Hella Bella” slider (with portobello mushrooms) and the “Babe” (a pork slider). All are $8 for three. But you can also get just one for three bucks.
That’s what I do. The “‘Cali’-ente” slider. Kobe beef with grilled jalapeños, pepper-jack cheese, chipotle aioli, tomato, and lettuce.
I see two folks, Rachel and Juan, sitting at a table, the only one in the entire parking lot (turns out, most truck owners are afraid of health regulations). Rachel’s munching sweet tater tots ($4), and Juan’s got a three-pack of sliders.
It’s a lot to fit into one little burger, but my slider packs a surprising amount of stuff. And, yes, it is hot.
Parked in front of my end of the table is a blue Vietnamese food truck: “Hoangie’s Banh Mi on Wheels.” A sign — handwritten in black marker — says that they offer “French-Vietnamese fusion: large sub sandwiches. Try us!”
I’m thinking I might get one to take home to Carla. It’s a Friday night and the fridge is bare. She’ll be ravenous.
This business is run by a gal, Jenny, and her two brothers, Michael and Ken. Vietnamese-American family. ’Course, like most things sold at these food trucks, the prices run slightly above, say, Mickey D’s. Dishes here go for $7–$10.
This truck has been up and running only three months. For the siblings, it’s a big adventure.
“So what’s the name ‘Hoangie’s’ about?” I ask.
“Our family is the Hoang family,” Jenny says, “and we make a kind of Vietnamese hoagie, so we combined the two words.”
Choices run through the main meats, like at Insliders: beef, pork, chicken. There’s also tofu (deep-fried, panko-crusted). I choose the Oink: “sweet marinated pork shoulder in baguette, with spicy aioli sauce, French butter with pickled daikon radish, carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeños, and cucumbers.”
I take a couple of bites, just to be sure Carla will like it. The hoangie is neat and tidy, something like a large sushi roll. It’s hoagie-like in flavor, but the radish, cilantro, and sweet garlicky taste give it a Vietnamese tang.
By now, I’ve worked up a thirst. Thinking of those $4 IPAs up inside that warm, dressed-up warehouse, where most people have taken their food to eat. But there are so many other trucks I want to sample. Like Pearson’s Louisiana Cajun Food Truck, the Chubby Burger truck, and the Slo Cal BBQ, which “brings the South to your Mouth…” There’s Operacaffe’s Tuscan food, and a French crêpes truck. Someone tells me this this is its first night on the road.
A guy named Jim, who’s helped organize things, has it right: “These gastro trucks give eager young chefs the chance to get into business for a fraction of what it would cost them to set up in a brick-and-mortar restaurant.” Jim’s eating a $2 tiramisu from the Operacaffe’s truck.
Oh, man, somebody has just turned up at the lone table with a paper plate of marrow-filled bones covered in a green sauce. I love marrow. Don’t catch which truck it’s from, or even what the green stuff was, because the guy takes off, to catch up with friends. Dang. Half this stuff you’d never see downtown.
My last stop looks unique: the Pierogitruck.
“We’re the only Polish and eastern European restaurant in San Diego,” says Bozena, the nice lady at the window. She says I’ve got to have a pierogi ($7). They’re a kind of national dish, dumplings of unleavened dough that they boil, then bake or fry. Tonight they come stuffed with potato and cheese, or meat, or spinach, or sauerkraut and mushrooms. Sometimes, says Bozena, she even stuffs them with fruit.
I go for the potato and cheese. It comes with caramelized onions, bacon, and garlic sauce for extra flavor.
Which it definitely has. The unleavened dough shell tastes kinda like cream cheese to me. But there’s also the salty tang of the bacon and sweetness of the caramelized onions, plus a nip of chives.
It’s totally dark now. While I munch, I get sucked in by a giant photo on the side of the Pierogitruck. It’s a “Hungarian pancake.” Looks like two potato pancakes stuffed with a stew of pork goulash, mushrooms, peppers, and onions in the middle. I have to order the danged thing, even though it costs $11. Figure Carla and I can eat it tomorrow.
By the time I finally head upstairs to claim that beer, most of the trucks have pulled out of the lot. It’s like Cinderella after midnight. Fiesta’s over.
But as I write this, I realize that tomorrow’s the 15th, another third Friday! The trucks will all be back again at 57 Degrees’ rear parking lot, around 5:00 p.m. You never know which ones will turn up, so keep your taste buds open. Take the Blue Line trolley to Washington Street.