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Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food is getting a food truck

The family-operated pop-up has thrived on word of mouth, and sumptuous fried chicken

A City Heights pop-up serves fried chicken and other soul food dishes from a residential front yard.
A City Heights pop-up serves fried chicken and other soul food dishes from a residential front yard.

“We got a tiii-iip!” sings out the cashier, after the customer at the front of the line drops cash in the jar.

“We got a tip!” sings back the makeshift kitchen crew, in unison and on beat. “We got a tip! We got a tip!”

A chicken tenders combo with beefy beans and cheesy macaroni

They’re dancing a little, and it’s catchy enough that the rest of us are sure to put money in the jar to keep the good vibes going. We’ve gathered on a residential City Heights sidewalk, because this pop-up kitchen tent is dishing out succulent fried chicken, shrimp, and catfish from the front yard of a beige house on the corner of Thorn Street. A banner on the tent reads Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food.

The crew is made up of family and friends of Michael “Budda” Price and Lily Nachampasak, the couple behind the small business. Both lost their jobs early in the pandemic, and were brainstorming ways to pay the bills. Price, who’s gone by the nickname Budda since he was a kid, had never cooked professionally, but his food had a well-established reputation among friends and neighbors, whom he enjoyed cooking for on weekends and holidays.

Egg rolls represent a Lao-influenced menu that will be offered by the new Chef Budda food truck.

So, one day in May 2020, Nachampasak announced via Instagram that they’d be taking orders for plates of fried chicken to pick up from their home in La Mesa. By the end of the day, they’d sold out, to the tune of 40 pounds of chicken. The next week they tried it again, and sold out again. And it just kept going like that. They finally realized they should give the business a name when strangers started showing up, asking where to pick up food from Lily and Mali. Because, at this point, Nachampasak was still taking orders with the Instagram handle she shared with their daughter.

Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food was born. They invested in gear for the pop-up kitchen, and started irregular service out of a family member’s yard. Before long, they were being invited to serve food at music festivals, night markets, and block parties.

Crispy fried wings from the homegrown, family-operated food business, Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food

And as of this week, they’ve bought a food truck. By December, in addition to popping up at local events, Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food will be hitting the road. Instagram will remain the best way to track their appearances, including a drive-thru set-up running into the evening from December 3 to 5.

I highly recommend stopping by. Chef Budda’s fried chicken is seasoned to perfection, and about the crispiest I’ve tried in Southern California. His wings may be even better. He’s just as adept at sides including a cheesy macaroni, potato salad, and savory rice and gravy. And if it’s any indication, one of the many tipping customers tells the crew, “My eight-year-old says your catfish is the best thing she’s ever eaten!” Combos featuring a protein and two sides run $18-20.

As for the Blasian side of the menu, that’s owed to Nachampasak’s Lao background. Early on, they were offering such dishes as papaya salad, sticky rice, and curry. But to better meet pop-up demand they simplified, sticking with the soul food items, plus chicken egg rolls. Nachampasak tells me we can look forward to these items, and more, returning to the menu once the food truck gets going. Which got me thinking: could there be a better cross cultural food pairing than papaya salad and chef Budda’s fried wings? I guess we’re going to find out.

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A City Heights pop-up serves fried chicken and other soul food dishes from a residential front yard.
A City Heights pop-up serves fried chicken and other soul food dishes from a residential front yard.

“We got a tiii-iip!” sings out the cashier, after the customer at the front of the line drops cash in the jar.

“We got a tip!” sings back the makeshift kitchen crew, in unison and on beat. “We got a tip! We got a tip!”

A chicken tenders combo with beefy beans and cheesy macaroni

They’re dancing a little, and it’s catchy enough that the rest of us are sure to put money in the jar to keep the good vibes going. We’ve gathered on a residential City Heights sidewalk, because this pop-up kitchen tent is dishing out succulent fried chicken, shrimp, and catfish from the front yard of a beige house on the corner of Thorn Street. A banner on the tent reads Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food.

The crew is made up of family and friends of Michael “Budda” Price and Lily Nachampasak, the couple behind the small business. Both lost their jobs early in the pandemic, and were brainstorming ways to pay the bills. Price, who’s gone by the nickname Budda since he was a kid, had never cooked professionally, but his food had a well-established reputation among friends and neighbors, whom he enjoyed cooking for on weekends and holidays.

Egg rolls represent a Lao-influenced menu that will be offered by the new Chef Budda food truck.

So, one day in May 2020, Nachampasak announced via Instagram that they’d be taking orders for plates of fried chicken to pick up from their home in La Mesa. By the end of the day, they’d sold out, to the tune of 40 pounds of chicken. The next week they tried it again, and sold out again. And it just kept going like that. They finally realized they should give the business a name when strangers started showing up, asking where to pick up food from Lily and Mali. Because, at this point, Nachampasak was still taking orders with the Instagram handle she shared with their daughter.

Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food was born. They invested in gear for the pop-up kitchen, and started irregular service out of a family member’s yard. Before long, they were being invited to serve food at music festivals, night markets, and block parties.

Crispy fried wings from the homegrown, family-operated food business, Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food

And as of this week, they’ve bought a food truck. By December, in addition to popping up at local events, Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food will be hitting the road. Instagram will remain the best way to track their appearances, including a drive-thru set-up running into the evening from December 3 to 5.

I highly recommend stopping by. Chef Budda’s fried chicken is seasoned to perfection, and about the crispiest I’ve tried in Southern California. His wings may be even better. He’s just as adept at sides including a cheesy macaroni, potato salad, and savory rice and gravy. And if it’s any indication, one of the many tipping customers tells the crew, “My eight-year-old says your catfish is the best thing she’s ever eaten!” Combos featuring a protein and two sides run $18-20.

As for the Blasian side of the menu, that’s owed to Nachampasak’s Lao background. Early on, they were offering such dishes as papaya salad, sticky rice, and curry. But to better meet pop-up demand they simplified, sticking with the soul food items, plus chicken egg rolls. Nachampasak tells me we can look forward to these items, and more, returning to the menu once the food truck gets going. Which got me thinking: could there be a better cross cultural food pairing than papaya salad and chef Budda’s fried wings? I guess we’re going to find out.

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