Saturday, February 25, 2012

DC Food Trucks: A Slow Embrace

It's taken me a while to warm up to the food truck phenomenon. At first, social media encircled the trucks, frenetic tweeting and chaotic pushpin maps like so many coils of razor wire on road between me and the food.

Until one day, I stumbled upon a bevy of food trucks clustered on the corner of N. Capitol and Massachussetts, just one block from where I work. And I realized: to explore the food truck zone, all I had to do was...walk outside.

Armed with this one piece of information -- location -- I developed my own type b approach to the food trucks: what I enjoy is the diversity and serendipity they have to offer. I love that on a given day, I can find anywhere from two to eight food trucks gathered on the corner, and that I can buy lunch from a favorite or try something new. I have no need to know which ones will be there on a given day, nor what time they arrive and depart.  Mapping the mobile world is not for me.

But from this jumble of surprises, a growing list of favorites is emerging. Here are my three top picks:

Kimchi Taco, which launched in DC in November, is the first one to truly excite me. Based in New York, but now literally rolling out in other cities, it serves Korean-Mexican fusion food. For example, you can get your choice of Korean barbecue (short ribs, spicy pork or chicken) in a corn tortilla, or kimchi-infused refried beans over crispy wontons.  You can get carb-free versions of any of the tacos, where large pink fronds of sweet-and-sour radish -- a riff on Korean banchan -- are fashioned into taco shells. I loved the piquant crunch of mine against the spicy pork filling.

I am also quite enamoured of Dangerously Delicious Pies, and am a particular fan of the Vegan Tofu Curry savory pie. "Fluffy brown rice, bok choy, and bell peppers folded into a curry sauce." Yum. That description is what lured me, and it did not disappoint. After eating a slice of this, I feel that I have dined well, on food that fuels me rather than sends me into a food stupor. If you find the term "vegan" intimidating, this is a great way to discover how flavorful and satisfying a meatless, dairyfree dish can be. True vegans: honey is sometimes used in the salad dressing, so if that is a constraint, be sure to let them know.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout-out to Sang on Wheels, the Laos/Asian fusion food truck. I'd never had Laotian food before, so I have nothing to compare it with. I don't know quite enough about subtleties of Southeast Asian cuisine to say for sure whether it really is fusion food as it claims to be. But comfort food it certainly is. I keep going back for those broad Drunken Noodles, reddish with the tint of chili oil and loaded up with veggies -- broccoli, carrots, cabbage and tofu. If you do eat meat, it's hard not to agree to the lamb balls, which Sang urges on you. The portions are heaping and I usually get three meals from a single purchase. On the first day, I eat the noodles and the vegetables. On the second and third days, I make sandwiches from the lamb, sometimes adding a slice of tomato for freshness. Not bad for $8.

If social media added to the allure of the food trucks when they first arrived, it is the dynamism the trucks lend to the DC food scene that keeps them interesting. As Daniella Douglas notes in a recent Washington Post article, the lower risks of launching a food truck has opened up the food business to a greater diversity of entrepreneurs than was previously possible. And some -- such as Kimchi Taco -- move on to opening a bricks and mortar shop. At the same time, established restaurants -- like Dangerously Delicious Pies -- can reach more people by launching food trucks in multiple locations. This evolving relationship between restaurants and food trucks is a welcome one. My slow embrace is now a full-fledged bear hug.

Dangerously Delicious Pies on Urbanspoon

Kimchi Taco Food Truck on Urbanspoon

No comments: