Tuesday, July 31, 2012

So many trucks...

...and so little time to sit down and write about them.  But it's been over two weeks and I'm heading out on vacation soon, so I thought I really need to find the time to really do a quick jot of all new things 'food truck'.  While there were a few re-visits, it was mostly first go's at some of the younger trucks.  In no particular order...

Grilled fish tacos topped with a black bean and corn salsa, lime crema, and guac.  Dry and somewhat overcooked fish well compensated by the creamy guac and bright salsa that made up for it.  I'd actually be exceptionally happy if I could order a 1/4 or 1/2 pound side of guacamole like at a deli to take home and eat with my District Taco chips & salsa. Still nicely placed at 3.5 honks.

Nice Dream
Follow a tweet suggesting "trust me" on a taste sensation of sweet corn ice cream topped with bacon brittle, I ran right out to the truck who happened to be nearby.  As my friends would tell you, bacon is one of my very favorite things, and will hardly ever say no to it.  The brittle was delicious, truly, but I'm not sure I loved it on the ice cream, which on its own was not too sweet, creamy, and yet had a slightly odd texture, I expect from the granules of corn that peppered the chilled cream.  Most of the flavors on the truck are a little away from the norm, but I'll go back and try something else, and whatever it is, I will definitely be getting the brittle to top it.  3 honks.

Ball or Nothing
A stumble across Ball or Nothing at Farragut brought immediate hopes for wild boar balls to be on the menu, but alas I totally understood boar can be difficult to get, so to the standard meatball with marinara it was.  3 obviously homemade meatballs served with 2 sides for $9.  Another ball or two would be nice and on their own they were a bit dry, but blended reasonably with the marinara and my side of luscious mascarpone polenta.  The idea of a wedge salad is welcome, in this case, the avocado based dressing worked nicely with the first couple of bites but got tired after that.  All-in-all the polenta saved the meal for me and I'm curious so I'll definitely be back to see the two charming guys running things.  3 honks.

I commented earlier I was frustrated PhoNation was cooking their beef for pho rather than keeping it thinly sliced and raw, allowing the heat of the broth to cook the meat.  Rachel and I tweeted back and forth a couple of times and she explained they serve "rare beef" (rather than raw.)  Even more than that, they actually serve rare beef, brisket, or chicken.  First go I went for the rare beef.  While not particularly thin slices, the meat was fine, but the broth -- OMG!!!  Even better than I remember from last year.  So good, in fact, the very next time Rachel brought her truck back, I decided to try the chicken pho.  It worked too!  Grilled and gently charred.  Plus all pho orders come with appropriate accoutrements of basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, and as much sauce as you'd like.  Surely for pho, the best from a truck in the city, although What the Pho? isn't far behind.  4 honks

The Serrano croquettes, despite taking a couple of minutes to receive, are delightful.  Crispy on the outside and pillow-soft on the inside.  5 come in the order, but it's hard not to just scoff them down.  Another winner from Pepe!

Hula Girl
A great sandwich as usual, but note there is/will be a sometimes secret condiment of a pineapple-ginger-habanero hot sauce.  If you like things with some bite, ask for it and gotta give it a try!

I'm not always in the mood for BBQ, yet somehow after my visits to both these trucks in the last week I'm thinking maybe I should push myself to be in the mood more often because both these trucks make me quite content.  Ribs with Number 5 and a side of fire roasted corn from the Bus, and a pulled pork "spectacular" sub from the Purveyors.  For those who don't know what ordering spectacular means, look at whatever the sauce for the resident mac & cheese menu item is and consider the sauce slathered on any of the sandwiches.  For a while it was a gorgonzola bacon sauce, but recently it appears to have changed to a rosemary cream variety.  Doesn't matter -- it adds a lush richness that compliments wonderfully.  Note to self: Visit both these trucks more often.

In my last post about Goodies I commented about the great van and the sweetheart of an owner, and those things both still hold true.  Even my Oreo Concrete was awesome as expected.  However, Goodies is the third truck (that I know of) which is charging customers for using credit cards.  I've ranted about this before, and the $.50 is even more a pronounced rip-off at Goodies.  Square charges 2.75% flat fee, and on a single order of $5 at Goodies, that amounts to less than $.14.  Doing some quick math, you'd have to charge 4 orders to get to the $.50 up-charge.  In this case as the last one at Kraving Kabob, the charge was executed without advising the customer first; at least Goode's Mobile Kitchen makes it a point to be very up front about the charge, but I find the charge itself off-putting and was particularly angry about it this time.  Goodie's is the second most expensive ice cream from a truck in the city (not counting tourist spots on the mall where some Good Humor-ish and pedi-cab type folks go) and frankly the portions on Sinplicity are bigger.  Penalizing for credit to the degree this works out is not good.

DC Greek Food
Not the prettiest of trucks, and first thought is obviously, "just what we need... another kabob/gyro truck" but don't pass this one up just on the saturation principle.  $8 for a combo platter made up of a juicy chicken kabob and a pile of excellent gyro meat, served over rice with a salad.  An awesome deal and certainly better food than a number of the other similar trucks out there.  I wrote a post a bit ago about the relation of halal to kabobs to gyro and so on, and now with 2 Greek trucks in the growing mix, I think the relational train of thought needs to be expanded.  Easy 3.5 honks.

Reba's Funnel Cakes
After what seemed like an extended hiatus from approaching Farragut Square, Reba's finally returned with an updated menu and some lower prices.  It takes forever, but it is fresh and the wait isn't dull given the 'lively' personality of the chef.  Besides funnel cakes and the addition of savory items like hot dogs and chicken tenders, you can also get parfaits and various other fried items like fruit fritters and a variety of fried-other-desserts (oreos, brownies, etc.)  We sampled pineapple fritters and the brownies -- both were deemed big winners, although some folks preferred more than another.  Well priced at $3 each, but you gotta eat 'em while they're hot for maximum enjoyment.  Rating unchanged.

What the Pho?
I guess the folks over at What the Pho? read this blog because every single comment/suggestion about the lettuce wraps was addressed by my second visit.  As noted earlier, I marginally prefer the homemade broth at PhoNation, yet love the idea of the wrap and this one delivers with superb lemongrass chicken as a base.  Thanks for being open to ideas, and I'll be back soon and often!

Grids Waffles
The folks at Grids announced early in the week they planned on attending Farragut Friday and further stated they'd be bringing their pizza waffle with them.  With an inopportune parking spot, they did make it and I made my inaugural visit to try the touted menu item.  Available with or without pepperoni, a fairly gummy waffle was stuffed with canned pizza sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil.  Obviously the fresh basil was the best part.  Maybe the sweet options are better...?  2 honks.

Chef Driven 
Yet another new item arrives on the menu in the form of Indonesian baby back ribs with a sweet soy glaze.  Jerry can do no wrong.  If you haven't been, you're really missing out.

I've actually been twice in two weeks, the first time to try roasted duck tacos, and the second to grab some pho as it was the last one I hadn't tried of the 4 pho trucks now (recently) on the streets.  About a week or so prior to my first trip, PhoWheels had posted a photo of the duck tacos on Twitter and I wanted to be go to where ever they were planning on being because it looked to die for.  Things didn't exactly turn out that way.  When I did make it, the actual tacos looked about as good as the photo, however enjoyment did not compare.  If I'm gonna eat duck, the skin better be crispy.  Unfortunately the mid-rare duck had flaccid, very not-crispy skin which made the whole thing terribly chewy to eat.  The rest of it was fine -- I mean, it's hard to go wrong topping anything with hoisin sauce, plus the veg and the pancakes were both good.  I ventured back on another visit for pho and it too disappointed.  (At some point soon I'll put together a post summarizing all the pho trucks.)  Broth had little flavor, and other than a few green onions there were no other fresh herbs such as cilantro or Thai basil.  In this case I ordered chicken in my soup -- it was like unseasoned, lightly boiled then shredded chicken breast.  2.5 honks.  Note: The wrap is incredible.  No joke.  Really awesome looking truck!

Now to vacation... Hasta la vista!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sampling 4 More Trucks

It still boggles my mind that I can head out for lunch and have the opportunity to try a truck I've never had before at least once per week.  Good or bad, that fact simply speaks to the volume of trucks roaming the District on a daily basis.  Last week I had the opportunity patronize 4 trucks I hadn't previously, including a rare VA-only truck appearance at Truckeroo of Hot People Food.

As you may have noticed, in the couple of months, the volume of pho trucks went from 0 to 4.  I've mentioned Pho Junkies a couple of times, and noted the new PhoNation truck is from the same proprietor as last year's short-lived Phonomenon.  (Special note--she tweeted me last week to say she's gone to rare steak, instead of the pre-cooked I was so unfond of last year.  To that end, I'll be visiting as soon as I can.)  Meanwhile, last week I was able to give What the Pho? a first go.  Not being able to decide between pho and an option for lettuce wraps, I went for both.  The pho ($8) is essentially what you'd think, homemade oxtail broth with noodles and raw/rare steak served with a "pouch" of accoutrements containing fresh basil, jalapeno slice(s), bean sprouts, and a wedge of lime.  I found the broth to both look and taste a bit fattier than some of the other broths, but still came off nicely smooth as pho should.  Once "prepared" with the whole bottles of hoisin and sriracha available on the counter (as opposed to Pho Junkies,) my self-personalized concoction satisfied.  In addition to banh mi sandwiches, What the Pho? also offers the filling of the banh mi options (chicken, beef, etc) over rice or served with large lettuce leaves to make wraps.  I figured I'd get maybe 2-3 leaves, but the container came with 5 huge leaves of washed red-leaf lettuce.  Both the bowl and box of lettuce came with slices of cucumbers and tomatoes, but minimal pickled veg and no cilantro as would be found in a banh mi.  It would also be nice if the selection of squeeze bottles on the counter included a spicy mayo (or similar) as I'd love to drizzle some, even from a little cup, in my wrap.  The lemongrass chicken, though, was juicy and well flavored.  Overall I enjoyed things for a 3.5 honk rating, although more than Pho Junkies who is still slotted at the same rating.  The other two trucks will be visited soon and then at some point I may try for a full comparison as, so far, they all seem to have their pros with some minor cons.

Thursday I found myself at the glorified Van-a-gon-looking truck dubbed K-bob that never tweets yet has been lurking around Farragut Square nearly every day for months.  They serve about what you'd expect from a truck with such a name: beef, chicken, and sometimes pork kabobs over lettuce, rice, in a combo, etc.  I can't count the number of times I'd walked right by K-bob since they started coming out, but recently I'd seen folks eating in the Square what looked like some pretty good food and when questioned I learned this is where they'd been coming from.  Salad topped with a chicken kabob is on the menu for $7.75 and I asked if I could have beef which was obliged for $1 more.  A single Greek-ish dressing is provided on the side and when asked if one was enough for me, I asked for a white sauce in lieu of a second dressing, and I'm glad I did because a single cup of "wet" was not enough.  It was fine and I would go back to get it again if I were in the mood for a simple salad, but I'm unlikely to be craving it as I do some other truck-food.  At some point I will try a kabob platter as well which is what looked so appetizing on walks by others in the park.  3 honks.

The third Truckeroo of the season brought several non-DC-permitted trucks to The Fairgrounds last week, among others include Hot People Food from Virginia who tout fresh and spicy ingredients "to bring out the hot person in you."  I took advantage of the opportunity and tried a couple menu items: Beef "Chinese" taco and cold spicy noodles.  (And beer.)  Hot People's definition of a Chinese taco ($9) means it is one larger than regular taco (which they also had) served enveloped in a scallion pancake.  Loved the pancake.  Beef was ok.  However, really excessive raw onions/scallions made it not only difficult to eat because of the size/shape and toughness of the uncooked fibrous veggies, but I'm sure I also offended a whole bunch of folks for probably 12 hours after eating.  It was beautiful and if I ever find myself the opportunity to have it again, I'll stick with the onionish-flavor of the pancake and live with just the other toppings.  Having said all that, I was really delighted by the noodles ($5) -- both light and hearty at the same time.  When I get Chinese take-out, I nearly always order cold sesame noodles and these have some of the same flavor but without the weight of the peanut butter.  3 honks.

For those interested in dessert, months ago you may have heard about (or seen photos of) the old-timey frozen custard truck Goodies and have been waiting with baited breath for regular appearances out on the streets.  (And I mean old-timey truck!)  Last week we may have gotten our wish as the new-old truck was out at least 3 times by my count, possibly more.  The adorable gentleman onboard serves up a variety of sundaes and floats for (as best I can figure) $5 each.  I had tweeted him a couple of weeks ago wondering where they disappeared to after scattered appearances; while at the time I received a response back of "soon," when Goodies actually took to the streets, I started getting tagged in every location tweet.  So on Friday when the location was Farragut, I couldn't pass that up despite my attendance at Truckeroo.  Detouring on my way back to the office, I enjoyed a turtle sundae for a cool down on a hot day.  Of course it is tough to go wrong with caramel & chocolate together and this blend with creamy vanilla bean frozen custard & the most perfectly salty-sweet pecans didn't disappoint.  The fresh whipped cream was even just gently sweetened for a lovely afternoon treat.  No truck on DCs streets conjures up a nostalgia factor quite like this one -- I'm not even old enough to remember trucks like this, but appreciate the truly authentic effort.  4 honks.
More later.... Pho Wheels & DC Empanadas' new flavor.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Weather & Holiday Recovery

Due to weather and leave surrounding the 4th of July holiday last week, I was only in the office 1 day but I was able to squeeze in visits to 2 new-to-me trucks in that day.  First up was the few-weeks-old Fire and Rice serving Korean bowls of food ($8-8.50, or veg for $6) which can be served more bibimbap-style with a fried egg for a couple bucks more.  I appreciate that you can pick what vegetables you want in your bowl of rice plus chosen protein and my 'spicy pork' was nicely trimmed and seasoned although not that spicy.  Luckily they had sriracha and a more sweet soy-miso(?) squeeze bottles on the counter for self-doctoring, but the issue both my friend and I had was the size of the portion.  We both found it noticeably small, however I will say after a tweet yesterday I suspect we weren't the only ones who had that sentiment.  If a larger portion size is on tap for my next visit, I'll be back for sure; if not, I'll stick with Kimchi BBQ Taco where I'm always full after my meal (Kogi,) with similar, equally enjoyable food for $.50 less.  3 honks for now until I can make it back.

Fearing I'd still be hungry after my bowl (which I very much was,) I sought a hearty side and remembered DC Ballers has fries on the menu in addition to their balls of falafel.  For $3.50 you will receive a huge portion of fresh cut fries, cooked to order.  They were deliciously seasoned with za'atar and were served with one too small (given the copious amount of fries) cup of dipping sauces.  I ordered spicy chipotle and was also offered a sample of a "fully homemade" garlic sauce at the serving window.  Think a nice smokey mayo with a little heat for the former, and for the later, while quite tasty, was a really pretty thick white sauce; it had an odd-ish texture which was not very "dip-like" at all.  Several other dipping sauces are also available.  In a heartbeat I'd go back for another order -- luckily they have 2 trucks now.  No rating without having sampled on a "main course" yet, but I think you get the idea I at least liked my side a lot.

Today between meetings I squeezed in a quick trip to the Tapas Truck for a sample of the 3/4 new menu.  (The corn fritters remain, which I'm exceptionally grateful for.)  Today's additional selections included a pulled pork slider with mustard BBQ sauce and garlic fries, meatballs in a tomato cream sauce with saffron rice, and fried calamari and shrimp with a paprika sauce.  From the photo you can see I went for the first and second tapas.  There are things I just don't get about this truck because some things are done so very well, and then it feels like corners are cut in other places.  For example, the pork and sauce were awesome but it was on mediocre bread.  Similarly, the sauce for the meatballs was lovely, but I truly believe they used frozen, pre-made, and probably mass produced meatballs.  $9 for all that food which is mostly great is a sound deal, but I think most of us will pay an extra buck or two to savor a completely good, fresh meal rather than a mostly good, partially mass-produced meal.  Keeping them at 3.5 honks.  Am I making any sense?