Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Mi Grullense: Interview with Edgar Galindo, owner’s son

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 16, 2010

So after our aforementioned February ride, Edgar Galindo, the son of the owner of the Mi Grullense taco trucks on International Blvd. contacted me, asking why I hadn’t chosen his trucks for the ride. I informed him that we had, in fact, during the original ride back in October. Given that he seemed to know an awful lot about the history of Oakland taco trucks, I thought I’d knock a set of five his way. (I’ve edited his answers for clarity.)

As he writes: “My name is Edgar Galindo, I run Mi Grullense Restaurant and Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave. and my father Enrique Galindo is the owner of the Mi Grullense business in Oakland, with two taco trucks and one restaurant.”

1) How and when did Mi Grullense start operating a truck in Oakland? What was the scene like at that time?

In the early 1980s taco trucks were big in Los Angeles, they had success in San Jose but were banned so everyone in San Jose with taco trucks was forced to close up their truck, sell or move to a different city. My father is from the town of El Grullo and had family members in the original El Grullense out of San Jose. My mother had a brother in Oakland, Tony Muñoz, who was a butcher and had his own business, he saw that Oakland had a growing Mexican community and told my parents he could try to help them by setting up a spot to park a taco truck in the same lot as his business. (Where the Hollywood Video is on MacArthur Blvd., it used to be a market.) My father’s cousin had a taco truck in San Jose that could not be operated there anymore so my father asked to rent it and operate it in Oakland. This was in 1984. At first, my father and mother would drive the taco truck from San Jose to Oakland daily, until we actually moved to Oakland in 1985. There were only, I believe, two or three other taco trucks in Oakland at the time, I believe El Taco Zamorano was the first and had only been around a few months before we came to Oakland.

2) How many trucks do you guys operate now all over the Bay Area? What’s your most popular location? How much money do you guys make (revenue and profit) per day?

We only have two taco trucks, both in Oakland. We have had a few restaurants but for one reason or another have been forced to move or sell. In the early 1990s we started our taqueria across the street from the Wendy’s on 31st Ave. and International Blvd. It took a few years but the place was a great success. Unfortunately at the height of our success the Native American Health Center canceled our lease, and turned the restaurant into offices. We also had a restaurant on 35th Ave. and Foothill Blvd. but due to slow sales we were forced to close it down. We have Mi Grullense Restaurant & Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave., we have owned that since 1997 and are still up and running.

3) What’s your most popular menu item? Have you ever changed the menu in any way? How have your customers changed over the years?

Our most popular menu item is still the carne asada tacos, followed close by the al pastor tacos.

The menu has changed slightly over the years, our recipe has not changed, but we have added a few new items. We did not sell burritos at first, since they’re pretty much unheard of in Mexico. But we adapted to our customers and added burritos in the early 1990s, we also added tortas and quesadillas at some point in the 90s. Just recently we added a few new choices of meat, we added tripa (cow intestine) and buche (pig stomach) both are very popular. We have also added fish ceviche to our second taco truck to accommodate many customers who kept asking for a refreshing summertime food.

Customers have changed over the years, I remember when there weren’t so many taco trucks populating Oakland. Our lines were crazy, sometimes people waited over an hour to try our tacos! We had families that came from Modesto all the way to Sacramento just to have our tacos on a weekly basis. I remember meeting people in Mexico who had heard of us and were also customers. Nowadays since there are so many taco trucks its hard to compete, but we still have our loyal customers.

4) What’s the best and worst thing about operating a truck? Why operate two right next to each other? Are they different at all?

The best thing would be of course being your own boss. Staying close to home, being able to work with family, meeting so many customers. The worst thing about owning a taco truck is that there is so much competition now, its hard to make a profit, also ex-employees taking recipes and opening up their own taco trucks, and having to rent a location to park the taco truck.

We have two taco trucks right next to each other because our number one truck was getting way too busy and some customers are on a schedule and would leave looking for another taco truck or another place to have lunch. Wo we opened up another taco truck right next to it so customers can have faster, better service. Our two taco trucks are the EXACT SAME, although many customers believe that the tacos are different, I assure you that the food is cooked in the same restaurant, the tortillas are delivered by the same company, and our meat is always delivered daily by the same company! The employees are even the same, they rotate between both trucks.

The only difference is that our number one truck did not sell burritos for a very long time due to how long they took to make and our large volume of customers, although our number one truck does sell burritos now. Also, our number two truck sells tortas and quesadillas, we also added fish ceviche and plan to expand our seafood menu. Another thing is that the hours of operation are different, our number one truck opens at 8 am and closes at 1 am during the week and 3 am on weekends. Our number two truck opens at 11 am and closes at 7 pm during the week and 12 am on weekends.

5) What do you make of this new generation of fusion taco trucks on Twitter, like Kogi BBQ (LA) or Kung Fu Tacos (SF)?

To be honest, I’ve never heard anything about those taco trucks.

Interview with Sam Diephius, LA taco truck photographer

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 7, 2010

Sam Diephius first contacted me at the end of March, and fortunately has been patient enough (and nudged me with a few emails) to interview him. I was impressed with his photographs and his tenacity, so here goes.

1) On your website, you have a collection of 22 Los Angeles street vendors. Some of them are taco trucks and some are those guys that sell oranges by the freeway and the like. How did you select the people and places that you shot? Were they receptive to it?

In the neighborhood (Venice) where I live there are roving grocery trucks that show up late in the day to sell to the local community. I’ve used them quite a few times for picking up little things like tortillas, avos, tomatoes, et cetera. I always admired the way families or friends hang out around the trucks as sort of a meeting area to talk about the day and share story.

One day when I was frustrated about my job, I thought, “why am I flying half way around the world when there are amazing stories in front of my house”? I walked down and started talking to one of the truck drivers and asked him if I could photograph him, and in exchange I would give him a picture. He was a little hesitant because it was a little bit strange to him to have someone setting up lights and asking him to move around, smile, and be a model, but he was very happy when I gave him the picture the next day. These guys are very proud of their trucks and they are always happy when I bring them a picture of them with their trucks.

From there it was on, and I started asking everyone who sells things on wheels, Ice cream, fruit venders and even the pork rhine guy, but I knew the taco truck was going to be the holly grail. Most people are a little hesitant, but after I show them a few photos they are usually excited about the project. Since they are working I try and pay them $10-$20 for their time. Time is money for them and I try and pay them accordingly. The shoots last anywhere from 10 minutes to 2-3 hours depending on the situation. Some of the taco truck parks out in East LA have hours of prep time before they hit the road and they are usually open to just about anything as long as they can keep working. Good people for sure!

2) What did you learn on your odyssey through “El Barrio,” as you call it? Where in LA were you shooting exactly? Why did you pick those locations?

Actually this project turned out to be a lot more than just about the vendors and taco trucks. Most of the street vendors (vendors that don’t own a vehicle and sell on the street corners) are here illegally and are just trying to make ends meet. They work really long hours with little pay and have large families to support back in their home country. The people in my pictures aren’t taking American jobs, getting into trouble, causing problems, but they are here illegally. With all this talk about immigration in the press this project really brought this complicated issue front and center for me. One thing I can tell you is that Latin America has influenced our way of life in America in some awesome ways. For example, I can’t tell you the last time I had apple pie, but I can tell you when I had a couple tacos: yesterday!

Most of the images were made in Venice or in East LA. East LA is an awesome place to visit and if you haven’t been you should go. It is full of life and energy very similar to being in a different country.

East LA is a great location for shooting pictures of the Latin American culture and people, and the taco trucks are everywhere. It’s just a part of the lifestyle there. There are amazing murals and street art around every corner and it feels very alive. LA can really get a bad rap and for good reason sometimes, but East LA is really the center of the Latin American culture here and it can feel like it’s own city.

3) What do you look for when shooting street vendors? How do you try to vary your shots? What would you suggest to amateurs who shoot taco trucks in terms of approaching taqueros and also in terms of framing? I feel like it’s easy to just shoot the standard side or angled view of the truck, y’know?

Usually what I am looking for is someone this isn’t busy. If they are making sales I don’t want to bug them. After I’ve found someone I will go and introduce myself and show them what I am working on. Most of the time I will come back another day. This gives me time to think about what I want to do and how I will light it. Sometimes I take the subject to another location with a better back ground or different light and other times I will shoot them right where they are.

Anyone can make a snap shot of a taco truck (“lonchera”) but to make a picture that is unique the photographer needs to slow down a bit. Here’s a list of things to think about before photographing.

I. The most important thing is making your subject feel comfortable, knowing a little Spanish can go a long way in making the model feel relaxed.

II. Setting up shoots with the subject and returning another day can take some of the pressure off the model. Keep in mind most of the owners of the trucks and venders in the street are working, find out if there are certain times of the day that are slower for them and come back then.

III. Showing them an example of what you have done before can help them understand what you are trying to photograph.

IV. Always be polite and ask before shooting a picture. Try and give something back to the model no matter how little. Even buying what they are selling is a good start. Who knows you may try something that you’ve never had.

V. Sometimes I use natural light and sometimes I work with a lot of lighting, it all depends on the shot. By using lights I can accent different areas of the truck or the owners. Night images work nicely as well. Using natural street light or the light from the taco trucks can give a “real” feeling to the subject.

VI. Breaking the repetition. Let’s face it, taco trucks can look very similar. etting to know your subjects can make a huge difference in accessing different angles and locations of the trucks and the venders. If they feel comfortable you can then move them to a different location. Also moving in and out and up and down while looking trough the view finder will help to see things differently.

4) How does shooting in your backyard (Los Angeles) compare with shooting in some of the other international locations that you’ve worked in, like Jamaica and Burma? Are there any major similarities? Differences?

Shooting in LA is awesome. Going out shooting, coming home, sleeping in my own bed can make a big difference. The problem I have is that I can get easily distracted here. When I am in another country I don’t have a lot of options of distraction and I make more pictures. It is also hard to see the amazing things around me when I am at home because I see them every day. In another country everything is different and new.

Most of the photography basics from the list above apply directly to other countries. Sometimes I have to be more careful than other in other countries. For example, China and Burma are very safe, Kingston, Jamaica on the other hand I have to keep my wits about me. LA can be a little uncomfortable at times as well. The truth is that I find most people around the world to be very friendly and are interested in what I am doing and photographing.

5) What’s your favorite taco truck in LA? What do you typically order?

Gosh, where do I start? There’s so many “taco trucks” now a days that they are starting to spill over into other cuisines, Korean bbq, Brazilian, Texas ribs, grilled cheese, the list goes on, but I have to say the taco truck that sells actual tacos is the best. Let’s just say that (although they might be amazing) if your truck has a Twitter account, you are not a taco truck. They can have their sushi, kimchi, and crepe “taco trucks” and I will stick with my standard al pastor tacos or veggie with the works, I will do asada, or chicken burrito any day. On a side note, if I could, I would eat them ever day!

I don’t really have a specific truck I love but I will say this, my favorite truck is when I’m super hungry, it’s late at night, everything is closed, I’ve just finished a big work day, right when I am too lazy and tired to sit down for a meal and I’ve given up and am submitting to eating cereal for dinner. The one that appears on the side of the road with it’s lights on at that point in time is my favorite!

Get Jerked: Interview with Amira Jackmon, co-founder

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 2, 2010

Although it doesn’t get as much play as its brethren across the Bay or down in LA, the East Bay does have quite a number of taco/food trucks: both new school and old school. In fact, my favorite all-time taco truck remains El Ojo de Agua in Fruitvale. Amongst thew new school, we’ve got Jon’s Street Eats, Cupkates, Liba SF and countless others. But Get Jerked is the first truck that I’m aware of to bring flavors of the Caribbean to my beloved East Bay. Amira Jackmon’s, the truck’s founder, gave me the low-down.

1) Amira, you went from corporate law to food? Huh? How’d that happen? And what’s your connection to the Caribbean, anyway? What about your partner?

Yes. I guess you could say that I went from Wall Street to Main Street. That happened when the firm that employed me for eight years let go of about 100 people in March of 2009. I was one of them. Frankly, I’m not sad about it; it’s been a good thing. I’ve always had an inclination to be entrepreneurial and have dabbled in various ventures over the years. I just never had the courage to fully take the leap on my own. I actually purchased the food truck in 2007 while I was on maternity leave with my son, who’s now almost three. It was my intention to manage the truck from home and not return to the firm so that I could stay home with my son. (What can I say…I’m a Pisces. We’re known to be dreamers!) It turned out not to be such an easy thing to run a taco truck while taking care of a newborn. So my plans got delayed a bit. The firm giving me the boot, in the end, was the push that I needed to finally get the food truck up and running. My legal skills are something that I will always have and that I utilize almost every day in my food business. I also maintain a small practice on the side that I might expand in the future as time permits.

As far as my connection to the Caribbean, I am an African-American who loves and claims all African-derived cultures as my own. I consider us the same people; my ancestors just happened to get off at a different port of call. I reconnected with the Caribbean side of my family during my freshman year of college. It happened the moment I went to my first house party. The big crew on campus at the time was the “Queens Posse” a group of freshmen girls who all hailed from the area around Jamaica, Queens, New York. During the reggae set, one of them started dancing, hands on the ground, legs cocked up in the air and feet on the wall, winding and grinding her waist against some dude to no end. Outwardly, being the nice little Christian girl from Fresno that I was, I was appalled. But, secretly, I longed to “get on bad” just the same way. It took me about four years to learn how to do the butterfly (the popular dancehall reggae move from the early 90s) but I persisted and by the time I graduated, I had it down. It’s funny because that same girlfriend, who back then teased me about being so “corny,” has become a close friend of mine. Now, she’s the straight laced, Bible toting conservative, and, while you won’t really find me anywhere dancing upside down, I do consider myself a pretty good “wind-er.” So I think there’s been a nice bit of cultural exchange between the two of us.

2) We have Korean tacos, Chinese tacos and now Jamaican tacos? Why do tacos work so well? Or is it just cause all Californians love tacos? Do you think there’s any cuisine that couldn’t be taco-ified?

I think part of it is definitely a California thing. Every good Californian loves a taco. I’m still shocked when I meet people, obviously non-natives, who tell me that they don’t like tortillas. What’s not to like about a tortilla?

But I also think that, in part, we’re witnessing an evolution of the American taste bud. If you grow up eating tacos, eventually, you’re going to long for something different. I think many of us are, frankly, a little bored with Mexican food. Recently at an event that I did, the Mexican family selling pupusas two booths away from kept coming to my stand all night for more jerk tacos. By the end of the night, they were asking me for tips on how to prepare sorrel (sold in Mexican restaurants as “Jamaica”).

It’s just like with Asian food. I would venture to say that most Americans were introduced to Asian cuisine through the Chinese. But now, I can’t think of anyone I know who regularly goes to eat Chinese. It’s either Thai or Vietnamese or Indian or something more “exotic.” My prediction is that, unless traditional Mexican restaurants step up their game and start to introduce some more complex sauces and spices, like more of the moles and sauces from areas that Americans are not as familiar with, then the Mexican restaurant will be in danger of being relegated to that place you go to when you’re hungry, and it’s late, and there’s nothing else to eat.

3) Do you really have a steel drum in the truck? Where/how do you cook the chicken? Why no roti on the menu? What about ginger beer?

I don’t have a steel drum on the truck. I actually recently did an event where I prepared jerk chicken in a steel drum outside of the truck and I plan to do that from time to time. But serving traditional jerk chicken is not really what Get Jerked! is about. I think there are other good Caribbean restaurants here in the bay to serve that market. (My favorite right now is Coconuts in Palo Alto). I’ve even heard of a jerk chicken cart in San Francisco, though I haven’t tried it yet. What I’m trying to do with Get Jerked! is to capture the attention of those people who would never really venture to try Caribbean cuisine except for the fact that it’s being offered to them in a format that they can understand: a taco, a sandwich, a burger. If I happen to attract the traditionalists at the same time, then all the better.

Roti is on the menu and I have offered it and plan to offer it again from time to time.

I might offer ginger beer in the future when I find a good supplier or find the time to make my own.

4) Growing up in Fresno, what was your favorite thing to order at taqueria/taco trucks? What does your partner make of taco trucks? What’s your current favorite non-Twittering taco truck?

I never really ate from taco trucks growing up. In fact, I can only remember there being one taco truck in Fresno at the time and we never ate from it. We cooked tacos at home. We probably cooked tacos more often than we fried chicken. It was quick and easy. Plus it was something us kids, with a working mother, could handle on our own. I can remember times as a kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, downing like 12 tacos in one sitting.

My first time eating from a taco truck was actually during law school at a truck in East Palo Alto. If my memory serves me correctly, it was called Three Brothers. It’s no longer there but I believe they now have a restaurant that’s doing pretty well.

I don’t really play favorites when it comes to traditional taco trucks. To me, traditional taco trucks are all about convenience. I go to whichever one happens to be closest when I’m hungry and need something to eat that’s cheap and quick.

5) Tell me more about this shark and bake sandwich. Surely you must be able to find it here in some fish store, no? Have you ever tried to make it at home here?

I’ve seen shark in local grocery stores though I can’t say where it was from and I’ve never really researched it for use on the truck. I don’t really see a shark sandwich being in high demand here in the bay area. It’s like my former dance teacher, Carlos Aceituna (of Bay Area group Fogo na Ropa, may he rest in peace) once told me about why his relationship with his Brazilian born girlfriend didn’t work out once he moved her to the U.S.: some things don’t translate well. What may make sense to enjoy on the beach in Trinidad, where shark is plentiful, may not go over as well here in Northern California where there’s more of a concern with issues of sustainability.

Bake is relatively easy to make. But I don’t really see me offering it on the truck any time soon. That’s because what I’m trying to achieve through the truck is more life, not less life. Maybe if I had four or five good friends around me who all had nothing better to do except to sit around in a circle with me and gossip while we all rolled and kneaded bake from scratch then that might be fun. Until that day, I’d rather just go around the corner from my house to Acme Bread and order a high quality roll made locally from organic ingredients that pretty much everyone in the bay area loves and call it a day, which is what I do.

MoGo BBQ: Interview with Sam Pak, founder

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on April 7, 2010

As much as I love the Bay Area, we’ve definitely been lacking in the Korean taco department — eschewing it for things like cupcakes and Chinese tacos instead. But since I read about MoGo BBQ in SFoodie a few months back, and then later got an email from the good peoples at MoGo BBQ (Facebook, Twitter), I knew I had to find out what was up. They’re aiming to cover the entire Bay Area, from San Jose to Berkeley. Also, forgive me for the lack of posts in recent weeks. I’ve just moved to Germany!

1) Why is everyone so crazy about Korean tacos? Why are your Korean tacos the best around? What’s the one thing about Korean food that us non-Koreans don’t know about?

The reason Korean tacos have generated so much buzz, besides the fact that they’re delicious, is because they’re a uniquely Californian food. They can only exist in this kind of environment, where we have different types of ethnic communities and foods coming together. This kind of experimental fusion cuisine has normally been the domain of high-end restaurateurs. We’re kind of turning that idea on its head by making it available to the masses in a taco truck. As far as MoGo BBQ is concerned, we put a lot of love into making our food and don’t compromise when it comes to the ingredients. We even make our own kimchi. We take time to properly marinate the meat and make sure we cook it on the truck the same day. Those details are important, and they come out in the taste of our food. I think one thing that people don’t know about Korean food is that it’s one of the healthiest kinds of food you can eat. Kimchi is a huge health superfood – it strengthens immunity and fights disease. There’s really nothing it can’t do.

2) Tell me about your background in food/cooking/eating and what you did before starting the truck. What’s your favorite non-Twittering taco truck in the Bay Area?

I actually don’t have a background in the restaurant business–I just eat food and mess around in the kitchen here and there. I am a real estate investor on the side and have scaled back on that for obvious reasons. I do believe that food plays a special role in Korean cultures, and really many Asian cultures, in that food is about love and sharing. In my house, for instance, if someone cooks something, everybody shares it, even to the point of eating out of the same bowl. My mom would make something for us and say “Mogo,” meaning, “Eat this” – that’s how the name came about. It does take someone with experience and training to take that concept and those flavors to the people in terms of starting a business, and that’s where our chef, Chef Jojo, comes in. He’s been a chef at resorts in Napa for more than five years, and is really a genius with putting flavors together. He makes the food; I eat it. My favorite non-Twittering taco truck? David’s Taco Truck in Santa Clara.

3) What’s the best thing on the menu? (And don’t say “Everything.”)

The short rib burrito. I say that because it has most all the ingredients we carry on the truck: marinated meat, kimchi rice, cabbage slaw, chipotle sauce, everything. If you get the burrito, you get all of MoGo BBQ, basically. We’re also working on a new burrito that’s going to be extremely spicy, the ultimate challenge for Koreans and other spicy food eating masochists. I’m pretty sure that’ll be my favorite once we debut it. We welcome any suggestions for the name of our new ultra spicy burrito!

4) How do you determine your route? Why are you concentrating on the Peninsula/South Bay?

I grew up in the South Bay, so I wanted to bring it here first to see if all my friends would like it. At first, we targeted the local hangouts, like coffee shops and bars. Then word got out, and we started to get invited to companies like Facebook, Cisco, Moxsie, and Google. We try to hit the big festivals and events, like San Jose Bike Party, and we’re definitely going to take the MoGo BBQ truck to other areas soon. We’re going to be getting a second truck soon, and will be taking it up to San Francisco and the East Bay to expand our taco truck empire!

5) Hite or OB?

I might lose some friends over this answer–OB.

San Francisco Cart Project: Interview with Matt Cohen

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 20, 2010

Some months ago, Matt Cohen, a once-aspiring street food entrepreneur himself, started the San Francisco Cart Project. I met him for the first time at the recent La Cocina event in December. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to run our interview, and I figured today was as good as any, given that it’s just in the wake of the SF Mobile Cart Vendor happy hour last night at Rye Bar on Geary.

1) What’s SF Cart Project all about? I read: “This site is intended to be an affordable resource for new and existing businesses to find the basic information needed to start a mobile catering business in the Bay Area.” on your site. Are you a business? A nonprofit? Just a guy who likes to help out street food vendors? How is this related to Tabetrucks.com ?

It is an effort to create a centralized resource of regional and national mobile vending services for both new and existing vendors to find information on permitting, purchasing, licensing, cart/truck design, social media and business services.

Is this part of my consulting business, or just a hobby for someone that loves street food? Both. I am certainly trying to construct a helpful resource for answering many questions of potential clients who feel that they want to do their own research, or for people who are just considering entering the street food business but don’t want to hire someone to assist them. Longer term, it could turn into something else, if it could sustain itself. Right now, I am focused on just trying to compile as much helpful information as I can in positive and constructive way.

2) How do you see these newer Internet carts/trucks as being an extension of existing trucks? What’s your favorite local non-Twitter truck/cart? What should I order there?

The space restrictions of truck/cart service lends itself to producing a limited menu of products. The best trucks have always been the ones that specialize in one area, at a reasonable price. And those (mainly taco trucks) have been the ones to raise the bar and show customers that these mobile businesses aren’t roach coaches. The most successful new trucks/carts have just capitalized on that same artisanal spirit of limiting the scope of their menu in favor of quality, while telling a compelling story with the products they serve.

I’m a big fan of any elote that I come across. I just love them.

3) Not to rain on your parade or anything, but why would I give you $35 for this PDF file when I can download them, presumably for free from the city/county websites, no?

The intention of offering the documents on the website is to give people one resource where they can get both the code and the applications for the entire spectrum of the permit process in one shot. I am not shy about referring people to the primary documents and the appropriate websites where they can find this information for free (in addition to offering them for free viewing on the site).

So then why would someone pay for them? 1) Time. They get everything in one packet without having to travel down to each city department to collect these documents, many of which are only available in person. 2) Curating. Wading through hundreds of pages of code might be interesting for some people, but I figured others would appreciate getting everything at once so that they could focus on more important things; like their business plan. 3) Cost. To go to SF Health, Fire, Police Departments (for one hour each) is going to cost between 8-10$ in parking meter fees alone ( not to mention the inevitable 53$ parking ticket). 4) Supporting the site. A lot of this information hasn’t been assembled in this way before, and I hope that some people will be appreciative of the effort as the site expands. This is not meant to be a get rich quick scheme, but it would be nice to be able to cover some basic costs.

4) What’s your opinion on the statewide trend of increased regulation of street food and taco trucks?

I fundamentally feel that Street Food is here to stay. While a lot of local municipalities first reactions to an increased presence of street food vendors is to view them as a threat to existing brick and mortar businesses (their primary tax base), others are beginning to recognize that there is a way that street food can offer a really valuable service to specific markets, at specific times of day, where the capital investment of opening and maintaining a permanent restaurant isn’t justified.

That said, individual California municipal regulations in this area are a nightmare. From construction of these vehicles, to permitting standards, to commissary requirements; everything is stacked against small entrepreneurs finding an easy path to starting a business. There’s movement here, but I think that it is going to require community action and effort. The San Francisco Cart Project’s main goal is to provide primary source documents associated with the code so that entrepreneurs can be full informed regarding their options.

5) Where/what should I eat tonight? And what beer should I wash it down with?

If you haven’t had the Okonomiaki from Namu down at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Market you should try it. I lived in Japan for 3 years and it is my favorite in the Bay Area. From an non street food direction?: The Moules Frite at Chez Maman on Potrero Hill washed down with a Kronenberg is exceptional.

Taco Loco: Interview with Michael Brewer

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 7, 2010

So the other day, Michael Brewer, contacted me to tell me about his new iPhone app: Taco Loco (“Taco as in taco. Loco as in locate.”). I was thrilled, and immediately sent a message out on Twitter. At a $1 (less than the price of most tacos!), how could I refuse? I fired off my questions and lo, he responded. (He also reminded me that his brother Patrick, of Raleigh, N.C., contributed work on the app, too.)

1) How’d you come to make this app?

1) I’m a foodie. I love eating at local restaurants and trying out cuisine from different ethnicities. The taco truck culture is basically the perfect intersection of these two interests – it’s tough to get more local than food off a truck. So, when we were looking for an iPhone project to start, this seemed like a logical fit because of the iPhone’s great location awareness. We were surprised there wasn’t already an app filling this need given the popularity of taco trucks in California!

2) Where do you draw your data from? How’d you input it? Can people add new ones? What territory do you cover?

2) The initial locations that we launched with were drawn from a number of different places. Many of them were entered by our beta testers and we scoured the Internet for locations mentioned in forums, Twitter, Flickr, etc. We launched the app with a few hundred locations. I read somewhere that there is an estimated 14,000 in Los Angeles alone, so there are plenty more to find.

Since the launch we’ve seen a good response from people entering their favorite vendors. We even had Jay from gunsandtacos.com offer up his excellent list of Houston taco trucks shortly after he downloaded and started using Taco Loco.

Giving people the power to enter new spots is very important for tracking something that is transient like street food vendors. Taco Loco also gives people the ability to move a vendor from one point on the map to their current location so that as a taco truck moves through-out the day or over a week the data will be fresh.

We haven’t placed any boundaries on where people can enter new spots. We’d love to see people in Germany entering their favorite döner kebab or currywurst vendors, or people in France adding places to get crêpes (aka the French taco).

3) What’s your programming/taco truck background? What are your favorite taco trucks and iPhone apps? Where do you live?

3) We’re IT guys with a variety of application development experience who love the iPhone for its ease of use and power as a smartphone. Our taco truck background is purely as customers. We live in North Carolina and our favorite taco trucks are Rico Scopes in the RTP area and an unnamed one run by a guy named Juan near Charlotte. Harvest Moon Grille is also a great gourmet food trailer that operates in and around Charlotte — it’s run by farmers and they source all of their ingredients from their own farm or other local farms.

As far as iPhone apps go, we’re inspired by the beautiful work the Tapbots guys do. I’m replying to your mail using their new app called Pastebot. Tweetie and Twitterrific are our Twitter clients of choice. Ramp Champ (beautiful) and Flight Control (addictive) are our favorite games. I also highly recommend that your readers check out Harvest which is a great aid for selecting and storing fruits and vegetables.

4) How many people have downloaded it so far?

4) We did a soft launch and are just now starting to promote the app. We have over 300 downloads as of today. The tweet you sent after discovering us accounts for our largest sales day yet. Thanks!

5) What’s next for you?

5) We have a long roadmap planned for Taco Loco and are eager to release more features in the near future. We’re also reaching out to vendors to get their ideas on how we can best help them.

Grill ‘Em All: Interview with Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on December 15, 2009

Grill ‘Em All is one of Los Angeles’ bad-assiest food trucks. Founded by Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus, this hard rock-themed truck will launch this coming Saturday at 1640 North Spring Street in Chinatown. The two gents were kind enough to answer my queries.

1) So what’s a gourmet burger? Aren’t burgers the great working man’s food? Is there such a thing as gourmet rock n’ roll?

Matt: Gourmet is just the easiest way to say awesome. Our burgers are completely out-of-the-box when it comes to the normal burger recipe. We have burgers doused in toppings like fennel sausage gravy, cranberry gastriques, and lemon pepper crème fiache. But those are fancy words that simply mean they taste good.

Gourmet Rock and roll would probably be the working mans band which are Thin Lizzy and AC/DC, respectively.

Ryan: Doesn’t Manowar work very hard?

Matt: You’re right, they almost work too hard. Take a break already! But I guess that’s the price you pay for being the loudest band in the world. Ryan is a working man, but don’t ask his dad about that.

2) What else is on the menu? Sides? Drinks? Secret items I get if I do a pinwheel while ordering?

Ryan: As long as your not scissor kicking and karate moshing your way through the line, you will get the best damn burger made in the name of heavy metal you have ever eaten.

Matt: Yeah, none of that youth crew style moshing, we keep it real metal. Only old school mosh moves will be tolerated. We have hand rolled tator tots and fresh cut fries doused in truffle oil like a baby at baptism.

Ryan: I like my burgers like I like my metal: heavy and full of surprises.

Matt. Oh yeaaaaah.

3) Where will you be operating? Why get a truck? Was it tough/expensive to get set up?

Ryan: We will be operating wherever the people want us. Drop us a line and tell us why we should come to you! We got our truck, I’m sorry… our chariot, cuz trucks are badass and fun to drive, the same reason some hesher buys a Pontiac firebird. It’s tough, and inexpensive.

Matt: You both used the word operating which reminds me of the best metal tour ever: Operation Rock and Roll. Remember? Motorhead, Priest, Metal Church and Dangerous Toys were all booked to on the same package? How one stage contained all that rock is beyond me.

4) What are your favorite non-Twittering taco trucks in LA?

Matt: If you live in Echo Park this is a no brain answer: TACO ZONE! Park at Vons, crack a forty of cheap beer and order a taco. Then eat the taco and take a sip. Then order another one post haste, buddy.

Ryan: I must say, this is one of Matt and my favorite places to frequent. We take Pirate Pride up to the Vons parking lot, buy a sixer and indulge in the beauty that is buche and suadero tacos, going sip for bite in the Vons parking lot. Just don’t tell the cops that.

5) Will eating at Grill Em All make me feel as bad-ass as when I play Rock Band?

Matt: God, I hope it makes you feel way more bad-ass then when you play a video game. It should make you feel like you could climb the tallest mountain, slay the biggest dragon and then take the longest nap.

Ryan: What he said.

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen: Interview with Chris Rattican

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 24, 2009

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen recently opened in LA, and while I haven’t had a chance to sample its wares, I thought I’d check in with Chris Rattican, the brains behind this operation.

1) Who’s Mattie? And what’s on the menu? What’s your background with Southern food? And what defines it for you?

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen is named after Mattie Bradsher. Mattie Bradsher worked as a housekeeper for my family during my 22 years in North Carolina.

Mattie was a southern black woman who taught me a lot about acceptance. Growing up in the South in the early 80′s, racist thought was never too far away. Thanks to Mattie and my parents the idea of hate based on skin color just never made any sense to me.

I could go on all day about how much Mattie means to me and the lessons she taught me, but I’ll get to the cooking part.

As a child, I would watch her cook. She would make biscuits stuffed with salty Smithfield ham. She filled handmade pie crusts with homegrown apples and then fried them up in butter. She set the bar for every piece of fried chicken I have ever eaten. I try with every piece of chicken I fry to duplicate it. And though I’ve come close, I never will.

Mattie’s menu is constantly changing. The staples are fried chicken, Eastern Carolina pulled pork, shrimp n’ grits, buttermilk biscuits, mac & cheese, collard greens and catfish & shrimp po boys. We sometimes offer jambalaya, gumbo and red beans & rice. When we hit the streets for late night, we offer other southern snacks like hush puppies and fried pickles.

2) What’s your background in food/cooking/eating? How’d this truck thing start for you? What are your favorite non-Twittering trucks?

2) I have never had any formal culinary training. Since I was a young kid I liked to cook. The day I learned to melt cheese on a hot dog in the microwave was the day I started to really dig cooking and I just continued wanting to learn more.

For the last eight years I have cooked a Southern feast for my friends to eat while watching the UNC-Duke basketball game. The small gathering of friends took on a life of its own and now over 50 folks usually show up. Every year folks fuss at me to open a restaurant. So I figured I’d try this truck thing out to see if those folks were just being polite or if people truly dug my grub.

Non-twittering trucks. Man, I don’t even know anything going on with any other truck but mine right now. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way at all. What I mean is that we have a very small team, and if I’m not sleeping, I’m working. So I’m not familiar with any of the names of the non-twittering trucks.

3) Where’d you get the truck? What did it take to get it all set up and ready? What’s the hardest thing about driving the truck besides parallel parking?

3) The truck is surprisingly easy to drive. Sure, it takes some getting used to, but its not really that bad. You just have to pay attention because it doesn’t react quite as fast as a car.

4) What’s the best thing on the menu?

4) I don’t really know what he best thing on the menu is. The fried chicken plate is great because you get to try a couple of sides like mac n cheese and collard greens (which take two days to prepare). But you also get two sides with the barbecue plate which is eastern Carolina style pulled pork meaning it is cooked for over 10 hours and tossed in a vinegar based sauce. But if you’ve never tried shrimp n’ grits before…well, your just missing out on one of life’s finer treats. Oh, and biscuits are wonderful for breakfast, lunch, super or late night.

5) Do you serve sweet tea? :-)

5) Wonderful question. The answer is yes. Though some days we don’t have time to prepare it, we are able to have about 20 gallons (or enough for about 5 guys) of it at any one time.

Los Angeles Food Trucks Video Tour

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 17, 2009

LA Food Truck Tour from Terry Wunder on Vimeo.

A reader, Terry Wunder, just sent me this email:

“This past Saturday I went to six LA food trucks in one afternoon (Barbie’s Q, Cool Haus, Little Spoon, Kogi BBQ, Lomo Arigato, and The Flying Pig), made a video for it, and wrote an accompanying article with photos. The article/our mission was comparing the diverse field of LA food trucks against the fad originator Kogi BBQ. There are interviews with the owners of each truck and plenty of info about the food.”

LA Fuxion: Interview with Giselle Palencia

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 11, 2009

There’s more than just Kogi, Calbi and Lomo Arigato when it comes to LA Asian fusion. LA Fuxion was founded earlier this summer and serves up a “new eclectic mix of Latin Asian Fusion food.” I pinged Giselle Palencia, one of the co-owners, for some details. Also, this appears to be the first taco truck I’ve ever seen with TVs mounted on the side.

1) Get me beyond your marketing copy. What is “the perfect marriage of flavors and styles by blending Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Latin American herbs and spices” ? How’d you come up with your menu? How’d you get started? Who is behind this operation, anyway?

My partner Mindy is Asian and I am Latina we are the operating people. Funny…. we don’t yet know what is the perfect marriage. We are still researching for a better taste. We came up with the popular Asian dish already known and wrapped them with Latin wraps and added Latin sauces.

2) When did you start? How do you pick your routes? Where do you operate? How much does Twitter help you choose where you’ll be?

Started 5 months ago we operate in city streets. We get request from people to go to different location.Twitter does help but our customers are mostly repeating customers.

3) What’s the best and hardest thing about operating from a truck? Where’d you get your truck, anyway? Do you rent or buy?

The best thing is that you don’t need as much money to start as opening a restaurant. The hardest thing is that we are subject to so many irregularities. We got our truck from Westcoast Catering.

4) What other LA trucks (nouveau and/or classic) do you like? When’s the best time to go to a truck?

Of course, we enjoy our food the best! honestly here in our team, we all have different tastes and we enjoy many of other different trucks. The best time to come is when we are open. Check our website for operating hours and locations.

5) How do I pronounce your menu items, like Xuna and Xen? How do I pronounce Fuxion, anyway?

The “Xuna” is read like “Suna”, “Xen” is read like “Sen”, and Fuxion like Fusion. Give a little more hiss when you say the X. Read it like how you normal read X sounds like xylophone.