Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

'The Great Food Truck Race' to debut Sunday, August 15

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on August 14, 2010

So yes, I’m a little behind on this one. And thank you to friends and family alike that have asked me: “Hey, have you heard? There’s going to be a food truck show on Food Network!”

Well, at least I posted in time for the premiere, which airs tomorrow night. Scope the trailer below.

Ok, I’ll bite. (Har.)

I haven’t seen the show yet, and will post my review of the first episode next week. But my gut reaction sort of breaks down into three ways.

1) “Yeah, food trucks!” I think it’s absolutely fantastic that these trucks, a few of which I interviewed on this here blog way back when, are now going to be on national television. (Grill ‘Em All, Nom Nom) Kudos, guys!

2) Everyone seems to think that this is new. And maybe it’s just the latest example of a good idea from one part of society getting appropriated and commercialized by another. I worry that in this hype over tweet-fueled trendiness, somehow the classic taco trucks that aren’t on Twitter and don’t come to flashy downtown art strolls, get pushed aside, when in fact many of those guys were there first, and def could use the exposure.

In an article previewing the show, The New York Times proclaimed: “We’re living in a food-truck moment. Thanks to a booming gastro-culture and an economy gone bust, America’s streets are filled as never before with high-quality meals on wheels.”

I’d speculate that there are already tons of high-quality meals on wheels. Heck, check out the Yum Tacos map. I’m sure the Grey Lady didn’t know that there’s taco trucks in Arkansas, Illinois and Idaho. (I sure didn’t.)

3) Do food trucks really need to be a reality show? Do I really need people put in situations where they’re yelling at each other, à la The Real World? I really loathe these type of shows with these sit-downs at the camera and people talking smack about one another.

That said, as I found myself drawn to this part of TV Squad‘s interview with Tyler Florence, the new host of the show:

So it really is a race for them? Who can get set up and selling in new places the fastest.

Absolutely. There’s an elimination challenge in every city. They got 72 hours to make the most money. We start each truck with a full tank of gas and a completely cleaned out pantry, and everyone gets the same amount of money, so everyone starts on a completely even playing field. They’ve got 72 hours to shop, prep, cook and compete for the dollars and the hearts and minds of the whole community.

In their hometown, they’re rockstars — they can literally just Twitter, “Hey I’m on the corner of whatever,” and 25 minutes later, there’s a line around the block. But in the new cities, they don’t know anybody, so they’re trying to figure out who’ll Twitter, who’s calling the paper, who’s calling the television station, who’s gonna let them know we’re out here. These guys really thought out of the box. It was amazing to watch them all step up to the plate and be strong, independent mobile companies.

No matter what, I’ll be watching.

Nina’s Food (Boyle Heights) takes the LA Vendy Award 2010

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on May 18, 2010

As the Los Angeles Times put it: “Old school edges out new at food vendor contest” — that would be the very first LA Vendy Awards, which took place this past Sunday at MacArthur Park.

I’m really glad to see old school trucks and street vendors getting some play over the newer flashier variety. I love the Twittering gourmet trucks, but dudes, there’s been a whole phalanx of trucks running around the City of Angels long before Twitter.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of sampling Nina’s quesadillas, but I’ll make sure to make a special trip next time I’m in SoCal. Congrats, Nina!

Scope the vid here:

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.

Kogi Scion prototype could be the future of taco trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on December 4, 2009

Man, I wish I was in Los Angeles this week to see what may be how Kogi and MV Designz are rockin’ the show floor.

The Kogi xD Mobile Kitchen by MV Designz is pretty freakin’ sweet. It’s got a fridge and cutting board built into the left rear door, and ice chest and sink built into the right rear door, a BBQ grill and griddle that pop out of the back, a drawer for cooking utensils built into the left tail lift, and a condiments drawer built into the right tail light.

No word yet on exactly what building something like this costs, but my guess is that it ain’t cheap.

Scope the video (start at the 1:00 mark), previewing the ride at SEMA 2009 earlier this year.

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.

Boyle Heights street vendors get hit with police crackdown

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 20, 2009

Despite the fact that East LA finally got a light rail line this week, the Los Angeles Times is also reporting on the crackdown on Boyle Height‘s illegal street vendors.

The impromptu — and illegal — nighttime food market drew the attention of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar more than a year ago after neighbors complained about noise, trash, and crowded sidewalks slick with cooking oil. As the economy soured, nearby businesses selling similar foods also asked the police for help addressing unlicensed vending. Working with Huizar’s staff, L.A. County health inspectors and the Los Angeles Police Department began enforcing state food safety laws and the city’s ban on street vending, targeting vendors cooking over open flames.

But the crackdown intensified in recent weeks after the city’s grand opening of the revamped Hollenbeck police station and as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepared to welcome Angelenos from across the city to the Eastside with the Gold Line extension. Frequent visits by police have now scattered the Breed Street vendors, some of whom have been selling there for more than a decade, to quieter, less-profitable corners of Boyle Heights. Several now are putting out word of their new locations on Twitter to a committed following of foodies.

Other fun facts about this case:

Around the same time [in 2006], Councilman Tony Cardenas grew frustrated with the city’s reliance on overworked L.A. County health inspectors to confiscate food and equipment. After his office fielded calls from parents who said their children had been sickened after eating from illegal carts near schools, he asked city lawyers to explore creating a division of city inspectors who could confiscate illegal food and carts without county inspectors present. Cardenas said he was told it was not feasible. Last fiscal year, the city’s street investigators charged 178 people with street vending violations.

“With 10 million people in the county, and 4 million people in the city, it’s hard for us to be able to attack the problem,” said Cardenas, who created a city-county task force within his district that targeted illegal carts. “All we’re able to do is hit hot spots on a temporary basis,” Cardenas said.

Terrance Powell, the county health department’s director of specialized surveillance and enforcement, said 17 of his inspectors oversee the 15,710 licensed mobile food facilities across the county that range from catering trucks to push carts selling ice cream.

Another team of 10 is devoted to confiscating food and cooking equipment from illegal street vendors, which number at least 15,000 across L.A. County. Last fiscal year, that team conducted 2,300 inspections and confiscated more than 39,000 pounds of food.

Huizar’s office asked county inspectors if they could check on Breed Street as often as once a month, but a one-shift sweep costs as much as $4,000.

Vendors and local officials are trying to work out a deal where the vendors could operate “hot food farmers market on weekend nights near their old location,” to open by early next year.

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.”

Los Angeles Downtown Art Walk kicks out food trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 16, 2009

Every second Thursday of the month, there’s a Downtown Art Walk in Los Angeles. Obviously, people need foodstuffs to keep their bellies fueled while they appreciate art, and no doubt the local food trucks are happy to oblige.

However, last week, according to LAist and reports from Twitter, no less than four trucks were forced to move off of Main St. (between 4th and 6th St.), including Don Chow Tacos, Fishlips Sushi (pictured), India Jones Chow Truck and Nom Nom.

They then moved over a block to Spring St., where they joined forces with the Grilled Cheese Truck, Marked5 and Coolhaus, creating one giant Optimus Prime Food Truck. Ok, so I made that last part up, but you get the idea.

LAist adds: It is unclear who forced the trucks to leave, but according to Raw Materials, an art materials store, there were “No Parking” signs lining Main St. between 4th and 6th.

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.

Road Stoves supplies many of LA’s newest trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on October 19, 2009

So you know how there’s all these new trendy Twittering trucks hitting the streets of Los Angeles these days? Well, just as there’s a new generation of trucks, there’s a new generation of truck vendors too. Many of these fancy-pants trucks — Nom Nom, Kogi, Marked5 and others — are supplied by Road Stoves, a downtown Los Angeles truck company.

These guys do the whole deal: permits, insurance, maintenance, marketing and all the rest.

As Los Angeles Downtown News reports:

Road Stoves has received hundreds of food truck proposals, Appel said, the majority of which it rejects. Some were duplicate ideas of what is already on the streets, or trucks they feel won’t deliver the type of quality cuisine that will ensure the trend outlasts the hype.

“We had people that wanted to do noodles, but you can’t boil the noodles on the truck unless it’s the Top Ramen kind where you throw hot water on them, and for that you really don’t need a gourmet truck,” [co-owner Morris Appel] said.

[Co-owner Josh Hiller] added, “When someone comes to us and says, ‘I want to do exactly what so and so is doing,’ we don’t feel that’s the best way to enter the marketplace.”

The article also includes the first reaction from some of the more classic trucks that I’ve seen so far — I want to believe that the market is big enough for everyone.

Juan Torres, president of the Asociación de Loncheros L.A. Familia Unida de California (Caterers Association L.A. United Family of California), which represents food truck drivers in the city, said many of the newcomers bring positive attention to the industry.

“They look good, they’re well managed and clean, and that makes all of the industry look better,” he said.

Appel said within the next five years Road Stoves plans on going national. In the meantime, they have a few new trucks in development, with operators prepping a grilled cheese truck, a gourmet hot dog truck and a dessert truck.

“The food is the most important thing,” Appel said. “As long as it’s good food this can go on forever.”