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

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at May 18, 2010, 7:32 am Pacific Time

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:

Primo’s Parrilla: Interview with Javier Sandes, El Asador

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at April 22, 2010, 8:25 am Pacific Time

Wait, Argentine food in the Bay Area? On a truck? I was curious. I hit up Javier Sandes, aka “El Asador” for the deets on Primo’s Parrilla.

1) What is Primo’s Parrilla? How did you come to start it? What’s your background in food/cooking/eating?

Primos Parrilla is a mobile food truck specializing in slow grilled Argentine style asado. We started Primos after many years of backyard asados with close friends. I missed a part of my culture which took place every Sunday in the backyard with friends and family — an all day asado. We would start late morning with picadas of cheeses, salami’s and olives washed down by Fernet & Coke, Cinzano & soda water — all this while the fire was starting and the meat getting placed on the grill. While the meat was grilling we caught up on the week’s events and kicked around the soccer ball. Early afternoon the asado was ready and we pushed together several tables, sometimes borrowing from the neighbors, and began our feast. This would include- blood sausage, kidney, tripes, sweet breads, short ribs and chicken. We’d wash it down with red wine and beer (Quilmes!) and finish it off with fruit salad or icecream.

A few of my “close primos” and I thought it would be great to bring Argentine asado to the streets of the East Bay. The term “Primos” came after my close Primo “Hammad” called me “primo”- meaning his “best one”. We all began affectionately calling one another primos and primas.

My father taught me to grill when I was young. He taught me the traditional way to slow grill by using natural mesquite and wood — quebracho (wood), I also had to learn the art of patience, you can’t rush asado if you want the meat cooked to perfection. I got better and better at grilling with friends and family back home and started exploring family recipes and began preparing those for everyone. A few of those recipes you will find on the menu at Primos. This and my love of eating, cooking and trying new foods is where I get my experience.

2) I think a lot of Bay Area are going to be familiar with Mexican carne asada. How is Argentinian asada different? Why are you serving up mostly in Emeryville?

Argentine asado is different in that we cut and grill the meat differently. For example- we use the entire rack of ribs when grilling which takes a couple hours. We also grill chickens whole rather then cutting and grilling. We also grill our tripe, rather than making soup with it, we don’t slice our meat thin and flash cook on each side — we like our meat cut thicker. We only season the meat and poultry with salt and pepper as opposed to marinating.

We are serving up mostly in Emeryville to start as that is the first place we are permitted to operate. We hope to move into Oakland in the very near future.

3) What’s the advantage of cooking in a truck versus on a stationary grill? Isn’t it dangerous to have it on a truck? Plus, doesn’t it have to cook for a long time anyway? Do you really do all the grilling in the truck?

I’m not cooking the meat in the truck. I actually have a grill and fire pit outside of the truck (see picture). I fire up the grill about 9:30 am and have the meat ready to serve by 11:30 am.

4) What else in on the menu? What’s your favorite item?

Sweet potato mash (my gramma’s recipe) and a green salad are served on the side. We also make homemade empanadas and serve alfajoes from a local Argentine baker.

5) Schneider or Quilmes?

QUILMES!

Kogi BBQ Chef Roy Choi named one of Food & Wine’s ‘Best New Chefs’

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at April 15, 2010, 7:14 am Pacific Time

Wow! Major big ups to Chef Roy Choi!

Not surprisingly, he was one ten chefs to be so honored this year — and, naturally, the only one rockin’ a grill in a truck.

In his interview with the magazine, Choi told them that he’s had an unorthodox arc in finding his culinary chops:

“When I was 25, before I started cooking, I hit rock bottom. I was almost disowned by my family,” he said. “Then one day, I was lying on the couch watching Essence of Emeril, and I had an out-of-body experience. I felt like Emeril stepped out of the TV and shook me by the shoulders and said, ‘Get off that couch. Taste this, smell this, do something.’ So I went to the bookstore, started doing research and read about chefs like Eric Ripert [at New York City's Le Bernardin].”

But the best part of the interview details Kogi & Co.’s new (previously-secret) brick-and-mortar restaurant in West LA, Chego! :

“Chego loosely means ‘thumbs up’ in Korean,” he said. “It’s like when your mouth is full and your grandmother asks how her food is, you just give her a thumbs up.”

Apparently lots of people are already loving the restaurant that’s been open now for six weeks, with the Chubby Pork Belly Bowl being the big draw. One Yelper described it thusly: “The One Chubby Pork Belly was just as beautiful. The water spinach and peanuts were a surprising touch that added a needed texture to the bowl. The coriander gave a fresh herbaciousness to the dish. The sunny side fried egg added a lovely richness to the fatty chunks of pork belly. WOW. ”

Man, I can’t wait to try it.

MoGo BBQ: Interview with Sam Pak, founder

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at April 7, 2010, 7:45 am Pacific Time

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.

Santa Monica’s Food Trucks: A Four-Day Odyssey

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at March 5, 2010, 7:05 am Pacific Time

This week I’ve been visiting family in my hometown, Santa Monica. While I knew that LA’s new food trucks have exploded in the last several months, honestly I haven’t had any except Kogi BBQ and Don Chow Tacos once a few months back.

On this trip, I finally got the chance to try many of them.

MONDAY:

My brother Alex and I arrived on Sunday and on Monday morning I knew that I wanted to hit one of these new trucks. I’d recently stumbled upon the new Cluster Truck map, an awesome new map of LA’s food truck scene.

I spotted Bool BBQ on the map on 26th St. and Pennsylvania St.

This is just about six blocks from the house I grew up in! Alex and I hopped in the car and when we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find two other trucks joining the party as well: Yum Yum Bowls and Uncle Lau’s Island BBQ.

I ordered some delicious bibimbap from Bool (thanks for the free sample!), and a Korean taco from Uncle Lau’s.

TUESDAY:

The next day, I returned to this same spot for some delectable breakfast with my good friend Dallas Bluth at the Buttermilk Truck. (Astute readers will remember that I interviewed owner Gigi Pascual back in September.)

After breakfast, we noticed that the new Louks To Go truck was setting up.

WEDNESDAY:

My good buddy David P. Jacob met me for lunch at the famous Kogi BBQ truck, where he was kind enough to drop nearly a pair of Jacksons for a Korean feast, including four short rib tacos, four sliders, and a blackjack quesadillas (so amazing!), and a pair of awesome Korean sodas.

THURSDAY:

Rachel Rosmarin and I hit up the Culver City location of Let’s Be Frank, where I dropped a little over a Hamilton on both a brat and a hot, with some of that killer devil sauce.

FRIDAY:

Who’s going to be out on the Westside tonight? :-)

Mobile vs Fixed-Location Eateries in San Francisco

Posted by Alan Wiig at March 2, 2010, 9:20 am Pacific Time

The New York Times published an article last week titled “Coming to Terms with a Street Food Boom” that looked at the significant increase in mobile eateries in the Bay Area, and the attendant backlash from fixed-location eateries, also known as restaurants and cafes. The fixed-location eateries complain that by not having to pay rent, the street food vendors are able to charge lower prices for complementary items. San Francisco’s health department is concerned that mobile vendors may be operating without proper health permits, and since they are not tied to a sedentary location, it is harder to regulate these vendors.

What is interesting is how street food eateries are perceived by restaurants and cafes with fixed locations as threats. Tangentially, this could be seen as an instance of the city-dweller facing off against the nomad, angry over their mobility. In a down economy, the mobility allows the vendor both to go to their customer, and to move throughout the day and week. The restaurant or cafe does not have this luxury.  Of course, a city without sit-down places to grab food, coffee, or a beer would be a city without places to socialize.  But to add a twist to this free-flowing thought, what if street-drinking was allowed, so you could have an Anchor Steam while sitting on the curb, eating your street taco? Then the street itself becomes the social space completely.

There’s more to street food than food trucks on Twitter

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at February 24, 2010, 9:24 am Pacific Time

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of posting since the wildly successful Tour de Taco (muchas gracias, amigos!), but I have to call the San Francisco Bay Guardian out on this statement: “In fact, outside of Fruitvale taco trucks and the odd ambitious cupcakers at Art Murmur, I haven’t seen a street food vendor anywhere in the East Bay.”

Robyn, I’m glad that you’re writing about one of my favorite topics, but clearly you haven’t looked much beyond Twitter. Get on a bike, on a bus, on BART, in a car — you’ll find tons of street food in Oakland and the rest of the East Bay.

For starters, try this map of taco trucks. Richmond, Berkeley, other parts of Oakland, Castro Valley, Fremont have loads of trucks. These guys pre-date Twitter by a longshot.

If you want something a little more nouveau, try LibaSF, Seoul on Wheels or Cupkates.

You’re welcome. :-)

Tulare County passes stricter laws for vendors in unincorporated areas

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at January 29, 2010, 10:27 am Pacific Time

Earlier this month, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors passed a new ordinance requiring mobile food vendors (that means taco trucks, folks) who operate in unincorporated parts of the county to get a business license for the first time. In order to obtain said license, vendors will will have to pass a criminal background check, pay $352 annually for the license and associated fees, and $100 per truck.

The vendors will also have to obey the following regulations, as reported by the The Foothills Sun-Gazette:

-In residential areas, vendors cannot operate from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and cannot stop for more than 10 minutes at a time.

-In nonresidential areas, vendors can operate at any hour, but can only park in one location for more than one hour if they can provide restroom facilities for their employees.

-Vendors can park in the public right of way along a highway if certain safety requirements are met.

-Vendors can park off the highway if they have written permission from the property owner.

-Trash must be removed when a vendor leaves a location.

-Business equipment must be removed when a vendor leaves a location unless they have written permission from the property owner to leave it there.

The new ordinance will take effect March 1, 2010.

The paper also reported that Barbara Booth Grunwald of the county’s counsel office, said: “Most of the vendors have said ‘We can live with this.’”

However, the Visalia Times-Delta reports today on Tacos Don Toño (pictured), a truck that’s been operating for 20 years just north of Visalia along Highway 63 just south of Avenue 326. Owner Carlos Huerta says he will be affected by the new laws, and that his customers — “mostly farmworkers” — can easily locate him.

The spot is next to a fruit packing plant, but Huerta said the plant doesn’t own the spot where he parks. That means he remains unsure “whether the spot is private land or part of the county’s road system.”

[Photo: Steve R. Fujimoto, Visalia Times Delta]

Tour de Taco: February 20, 2010 (Fruitvale BART)

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at January 28, 2010, 9:53 am Pacific Time

So after my last Taco Truck Tour, the good peoples at Oaklandish and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition connected with me and wanted to put together a sort of “best-of” taco truck ride for those who didn’t make it the other times, along with some new ones. And they even made this sweet art for it, too!

I apologize in advance for not organizing one in December (holidays), nor January (work). But I hope I can make up for it, as in a way, this one will sort of be the grand finale of my taco truck tours. In late March 2010, my wife and I will be moving to Bonn, Germany — where there is sadly, a great dearth of taco trucks. I’ll do my best to update the blog remotely as best as I can.

So why would I forsake my beloved tierra de tacos? I’ve just taken a job at Deutsche Welle English (German public radio), where I’ll be the new host of Spectrum, a weekly science and technology show. (Maybe I’ll organize a döner kebab bike ride or something over there.) If any folks are interested in organizing future rides here in Oakland, let me know, and I’ll put you guys in touch.

Thanks again to all who’ve come out for the previous two rides and have made them as fun and delicious as possible!

Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meet: 11:00 am at Fruitvale BART (Oakland)

1. El Ojo De Agua – 12th St. & Fruitvale Ave.
2. Tamales Mi Lupita – 34th Ave. & Foothill Blvd.
3. El Gordo – International & 42nd Ave.
4. Tacos Guadalajara – 10th St. & Fruitvale Ave.

This should all be wrapped up around 4 pm, but as with the previous rides, feel free to arrive/depart as you please.

5. (Bonus) Cinco de Mayo Ice Cream – 3340 E 12th St & 33rd Ave.
6. (Bonus) The Trappist – 460 8th St (& Broadway)

Bring: Bike, helmet, camera, $10-15 for tacos, maybe $5-$10 for ice cream/beer.

RSVP: Facebook event page

If even half of the 115 people that have RSVPed as of now show up, this will be the largest taco truck ride to date and we’ll definitely need to go in shifts so we don’t totally overwhelm the taqueros. But we’ll figure that out later.

Questions? Leave ‘em in the comments, or email me: cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks.com

San Francisco Cart Project: Interview with Matt Cohen

Posted by Cyrus Farivar at January 20, 2010, 8:14 am Pacific Time

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.