Everyone’s dishing about how the concept of food trucks has been overhauled. They’re not just parked at job sites to feed hungry laborers anymore, but are taking the high road and giving restaurants a run for their money.
I got a taste of the trend at the posh 50th birthday party of a friend in San Francisco where a taco mobile was stationed at the entrance to the upscale house, titillating guests who lined up to order bean burritos and cheese quesadillas while nursing lemon drop martinis.
“Is the meat organic?” I asked my hostess, surveying the two men cooking frenetically behind the sliding window. “Of course it is,” she said. “We keep kosher!”
Guess it’s getting way kosher to peddle all kinds of culinary delights from a truck as the recession drags on. A surge in the mobile restaurant biz is being sighted across the country, fueled by inflated commercial leases and hungry epicureans watching their diets and budgets.
From Korean BBQ to gourmet cupcakes and Vietnamese-style sandwiches, the cafes on wheels are gearing up for success in an age of time crunches, lay-offs and convenience. Sure, most are cookin’ with gas and motoring with it, but a growing number are eco wise in terms of fuel alternatives, kitchen appliances and healthy ingredients.
Green Truck on the Go caters to an organic food crowd, working from a solar-powered commissary and delivering in two trucks powered by vegetable oil and bio-diesel.
“At Green Truck, serving healthy, gourmet organic food in a fast and efficient way is not enough,” says the company. “We believe that a healthy environment is tantamount to living a healthy life.” This business furthers its commitment by using locally-grown ingredients whenever possible and opting for biodegradable containers and utensils.
Even the classic hot dog from a stand is getting in the act. Let’s Be Frank offers weenies made from grass-fed organic beef from its trailers in hip L.A. hoods, including one right outside Silver Lake Wine where diners gather to taste the grape and down a dog; and the Franken Stand sells to L.A. vegans who gobble up its 100% plant-based vegan franks. No mystery meat Dodger dogs for these discerning customers.
L.A. blazed the trail in the roadside food trend, as described in a round-up in the L.A. Times. Yet, the convoys are making their way to a city near you. USA Today highlighted the greatest places to flag down a feast in a recent food watch spread.
O the map: The upscale Chef Shark trailer found Saturday mornings at Minneapolis’ Mill City Farmers Market; Flip Happy Crepes in Austin, Texas (below), which serves hand-made savory crepes and fresh French-pressed coffee from its parking space on Josephine Street; and Moxie RX in Portland, Oregon, known for great brunch fare on wheels such as buckwheat waffles, grapefruit juice with basil and soda and healthy smoothies blended with bananas, dates and almond butter.
The good news is this is no sideshow where anything goes, like carny refreshment booths. Food trucks must meet health inspection restaurant standards.
One blogger fan of the trailer grub, who works in the Public Health environmental health division, commented that it’s even easier for the informed public to judge a mobile cafe than to know what truly goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant. “You can see for yourself if somebody is handling your ready-to-eat food with bare hands or committing other cruddy violations,” he says.
I wondered about that at my friend’s birthday party when I was handed the plate of steaming tacos. The operation looked pretty clean to me. Was it really organic? Guess I’ll have to take their word for it. At least it beat the ubiquitous party buffet in terms of the temptation towards gluttony. Nobody wanted to wait in the long truck line again for seconds.
Images: Jason Lam, L.A. Times, Let’s Be Frank, Flip Happy Crepes