Los Angeles is in the midst of a food truck craze. Although there have been numerous breakfast and taco trucks in all parts of LA for decades, it’s only recently that ‘gourmet food trucks’ have become almost a cult phenomenon. First there was Cafe Nagomi, an organic Japanese food truck frequently found in the Sony studios area in Culver City that sells delicious bento boxes and green tea lattes. Let’s Be Frank, a lovely hot dog truck that you can find in the parking lot of Helm’s Bakery in Culver City, is one of my favorites. I first discovered them at a Santa Monica Pier twilight concert event in the summer of 2008. Their uncured beef franks topped with generous heaps of Indian spiced pepper sauce hits the spot. Then there was Kogi BBQ, probably one of the most popular trucks today that people follow religiously on Twitter.
Since then there’s been an explosion of others, such as Baby’s Badass Burger serving gourmet burgers, Get Shaved serving Hawaiian style shaved ice, Fishlips Sushi serving sushi rolls, Lomo Arigato serving Japanese style Peruvian food, and most recently Nom Nom Truck known for Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches just to name a few.
Why the craze and why all this mania? First of all, in these tough economic times, who doesn’t like cheap, quick and delicious eats? Secondly, easily bored Angelenos are always looking for something innovative to tweak their interest and please their appetite. Now these mobile trucks are easily accessible in major LA neighborhoods well into the late hours of the evening to provide good old comfort food. And now that the majority of the population not only have iPhones, but play with it incessantly and obsessively every other minute to update their Facebook status or follow others on Twitter, one will always know where to track these trucks down. And who can deny the thrill of the chase? It’s so much more exciting to hunt down a roving venue that is hard to catch. The pursuit is just as appealing as the triumph of finding it and enduring the long lines to actually eat the food.
So does the food live up to its hype? Is it really worth Twittering Kogi BBQ and waiting in line for 2 hours for $5 tacos? I wasn’t about to waste my precious time, so I tried some Kogi BBQ food at The Alibi Room in Culver City. We started off with the vegan sesame leaf/perilla tacos with kimchi slaw and a side of taro and lotus root chips. The tacos had a nice crisp texture to the slaw and a refreshing citrus flavor. A nice, simple starter.
The chips were greasy and tasteless. None of the lotus root chips were crispy, in fact they were all a soggy sad-looking mess.
The tofu and citrus salad looked like everything else we just had plus tofu, all thrown into a plate. Same flavors, same ingredients, just a different container.
The thing to get for sure is the Kogi 3 taco combo where you can sample the kalbi short rib, bbq chicken and spicy pork. They all came with the same cabbage, cilantro, lime and onion slaw as the previous dishes. At least the meats were different. The tacos were good, but not great. They were good enough for me to enjoy them with my beer as I sat at the lively bar on a Saturday night hanging out with friends. But they weren’t good enough for me to have to drive around LA hunting down the trucks, only to sacrifice another couple of hours waiting in line and eating it on the sidewalk. It doesn’t seem worth it. I go to Let’s Be Frank and Cafe Nagomi because there is never a line, it’s always at the same place and I know I can get my food within minutes. But the other food trucks just don’t excite me right now. Too much work for too little return.
Don’t get me wrong, I am the first one to drive for miles in pursuit of outstanding eats. I will frequently drive out to San Gabriel Valley by myself just to have some shrimp dumplings or pickled pigs ears, and if that urge hits me during rush hour, then so be it. I am also always willing to patiently wait in line for good food. Recently at the 1 day-only public wholesale event at Gourmet Imports in SGV, I waited in line for 2.5 hours to buy whole Rougie foie gras lobes, white truffle honey, argan oil and Piment D’Espelette. But for now, if I get that craving for burgers or fancy tacos, I’ll round up my friends and head to a sit-down dive where we can sit comfortably and talk over a bottle of wine.
On a recent quick stop to Let’s Be Frank to satiate my hot dog craving, I met Steve Plotnicki from Opinionated About Dining. He’s an experienced and refined foodblogger/gourmand from New York who has eaten the world!
Random trivia: Did you know that purple sesame leaves, or red perilla, is toxic to some cattle and horses? When they consume these leaves while grazing in the fields, they can get a lung condition called perilla mint toxicosis.