What do you get when you put a couple of thousand people, 21 new-style food trucks, a pretty good cover band, and a beer and margarita tent in a park near the ocean?
If you're me, you get a belly full, an earful and a nasty sunburn at the Long Beach Street Food Fest. (You'd think that after more than three decades on this planet that I'd have mastered the art of sunscreen by now, but you'd be wrong.)
Overall, the event was a success; it was a chance for people from OC to try some of the LA-only food trucks, it was well-run, not ridiculously crowded, and the trucks picked dishes that could be served quickly. I'm looking forward to the OC Foodie Fest, at which 50 or so food trucks will invade the Honda Center.
The Blue Steel band played good covers of everything from R.E.M. to Kings of Leon; sadly, due to their location out in the sun, few people were listening nearby, preferring instead to sit in the shade of a few of the trees.
One small criticism--$10 for parking for an $8 event is too much--and one big criticism: limiting the trucks in attendance to the new, "gourmet" variety. There are some amazing traditional loncheras that prowl the streets of LA, LBC and OC; having some of the better ones there would have erased a slight feeling of elitism that I felt as I surveyed the offerings.
Links in the following coverage are to the trucks' Twitter feeds, by far the most useful place to start.
I was really surprised by what came out of the Ahn-Joo Korean truck (@AhnJooLA). There was some fusion going on, but also some truly Korean items, and the reaction was nearly uniformly positive. The bacon-wrapped tteok (rice, um, tubes, like a cross between mochi and noodles) were a good idea, though the tteok was slightly undercooked; the cold buckwheat noodles with slivered cucumber, pickled red onions and apple were outstanding with the garlic-chile sauce served on the side. I'd eat that for lunch and be a happy camper any day. That said, anju is Korean for food you eat while drinking, so I want to know: where is the nakji bokkeum (spicy octopus), and where, for the love of Hangul, is the soju?
CoolHaus (@CoolHaus), with their stubby truck with the pink top, was dishing out great ice cream sandwiches. The brownie cookies were better than the too-hard chocolate chip cookies, but the Rocky Road ice cream was top-notch and the brown butter and bacon ice cream was even better. At $4 for two mini-sandwiches, I felt like I got my money's worth--and I managed to get through the line and eat my ice cream sandwiches in the time it took the Grilled Cheese Truck to get my food out.
Great Balls on Tires (@GreatBallsOT) ought to win some kind of award for the most innuendo in a menu of food items, or at least they would had pictures of Nguyen's (from Starry Kitchen) costume not surfaced from the LA Street Food Fest in Pasadena later Saturday; doubles entendres aside, their IncrediBalls were, well, incredi-ball. Two enormous Kobe beef sliders with Gruyère, garlic aïoli, bacon and arugula on brioche for $6.50 was a good value. The peppery arugula was a great counterpoint to the richness of the burger, and the bacon wrapped around the meatball meant that every bite got some porky goodness.
SliceTruck (@SliceTruck) earns a spot on here for being the only entity in all of Southern California to serve a real grandma slice. A grandma slice, for those of you not from New York, is a thick, focaccia-like pan pizza bread topped with Roma tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan, a little mozzarella and basil. Nino's of Brooklyn it wasn't, but the buttery crust was a real taste of home and I'd happily drop in for another slice if I were in the same general vicinity as the truck. I'd even put up with the New York-style brusque service.
A bite of the red velvet "cookie" from the Sweets Truck (@TheSweetsTruck) was a real winner; I was very full by the time I had it and didn't go to get one of my own, but it's one of the better renditions of the now-ubiquitous red velvet cake I've had. The cream cheese
frosting filling suffered a little in the sun, but freshly made it'd be outstanding.
On the next page: The "Eh" and the Bad.
Don't get me wrong. I loved the mac 'n cheese and pork rib grilled cheese sandwich I got from the Grilled Cheese Truck (@GrlldCheeseTruk), and would eat it again, but it was slightly expensive ($7.50) and the line was ridiculous. Ten minutes after the fest started, there was a 20-person line; by 1 p.m., the line stretched clear across the park and was at least two hours in length. No sandwich is worth a two-hour wait, sorry.
Del's Frozen Lemonade (@DelsLA), the old Venice standby, was fine, and flecked with recognizable pieces of lemon zest, but in the heat it melted so fast that we ended up drinking more than half of it with no recourse needed to the spoon. I'd rather keep this as a treat when I go to Venice Beach.
I liked the doughnuts (really beignets) from the Buttermilk Truck (@ButtermilkTruck), but they were very small, and two of them cost $2. They were really well done and obviously freshly cooked, but the problem again was the line; this was the second most-popular truck, and I'd be pissed off if I waited forty minutes for two bites of doughnut. If there were less of a wait, I'd be happy to follow them around, especially in breakfast-free places like Miracle Mile.
The Lomo Arigato (@LomoArigato) truck had menus in the window, on the side and on the rear of the truck, as well as posted up inside the truck. Nowhere, however, were the prices posted. They were selling Peruvian-Chinese specialties (lomo saltado and arroz chaufa), which looked tempting, but I can't comment on the food; I refuse to buy anything not marked with a price, on principle. Post the prices; it looks shady if you don't.
We ordered a gobi paratha and mango lassi from the India Jones Chow Truck (@IndiaJonesCT) and were immediately sorry we did. The lassi was fine, though pre-made and poured from a pitcher; a little squeeze of citrus juice would have woken it up a little bit and made it seem fresher.
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The gobi paratha (a wheat bread stuffed with cauliflower filling) was inedibly salty, as though they had salted the filling and then used Lawry's seasoned salt for the spicing. It came with a tub of raita; the only word I can use to describe their yoghurt dip is "stringy". It looked like cucumber had been shredded into long strands and mixed with the yoghurt. It, too, was unbelievably salty, so that when I dipped the paratha into the raita I had to take a long drag of the lassi to get my mouth to stop burning. We ate a quarter of the paratha and a teaspoon of the raita and the rest went into the trash. Honestly, if that's the best you can do, pick a different career--chartered accountancy perhaps.