The life cycle of luxe loncheras is the opposite of butterflies'. They spend their adolescent years flitting about from place to place, and if they're lucky and survive, they settle into the cocoon of a permanent home. The Lime Truck, Dos Chinos, Kogi: all have matured to be brick-and-mortars. The same has now happened with two of OC's homegrown New Age food trucks: the Burnt Truck and Dogzilla. But theirs is actually a merger of sorts, built on a solid friendship forged on the road and the fact they both serve products on King's Hawaiian rolls.
The Burnt Truck serves burgers; Dogzilla does hot dogs. So, the coupling seems more than a natural fit, snapping together as if interlocking pieces, stronger together than apart.
The joint venture is called BurntZilla. Occupying a former Golden Spoon, the place isn't big; it's a stretch to even call it a restaurant. But the owners have utilized what little space they've wrangled quite well. Since it's about the same size and shape of a UFC octagon, with no room for chairs, they punched holes through the walls, installed counters on them, and then stools on either side. When you eat there, it's an open-air affair. There's always a line. The customers are predominantly younger than 40, and most are already well-versed on the menu because they've been to the trucks.
If I had to give one suggestion as to what to order here, it's the combo: a choice of two sandwiches, a fried-potato side and a drink for a total price of $9. When you order any other way–say, just a sandwich or two–you'll soon realize you need more food. A sandwich here, after all, is the size of a single King's Hawaiian roll, those diminutive cubes of sweetish bread buns you pick up at Ralphs for making, well, sliders. BurntZilla slices them just as you would yours: at the midsection. For the hot dogs, they split them at the top. Either way, it's gone in two bites, so what fills you up here isn't going to be the sandwiches; it's the tater tots. And you always want the tots over the fries. Yes, they're just standard tater tots, but the kitchen fries them to crispness and serves them in big enough portions to call it a meal.
You might also be tempted to upgrade your tots with toppings such as fried chicken, garlic or carne asada. The carne asada is the best option, as it actually adds a lubricating counterpoint to the crunchy potato plugs with its pickled onions, a plop of good guacamole and sour cream. It tastes like its own dish, but it's also a better deal than the garlic one, even if the carne asada is applied in nearly undetectable amounts. The fried chicken-topped tots, on the other hand, are anticlimatic and disjointed despite a dousing of country gravy and a sprinkling of bacon.
Save the fried chicken for the fried chicken slider, arguably one of BurntZilla's best and most popular items. It's a breaded fried chicken filet slathered with mashed potatoes and gravy and squished between two sides of a split sweet roll. You eat it knowing it's going to be messy: Any way you handle it, the mashed potatoes will ooze out the side opposite your bite. I still prefer it to the other sliders. The fried cheese slider is so sweet it rots the teeth; the Sloppy Joe is indeed sloppy but forgettable. And the burger tends to be dry and makes me sad for our lack of White Castles. Even though I like that the peanut butter slider has crispy pulverized pretzels mixed in, it's also the one slider for which I can't justify paying the $3 sticker price.
On the contrary, I've not found a dog here I didn't like. The Dogzilla dog–with avocado, grilled onions, teriyaki, Japanese mayo, furikake and bacon–manages to successfully incorporate and balance all the flavors of an okonomiyaki into a bun. The Bratzilla has a nice biting mustard aioli; the Pizzilla is almost an Italian sausage sandwich. The sugary chili works better on the Spicy Chili dog, with its pickled jalapeños, than by itself in the mini pot pies.
I do wish the kitchen here served the full-on hot dogs that Dogzilla still puts out at its trucks. The BurntZilla mini-dogs are good, but they're teases. Before I can appreciate the snap of the skin and attain the satisfaction that comes after eating a full-sized sausage sandwich, it's over. And if the fulfillment of my wish throws off the balance of power too much to the Dogzilla side, I know for a fact King's Hawaiian makes full-sized hamburger buns.
BurntZilla, 14413 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 392-5995; www.burntzilla.com. Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Combos, $9; sandwiches, $3 each. No alcohol.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.