I have never bought in to the whole food truck craze completely. When I first met the Cute Gardener he cringed at the words food truck and told me flat out that he refused to eat off of them. “If I want to go out to eat, I want to sit down at a table with a fork, knife and spoon,” were his exact words.
Of course I’ve bent my own rule on a few occasions only to be spoon-fed a reminder about my original convictions back into my mouth like bitter medicine because the food was so bad. I tried pork stuffed Korean buns once at a downtown L.A. food fair that were dry and lifeless. I fell into the mozzarella cheese stick stuffed melted sandwich seduction two years in a row at Coachella only to continually come up against cardboard slices of bread and lukewarm globs of cheese. I’ve bought overpriced adult snow cones in Chinatown when dying of thirst only to be let down by lackluster flavors. I tried the famous grilled cheese truck at an opening at Bergamot Station that would’ve tasted better if a child had made it at home. Recently, the CG and I even gave our hope and faith to a Bostonian lobster roll van that promised flaky fish and chips and other seafood delights. Thirty bucks and twenty minutes after ordering we were left feeling disappointed by the small, burnt sandwich and nonchalantly fried fish that we were handed. What I’ve ascertained from all of this is that food truck congregations are our post-millennium version of mall food courts.
But what were we expecting in the first place? What we have learned from all of this is that food trucks don’t mean good food. There’s some mystical spell that falls over people though when they hear they can buy some grub on the street off a moving vehicle; they somehow lose sight of their palates and think they can’t live without this novelty. Even if the food is lesser quality then something they would order at a restaurant, they still ooh and ahh over the fact that they can get it, spur of the moment, while strolling the promenade in front of their house on some random afternoon. I don’t get it. Cramped and swaying kitchen quarters, limited electricity, few modes of equipment, and sporadically monitored refrigeration and climate control does not spell ‘YUM” to me.
There are two exceptions. The ice cream truck and the taco truck have been around since the beginning of motor vehicles and largely what the whole trendy food truck craze was originally inspired by. I have thoroughly enjoyed each in my life from the orange push-ups, AstroPops and big sticks of my youth to the exotic Coolhaus gourmet ice cream sandwiches hawked around the museums of L.A. on sunny days that pair things like whiskey or strawberry shortcake ice cream with monstrous over-sized dark chocolate and spiced molasses cookies.
But my favorite is the taco truck, first encountered in the back alleys of industrial Southern California when the lunch bell rang and out from the doors of printing shops and mechanic garages fell grease fingered blue collared workers looking for cheap eats to fill them up for a long afternoon ahead. There’s nothing that difficult about heating various forms of meat and tortillas and throwing on some quick condiments and veggies. It had been done for generations in Mexico on the sides of the road out of a simple lean-to counter rolled around to various locations so by the time they started appearing in trucks, it was down to an art.
We had heard about Don Cucos taco truck in the San Fernando Valley and had been dying to go but were waiting for a night when we would need good food late. After a long Sunday, we finally got our chance and headed out in the car along the boulevard we knew it camped out at nightly until 1 a.m. It was nine thirty at night and we were looking for a green neon rectangular sign that meant we had found the right truck. The most hilarious thing was that we found two trucks before the right one which also had green neon signs that were trying to steal business from the popular Don Cucos. When we finally found it, there were at least thirty people there, including families with children on plastic chairs around pop up tables enjoying their meal. All the tacos are $1 and come on freshly made tortillas that you can watch through the window being molded and cooked from a large pile of yellow masa. Four ladies in baseball caps work the assembly line whipping out simple meat tacos including beef, tongue, pork, chorizo and chicken. All the normal accoutrements from hot radishes to cilantro to various types of salsa are available. Everything was simple, tasted great, and was dirt-cheap. That’s the kind of thing you expect from a good food truck … not mediocre versions of restaurant food, an on board DJ and fancy vinyl logo graphics – just plain and simple fare that’s been around for ages.