Food Trucks 2012: The Top 13
These mainstays earn high marks for innovation, ambition, and major deliciousness.
Proof the four-wheeled way needn’t squash creativity: Tyler Rebman and Matt Pontious. Their day-to-day deal is fresh flatbread sandwiches topped with Caribbean and East Indian meats and slaws. But here’s the clincher: In warmer months they tow a massive barbecue, on which wings and oysters from Seattle Fish Company are done up every which way—Thai coconut red curry, bacon balsamic glaze, garlic butter and fresh dill. Genius.
Open since March, this wagon gives crepes the Northwest craft treatment. The lineup delivers ingredient-focused bona fides—housemade honey or onion marmalade, caramelized pears, peppered bacon—and will showcase a changing monthly roster of specialties from local purveyors, such as Rogue Creamery cheese or Theo chocolate. Service can be poky, perhaps because co-owner Jonathan Amato’s exactitude borders on obsession. The grub, on the other hand, sells out fast.
After eating his way through Russia and Turkey, Rick Baker was inspired to open this Georgetown bright light in 2006. In November he passed the torch to James Barrington, who introduced a more robust slate of specials, and a second truck (this one travels, the original stays put on Airport Way). But the shawarma and namesake item—masterfully spiced and fried, once to get a slightly crispy shell, then again when you order—Barrington has wisely maintained. Extra points for the killer tunes and Armenian pickle crowning the falafel.
Kimchi came into conversation—and so did Spam—when Roz Edison and Kamala Saxton rolled out in 2008. The Korean-Hawaiian menu draws from both sides of Saxton’s family tree (no hurt feelings that way, she quips), and has garnered the duo lots of shine in national media. Lots of diehards, too, 200 of whom line up at the truck on any given day. They’re coming for kimchi rice bowls, kalbi sliders, and a kicky pork torta that, bummer, is only a rotating special (but always available at the brick-and-mortar Marination on Pine).
The distressed-metal pig that sports sunglasses on summer days is the most recognizable truck out there, serving pulled pork sandwiches that are just as memorable. They come two ways, either the spicy Maximus or the decidedly sweeter Minimus, with a slick of slaw—also spicy or sweet, your choice. Want it even hotter? Heat seekers up the ante by requesting a dash of Hurt.
Off the Rez
Capitol Hill bar hoppers seeking to sate a late-night craving head to Big Chief, the Native American–inspired truck parked at Pike and 10th on weekends. Behind the wheel is Mark McConnell; in the kitchen Donovan MacInnis churns out Rez’s crowning achievement: frybread. Order it slathered with lemon curd or homemade jams or in the form of Indian tacos, piled with a heaping mass of chicken chili verde or pulled pork smoked 10 hours. (See A Day in the Life of a Food Truck for more on Off the Rez.)
It’s an age-old idea—the ice cream truck— for the farm-to-table generation, courtesy of former pastry chef Adria Shimada. The flavors are whimsical (milk chocolate chai, orange star anise), the ingredients local (Ballard Bee honey, eggs from Yelm), the batches from scratch and organic. The truck closes come winter, but fans can get their fix year-round: In February Shimada implemented a mail delivery system that reaches as far away as Boise and San Francisco.
Raney Brothers BBQ
The Cajun meatloaf grinder with Raney-made marinara is one notable offering, but front and center is the pulled pork (yes, again). The pig is hand-pulled, not chopped, to get rid of the unsavory bits, then dusted in Uncle Pauly’s Dry Rub—developed over several years, lots of trials, and lots of money, the bros confide—for at least one full day. Next comes the smoking, 12 to 14 hours using apple or cherry wood from Eastern Washington. The cloak of crispy slaw is refreshingly light on mayo, and the melty blend of cheeses a welcome addition.
The Airstream trailer that set the bar for chef-driven street food—and brand extensions (see Brand Builders )—is nearly five years old. The burger, a pile of grass-fed beef, arugula, and cambozola lacquered with Skillet’s signature bacon jam, remains a Seattle legend, and the weekend special has cult status, too: fried chicken and waffles, gussied up with roasted marshmallows, compotes, spicy cheese, or, of course, bacon jam.
Yi-Chun Lin and crew embarked on some serious experimentation to come up with the newfangled toppings found at their wee black trailer. The baby rings are fried on the spot; it’s your job to decide how to dress ’em: with a dusting of curry, cardamom, or candy Nerds, with a squeeze of caramel, mango, or vanilla pudding. Sure, doughnuts abound in this town, but rarely are they this much fun.
Sweets freak Diane Skwiercz (“Seriously, I can’t live without them”) sells her bars and brownies at coffee shops around town, but only at the truck are you guaranteed the dynamite ice cream sandwiches, a hands-down hit last summer, thanks to word-of-mouth raves. The ever-so custardy ice cream is made the old-school way (by hand, with natural ingredients) and bookended by cookies of your choice. Chocolate chip and vanilla is Skwiercz’s top seller, but we’re partial to the molasses-coffee combo.
No sidewalk hot dog cart for Eugene Woo and Samson Kwong, who in late March unveiled a full-blown mobile operation. Their wieners take cues from the ridiculously popular (and extravagant) JapaDog in Vancouver, with the occasional Western bent. The namesake Tokyo Dog is a vessel of cheesy bratwurst, furikake, tonkatsu sauce, grilled onions, Japanese mayo, and bacon bits, and the fries are lent an Asian spark with seasonings like shichimi and nori. The franks? They’re from local chef favorite Bavarian Meats in Pike Place Market.
Where Ya At Matt
Matthew Lewis is all about Southern hospitality. Before going mobile in 2010, the New Orleans native aspired to build a community around his truck. Fast-forward to today and he’s hosting roving gospel brunches and crawfish boils. Lewis, who radiates cheer, approaches his menu with casual but inspired zeal. Here Creole classics are fresh, plentiful. Just count all the oysters in that po’boy—bursting with the brine of lightly breaded bivalves or the zing of house-cured andouille. Ending a meal with the sugar-dusted beignets is a must, but only after a good shake of the bag.