Friday, September 23, 2011

Food: Gourmet LA Roach Coaches

My sister, Jenn, took me to the Tim Burton exhibit at LA Co. Museum of Art for my birthday.  Great show. Go!  Ends on Halloween, of course; that's gonna be a fun day at the museum, I'll wager...

But this post is not about Tim Burton and his art.

No, it's about lunch.

And coming out of the museum, our mission was to go to Kalbi Burger or Umami Burger, famed Asian fusion burger places both, both of which Jenn and I have not tried.

But there, before us, across Wilshire Blvd. and going into the distance as far as the eye could see in a late Southern California summer sunlight sueño (I changed languages to continue the alliteration) was a line of gourmet food trucks. 

What?  What was that?  Were they calling us?  Of course.  Of course, they were.

(UPDATE: a recent article on LA Food Trucks in Smithsonian Magazine.)

Kalbi Burger could wait while we investigated the siren's call of the portable grill, the deep fryer on wheels. Walking Roach Coach Row was daunting, but worth the effort...  And, besides, I had one of my sisters with me for support.

So, without further ado, a picture tour, all shot in glorious Southern California Mediterranean light and with random, no-apparent-reason photo-shopping (for you, Kara):

Jenn contemplates the Rebel Bite's Grilled Cheese.  Like MacArthur to the Philippines, we would return.

Streets of Thailand.
Steamed buns, Chinese style.
All so similar, yet all so different, but all...

The Pokey Truck, Japanese Hawaiian wrap, LACMA in the background.
Sushi Dan's Rockin' Roll Truck.
Big Rocc's Chicken Wings
 ...a great argument for why we need more and not less immigration in America.  We should not stop until we have all the foods in the world represented in a food truck on Wilshire Blvd.!  And then we should keep going anyway, because history shows us how good this is.

"Great Burgers Stacked Your Way!"  Even obscenely so...

Korean tacos!
Despite the Antique tint, this is not 1970s Saigon, but 2011 LA and the Vietnamese food truck.
(Is that Vietnamese food-truck; or, Vietnamese-food truck?)

I wonder, why do I even travel?  I mean, the food is coming to me...

Something my Cascadian brothers & sisters understand: teriyaki!
Indian, non-Indigenous, that is.
Pranzo's Gourmet 'wiches.
OK, when does this parade end?  Soon, I promise.

The Pita Pusher on the corner.
Can't have too much teriyaki.

Glowfish, Japanese Festival Cuisine, whatever that means.
Time to pack it in, as the Glowfish closes up shop and heads into the still very bright Mediterranean light, off to another non-LA-approved street (more on that anon). 

By the way, what are those strange columns over the hood of the Glowfish and across the street?

Chris Burden's "Urban Light."
But before we go, a short conversation with Clyde, proprietor of the super grilled cheese truck.

Former architect, Clyde, and his Grilled Cheese truck.
We met Clyde while he was outside his kitchen lair, the Rebel Bite, feeding the meter. 

"You have to feed the meter," I asked?  "No special permit?"

And then we got into it, a fine conversation.  According to Clyde, the LA Health Dept., and LA in general, hates these trucks.  No special parking permits allowed (a good clue), constant harassment, etc.  Why?  Clyde believes that it's because of the local brick-and-mortar restaurants, who don't appreciate these trucks in the area and lobby accordingly.  No bathrooms, little overhead.  "Not fair!" they cry.

(Here's LA Councilman Tom LaBonge's take on the subject.)  

Clyde also told me that the recent proliferation of such trucks is due to--what else?--the economy.  Take him, for instance.  He couldn't find work as an architect, but the downturn in the economy lead to fewer construction projects which, in turn, lead to the idleness of lots of roach coach trucks, so--voilà!--Clyde leases a truck and is in business as a Grilled Cheese chef on wheels.

All interesting and certainly sounds like at least one version of the truth.

In conclusion, we still intended to go to Kalbi Burger (though that's for another blog post on Southern California fast food burgers).  But we could make room for an appetizer, a delicious short rib grilled cheese sandwich.

Not sure how these short ribs were cooked, but Korean-style, for instance, usually has some combination of soy sauce, brown sugar, and vinegars, plus spices.  So, this sandwich, though rich with Umami, the 5th taste, also had hints of sugar because of the ribs.  The meat was tender, easy to bite through, yet seared a little bit crispy on the outside.  Also some red hot sauce, rooster sauce?  Cheese: cheddar, rich and stringy.  Bread: classic white, grilled crispy and golden brown, though you can see that for yourself...

10-finger delicious!


  1. SoCal does not have a Mediterranean climate, sorry (but I guess you only mentioned the light, not the climate). NorCal does though. Come on up!

  2. Wow! What a bonanza! A virtual food truck cornucopia! How was the grilled cheese? I've been lusting for one for over a year.

  3. Very enticing! Olympia may not be L.A. (or Portland), but our food trucks do seem to be multiplying. Here's the newest one:

  4. @ Kara, if true, even wikipedia, that vaulted hall of "fact", will have to be changed.

    @ Becky, grilled cheese was awesome, read all the way to the bottom. :)

    @ Jamie, I'll eat there, when are we going?

  5. "Is that Vietnamese food-truck; or, Vietnamese-food truck?"

    Well, if it had to be one of the two, I'd say it depends on whether you consider food trucks to be a common enough concept for "food truck" to exist as a single semantic unit (which you probably do) modified by a cuisine descriptor, in which case it'd be "Vietnamese food-truck", or consider the base semantic unit to be "truck" modified by a description of what it does (sells), i.e. "Vietnamese-food truck".

    But more importantly, both parses yield the same meaning, so simple is best: no hyphen.

    I took a look at the Umami Burger menu and was confused by how they seem to be using "kombu" to mean "combo" even though it's a kind of kelp.

  6. Excellent points, all, Jon.

    As to the Umami Burger (I should have trademarked my own such burger), very funny. So instead of Spanglish, it's a kind of Japenglish (you must know a term for this), but it only works phonetically (sort of) and not by definition. Curious...


    (although that's something different)

  8. What an event!