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Review: Louks To Go

One lunchtime when I was knee-deep in work, my husband decided to hit the food trucks on Miracle Mile and bring home some good stuff. He came back with a beef gyro ($5) from Louks To Go. I was blown away, and since then I've been waiting for another opportunity to visit this Greek street food truck.

Louks To Go Truck

This go-round, I decided to get the chicken gyro ($5). Like the beef, it comes with tzatziki, tomato, onion, and - the magic ingredient - FRIES, wrapped up inside the pita. You'd think fries and pita together might equal too much starch in one dish. That may be true in terms of nutritional balance, but not when it comes to flavor and texture: the oil in the fries and the grilled pita, plus the softness of both pita and potato, went perfectly together. Louks' pita bread is the best I have ever eaten.

My food truck adventures have made me a big fan of the well-applied onion, and this gyro did not disappoint. The onions were a great crunchy counterpart to the tender meat. The chicken was sliced very thin, and it was extra juicy and lean. My husband got the beef gyro again. I took as many bites of it as I could get away with.

Vegetarian gyro

My esteemed dining companion got the veggie gyro, which comes with cucumber, tomato, lettuce, tzatziki, feta, fries and onion. They'd run out of regular feta, and though she asked for spicy feta on her gyro, it was sadly nowhere to be found. They'd also run out of lettuce. She wished her gyro had had the creamy and crunchy textures of the feta and lettuce, but she liked it pretty well as it was. It did have a touch too much onion, she thought.

Strawberry Jam Louks Donuts

What you see above are loukomades, from which Louks takes its name. They're Greek donuts, dusted with powdered sugar, with a big dollop of strawberry jam on top. You can also get them with Nutella or honey. They're slightly crispy on the outside and syrupy on the inside; their melt-in-your-mouth texture reminds me of jalebi, deep-fried Indian sweets made from batter and syrup.

The line at Louks To Go food truck

Never again shall I visit Greek fast-food joints like Daphne's now that I have discovered Louks! To be fair, Daphne's is pretty good, but Louks' pita haunts my dreams. For that reason alone, I am willing to forgo the convenience of a brick-and-mortar location at the West Hollywood Gateway, and choose to chase a truck around instead. Next time I'm going to try the honey feta fries ($3).

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, but not a lot: there's the aforementioned veggie gyro, as well as a Greek salad and feta fries.

Vegan-friendly? Not so much: there's feta and/or tzatziki on everything except the loukomades.


Review: LA Street Food Fest

The Gastrobus at LA Street Food Fest

The LA Street Food Fest kicked off Saturday at downtown's LA Center Studios. An insanely large crowd showed up. At 11:30, the line for general admission ($5) stretched for blocks, and at times during the Fest, the wait for entry was two hours long. VIP ticket holders paid $30 for guaranteed entry to the festival, a private bar, access to indoor bathrooms, a spot on the upstairs VIP patio (where I hear there were donuts and dim sum!), and a goodie bag (which they ran out of by 3:30 PM, sadly). Their line to get in was also much shorter - a perk well worth the ticket price.

Hand stamp at LA Street Food Fest

Festival staff handed out maps as we entered. They also functioned as punch cards: if you ate at six trucks or stalls and had each one punch your card, you could then turn it in and enter a Citysearch LA giveaway featuring prizes like cooking lessons, hotel stays, and dinner for two at restaurants including Grub, sugarFISH and Rush Street. Inside the studio grounds, the main drag was lined with trucks and food stalls. Lines were long almost everywhere. In true street-food style, people perched on flights of stairs, curbs, and low cement walls to eat their hard-won truck noms. Others ate as they wandered among the stalls at the mini arts/crafts marketplace.

Most of the trucks had tasting menus specially for the Fest, with smaller plates from $1-$5. I took the opportunity to visit three trucks I hadn't tried before. First up: Piaggio On Wheels. I ordered three chicken empanadas, at a dollar each; one for me, one for my husband and one for my son. They were piping hot, and full of cubed chicken, onions and peppers. I'm not a big fan of cooked peppers, but these added a sweetness and tanginess to the empanadas, and I didn't notice the slimy texture that normally turns me off them. The pastry was soft and chewy rather than flaky and crispy - when it comes to empanadas, I prefer the former, so I was very happy.

Next up was a spicy tuna roll from Fishlips Sushi. It came in four cut pieces, with tiny servings of wasabi, ginger and soy sauce. Fishlips doesn't use mayo in its spicy tuna rolls - as a result, the hot sauce is less creamy and the roll is a little drier overall, plus the spice seems more intense. It was still pretty f-ing good, and only cost me $3.

For dessert, I hit up The Sweets Truck. I got a mini cupcake ($2), intending to give it to my son. He fell asleep in the car on the way home, so I took one for the team and ate it myself. Aren't I a selfless mom? It was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. The cake was moist, and the frosting was rich. Unlike other people, I don't love a ton of frosting on my cupcakes (I know that sounds dirty), and this little cupcake had just the right amount for me. I also got a Crack Bar, aka a chocolate fudge cookie bar ($3). My husband identified the crumbled cookies on top of the bar as Famous Chocolate Wafers, which are a key ingredient in the much-loved dessert known as icebox cake. The rest of the bar was just as good - melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cookie gave way to a thick fudge filling. My favorite sweet from the Sweets Truck, however, was the cupcake and pudding shooter ($3). It came in a miniature cup with a spoon, and featured alternating layers of cake and pudding. I got the lemon cake and cheesecake variety. I wished it came in a bucket instead of a little cup.

It took a bit of strategizing to deal with the crowds and the plethora of food options. The LA Times interviewed a group of friends who'd beaten the lines by splitting up, waiting in different truck lines and ordering extra food for one another. Since there were two-hour wait times at some trucks (the much-anticipated LudoBites fried chicken truck, for example), this idea was a good one.

LudoBites Fried Chicken Truck

The turnout was so enormous that lots of people didn't get into the festival at all. A commenter on Eating LA suggested that a truck walk, like downtown LA's Art Walk, might be a better format: holding the Fest inside a gated area meant everyone spent even more time waiting in line. It was also the first hot day in a couple of months, and queuers were getting sunburned and thirsty as well as hungry. Some non-Fest-attending food trucks showed up and parked by the line to get into the Fest. Great business initiative!

Huge crowd at LA Street Food Fest

After yesterday's event, Fest organizers Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula tweeted that they were "heartbroken" to have to turn people away, and that they'd be "back... better... soon!" No word yet on whether this'll be an annual festival, or an event that pops up in different locations from time to time. Once the initial kinks are ironed out, the Fest should be a satisfying experience for everyone.


Review: Mandoline Grill Launch Party

On Saturday, February 6, from 3 PM to 8 PM, Mandoline Grill held its truck launch party at Verdugo Bar in Glassell Park. By the time I got there, the line was relatively short, but there was a sizable crowd waiting for food. That crowd only got bigger as the night wore on: by 6:30 PM, the average wait time was around an hour. This, I've heard, is somewhat common with new food trucks - it takes a few days, weeks or even months to iron out the kinks in service. From what I could observe, it looked as if all the food was being made to order, which could explain why it took so long. Some folks were not happy: one memorable comment I overheard was "I could grow my food more quickly than this!" Low blood sugar meant the rest of the crowd was somewhat subdued.


The food was almost worth the wait. My crew (just a normal-type crew, not a dance crew, sadly) and I ordered three different banh mi: ca ri ga (Vietnamese chicken curry), beef, and lemongrass tofu ($6 each). I also got an order of cha gio, a.k.a. tofu spring rolls ($4). Unfortunately, they were all out of bun.

My husband asked for the beef banh mi sans mayo, but when he received the sandwich, there was his condimental nemesis, staring him mockingly in the face. The mayo was particularly heavy, and coated the roof of my mouth long after I'd finished my sandwich. The beef was tangy and thin-sliced, but with a few large chunks of gristle. The tofu was cut thicker than they do it at Phamish, and the larger pieces were not quite as flavorful. (Less surface area for marinade, I guess.)

Tofu banh mi

My favorite was the chicken curry: shredded fowl in a creamy sauce that tasted as if it contained coconut milk, even though the server swore to my coconut-hating husband that it did not. I love coconut, so I was happy with whatever ingredient was imparting that flavor. One of my other dining companions remarked that the baguettes seemed a bit underbaked. My curry banh mi did collapse halfway through my eating it; perhaps a crustier baguette would have held up better.

Serving up an order

The cha gio were vegan and delicious. Even my 21-month-old son Owen, who doesn't really seem to like food in general, was into them. When I asked him for a bite, he clutched his egg roll possessively and said "Owen." A ringing endorsement. I'd definitely get the cha gio again, along with the chicken curry banh mi.

Tofu cha gio egg rolls

I have to say that Phamish is still my overall favorite of the banh mi trucks, and I'd choose a Nom Nom lemongrass chicken sandwich over Mandoline's ca ri ga. I did like Mandoline's food, though; the banh mi fixings - carrots, daikon, cilantro, cucumber and jalapenos - were fresh, crunchy and plentiful. The chefs and servers stayed sweet under pressure, which is an admirable feat at a truck launch. I'll definitely be hitting up Mandoline Grill again when I see the truck around town.

Vegetarian-friendly? Most definitely. Four out of 10 menu items are vegan. I highly recommend the cha gio.

Vegan-friendly? Yep - see above.


Review: Grill 'Em All

When I heard that a metal-themed burger truck was rolling out in mid-December of last year, I was inordinately excited. I love hard rock in all its guises, from butt-rock to prog to black, and I especially love Metallica. (In case you don't already know, Grill 'Em All is a burger-themed pun on Metallica's 1983 debut album, Kill 'Em All.) Metal and burgers are a perfect match, putting me in mind of pre-rock-show tailgate parties in sports-arena parking lots. Metal and gourmet burgers, though? Not such a common pairing - until now.


The truck parked at Melrose and Fuller this past Thursday afternoon, in front of the Groundlings building. My husband and I showed up at 4 PM, and there was no line. I stepped up to the counter, and was greeted by co-owner Matt and co-owner/chef Ryan. When I mentioned I wrote for, Ryan said he was really excited when Grill 'Em All first made it onto our Twitter feed aggregator. Then Matt told me he'd read the blog and liked my Don Chow Tacos review. Flattery will get you everywhere, gentlemen. So will being cute metal dudes.


It turned out there was no need to butter up this critic, though: the food was seriously awesome. Ryan recommended we get the double-dipped pommes frites ($3), and gave them a complimentary dousing of truffle oil (usually a buck more). The oil lent the fries an extra depth of salty, pungent flavor. The fries themselves were perfectly crispy on the outside, with molten insides. We also got the H-100s ($4), named for a firework and a hardcore band from Matt and Ryan's home town of Cleveland, Ohio. They were big, panko-encrusted, cheese-infused tater tots, and they were about a billion times better than the Ore-Ida variety. My only complaint? Not enough cheese. We got the chipotle ketchup and the garlic aoli for dipping: both were good enough to eat with a spoon.


Onto the burgers. I had the Waste 'Em All ($6.50), with marinated green chilies, pepper jack cheese and beer-soaked onions. Some people like their burger bun to soak up condiments and meat juice till it almost falls apart: I am not one of those people, and, lucky for me, this was not one of those buns. Much more solid than your average fluffy, spongy burger vehicle, it was chewy, dense, delicious, and may also have been sourdough; I am ashamed to say I ate so quickly that I'm not sure about that last part. The burger itself was a big fat restaurant-style patty, cooked medium rare. There was just a touch too much green chili, which added a slight sourness to the overall flavor. The onions were amazing, though - tender and mellow, with a tiny bit of crunch to them. Beer really does make everything better.


My husband had the Hannah Montana ($5.50). (Typing that sentence makes me laugh.) I, of course, had a bite or three. My first words, mouth stuffed full, were, "Mmm. That's a good burger." That's really all that needed to be said about it. It had American cheese, pickle, lettuce, tomato and ketchup, and it was damn near perfect.


The whole Grill 'Em All experience was cool as hell. The truck itself is a sight to behold, emblazoned with Viking-helmeted burgers, zombie hands wielding ketchup bottles, lightning bolts and crossed spatulas. The food blends no-nonsense American standards with gourmet sensibilities. A metal-themed food truck could so easily have gone too far and ended up in cheesy Dr. Rockzo territory: Matt and Ryan embrace their gimmick without being too earnest or theatrical about it. I'll echo that restraint by concluding this review without making a single Metallica-themed joke. I had devised a tortured pun involving the two horsemen of the food-truck-alypse, but I'll spare you.

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes: there's the humorously named Carcass ($7.50), which features a veggie burger with guacamole, pico de gallo and frizzled onions. You can also have a veggie patty for $2 extra on any one of the burgers.

Vegan-friendly? Get a veggie patty and leave off the bun. The pommes frites are vegan, but the H-100s have cheese inside.


Ludo Lefebvre Fried Chicken Truck at LA Street Food Fest

Chef Ludo Lefebvre, mastermind of traveling LA restaurant event LudoBites, is bringing his own food truck to the LA Street Food Fest on February 13. He'll be making one dish: his fried chicken, in bite-size servings. This is a very interesting incarnation of LudoBites. It has all Ludo's usual ingredients - small plates, small kitchen, pop-up location - plus the hottest accessory for a chef right now: a truck. Unlike most LudoBites events, though, the LudoTruck will be around for one day only.


Via LA Times: New Downtown Food Truck Lot

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that next Thursday, February 11, a new food truck lot will open in downtown LA, at Alameda and Traction Streets. It'll feature three or four trucks a day and plenty of parking for nomming visitors. It's opening on the same day that the next installment of Downtown Art Walk is taking place. Matt Geller, vice-president of SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association, is running the lot: he was also behind the Santa Monica food lot. According to Geller, the LAPD and local businesses are on board, which gives this lot a good chance of staying open. Hope so.


Mandoline Grill Launch Party on 2/6

I'm already having trouble deciding whether I like Phamish's or Nom Nom's banh mi best: now it looks as if another contender will join the battle of the mobile baguette sandwiches. Mandoline Grill is a brand new truck that specializes in Vietnamese classics like banh mi and bun (vermicelli noodle bowls), and has several vegan menu items, such as cha gio (crispy spring rolls). Mandoline Grill is having a launch party at Verdugo Bar in Glassell Park this Saturday, February 6, from 1 PM to 8 PM. There'll be an open bar, DJs, giveaways and, of course, food.


Review: Kimchi 21

It was Saturday evening, and my husband and I were in search of a food truck. We'd checked the trusty Twitter feed aggregator, but no trucks were in the vicinity. Hoping that someone had forgotten to tweet their location, we set out in the car regardless. We'd heard great things about a mysterious taco truck that parked on Olympic and La Brea Blvds Thursday through Saturday nights, so that was our first stop, but sadly, the truck wasn't there. As we drove back along Melrose, my husband spotted Kimchi 21 parked outside the clothing store Foreign Exchange, between Curson and Sierra Bonita Aves.


I'd seen Kimchi 21 on Melrose many times before, but I knew they weren't on That, I found out, was because they don't have a Twitter feed. The server told me that they might start tweeting in May. He didn't explain why it had to wait till then. Their URL is on the side of the truck, but when I visited the site, it was a Network Solutions placeholder page. Maybe they don't care about the whole social media aspect of food-trucking: that's strange, since I'm sure they're a part of the Kogi-inspired Korean-BBQ-taco truck wave, and Twitter seems to be an essential ingredient of that business model.

The line was very short at 6:30 PM, but perhaps we just missed the rush: several people stepped up behind us as we ordered. We got a beef burrito ($5) and two tofu tacos ($2 each), with kimchi on the side. The beef was paper-thin and surprisingly lean. I'd psyched myself up for a few mouthfuls of gristle, but didn't end up having to endure even one. It was slightly dry, however. The burrito also contained the best Spanish rice I've had in a while - the tomato gave it a nice tangy bite without being overpowering. A goodly sum of chopped raw onions topped the whole thing off. I could still taste them half an hour later. That sounds gross, but it wasn't indigestion-related: my mouth was just suffused with oniony goodness. As for the tacos, the tortillas were just chewy enough, and supported all the wet stuff well. The tofu could have done with a bit more marinating, I think; it was creamy and firm, but slightly bland. I couldn't eat more than a mouthful of the kimchi. It had an odd, perfumey foretaste, and by that, I mean it literally tasted like when you spray perfume on your neck and some ends up getting in your mouth. (Anyone else ever done that? No? Just me, then.) After that flavor died down, it was pretty palatable, but I couldn't bring myself to go through the cycle again with another bite. I don't pretend to be a kimchi connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure this was not top-quality stuff.


I'd get the beef burrito again, and I'd love to have a side of the Spanish rice. The tofu tacos weren't special enough for a second go-round, in my opinion. As a whole, the Kimchi 21 experience wasn't the best time I've had at a food truck: compared to the kickass BBQ and warm friendliness at Barbie's Q, or the mind-blowing flavors and attentive service at Coolhaus, neither Kimchi 21's food nor its atmosphere was particularly memorable.

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, you can get tofu tacos, burritos and quesadillas. There's also a kimchi quesadilla.

Vegan-friendly? Not particularly. The tacos, burritos and quesadillas all come with cheese.


Review: Baby's Badass Burgers

In the midst of the Great LA Storm of January 2010, I decided to brave the rain and head out to Miracle Mile in search of lunch on wheels. I'd noticed (via our trusty Twitter feed aggregator) that not many trucks were out that day: I'm not sure whether that was because food trucks don't hold up well in the rain, or because they didn't think they'd do much business in the middle of a downpour.


I'd been wanting to try Baby's Badass Burgers for a while: I've been looking for a good restaurant-style burger ever since my parents and I stopped our regular dinners at Brentwood's Hamburger Hamlet. Laugh if you will, but the Hamlet does a really good mushroom-and-swiss burger.

Thanks to the rain, there was no line at 1:55 PM when I showed up. I got an awesome parking spot right behind the pink Baby's truck, so once I'd ordered (and was given a burger ETA of 15 minutes) I hopped back in my car to hang out and stay dry. I chose the Original Beauty ($5 for a pair of mini sliders, $7 for a "Maneater" 1/2-pound burger) and my husband got the Mamacita ($6/$8). We shared an order of Pig Tails curly fries ($2). We both opted for sliders rather than full-size burgers: easier to share.


The Original Beauty came with mushrooms, swiss cheese, onions and Baby's Special Sauce, which, owing to my husband's distaste for burger sauces, I chose not to get. The burger itself was very slightly overcooked, but the mushrooms were done to perfection. It was a fun-size version of my beloved Hamburger Hamlet burger. Next time - and there will be many next times for me and this burger - I'll get it in the Maneater size.


The Mamacita featured guacamole, jalapenos, tomato, grilled onion, and pepper jack cheese. It had a healthy amount of jalapenos, which gave it a nice kick. The avocado was creamy, but the tomato was a bit past its prime. Again, the burger was a little overcooked. I'm not sure I'd go for this one again. Both the Beauty and the Mamacita came on mini King's Hawaiian buns, and their slight sweetness worked well with the other flavors.


My husband and I agreed that two sliders and half a side of fries wasn't quite enough food for one person. We could have done with one more set of sliders - one for each of us. I wished the portion of fries had been larger; they were on the tender side rather than the crispy side, just like I like 'em, and they were seasoned with celery salt.

Baby's burgers-and-boobs marketing scheme brought it some bad press when it first rolled out last August 10. When I decided to check out Baby's, I braced myself for what one Yelp reviewer described as "the Hooters factor," only to find... none at all. Apparently, sexy ladies don't like to serve burgers in the rain - not even from inside the truck. Go to Baby's on a sunny day if you want to see bosoms while you're munching on meat.


Vegetarian-friendly? There's a veggie burger on the menu. I have resolved to try it next time I go, and once I have, I'll report back.

Vegan-friendly? Nope. According to the King's Hawaiian Web site, their buns contain milk and eggs.

Owen-ometer: He was into the Pig Tail fries, especially one absurdly long ringlet of potato, which he bounced like a yo-yo and then stuffed into his gob. The burgers? Not so much. To be fair, it wasn't that he didn't like them - he flat-out refused even to try them. In no way is that a reflection on the quality of Baby's burgers, though: it's simply an indication of Owen's overparticular gustatory personality.


LA Street Food Fest

LAist is reporting that 36 food trucks and food carts will be at the LA Street Food Fest on February 13. The festival will take place at LA Center Studios from 11 AM to 5 PM. LA Center Studios is downtown, by the 110 freeway: its entrance is at 500 S. Beaudry Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90017. 5th St. is the cross street.

Find out more information at the LA Street Food Fest's official site, or follow them on Twitter at @lafoodfest.