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Review: Don Chow Tacos

Don Chow Taco Truck
Driving down Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, my husband and I happened upon Don Chow Tacos parked in front of SLOW Vintage Clothing on the corner of Gardner Avenue. It was close to 7 PM, and the truck was almost ready to leave. My husband, my son Owen and I were the only people in line, and our food came up in minutes. We got four tacos: carne asada, soy-ginger tofu, Kung Pao chicken and Chinese BBQ pork tacos (all $2). There was a choice of hot, medium or mild salsa. I opted for the hot salsa on the carne asada taco. The meat was perfectly seasoned and went very well with the hot salsa. I'd 100% eat this taco again. The soy-ginger tofu taco, which I got with the medium salsa, was tasty, too. The tofu was grilled to a nice firmness.

When I first bit into the Chinese BBQ pork taco, I got a big chunk of fat. (I absolutely hate the texture of fat. If that makes me a food philistine, I apologize.) I soldiered on, though, and was soon rewarded: the pork was juicy, tender and lean, and there was just enough sauce to make it moist rather than soupy. I really tasted the soy, ginger and hoisin. There was a generous amount of meat in the taco – they didn’t skimp. It was absolutely delicious. The Kung Pao chicken came with onions and cilantro, but the salsa on top was missing, so I found it to be a little dry. I’m willing to try it again con salsa, just so I can experience it the way it’s supposed to taste. I do have one question, though: where the peanuts at?

Don Chow Truck Staff

The Don Chow staff – Dom, Lawrence, Gary, Ernie and Coleen – were incredibly friendly. Coleen played peek-a-boo with Owen, and Lawrence sang the praises of the taco al pastor (rotisserie pork with chili), a special menu item that evening, and the lengua, another special. I’ll have to try those next time – and there will be a next time, hopefully also involving Round 2 of the Chinese BBQ pork.  In addition, I’m planning to try the Chimale, a Mexican-Chinese tamale with kung pao chicken or Chinese BBQ pork ($3.50). I’m also curious about the burritos, specifically the soy-ginger shrimp ($5).

Vegetarian-friendly? The tofu, which you can get in a taco, burrito or torta, is extremely flavorful. Not just a token gesture to veggie foodies, it’s a well-thought-out dish. The night we went to Don Chow, there was a cheese quesadilla on the menu, too.

Vegan-friendly? Again, you’re limited to the tofu taco, burrito or torta – but they're so tasty that you won’t feel like you’re settling.

Owen-ometer: Two thumbs up from the little man! He absolutely loved the carne asada: he ate most of the meat out of my taco, and once Lawrence saw how much he liked it, he gave Owen a little plastic condiment cup full of extra carne asada. This, too, quickly disappeared into Owen’s mouth. Next came the tofu, and Owen ate that too. He didn’t touch the corn tortillas, even though they were substantial and tasty without being too thick or dry; he was all about the meat (and meat substitute). The truck staff taught him to say “Don Chow Tacos.” On the way home, I handed Owen several pieces of Kung Pao chicken, all of which he eagerly, uh, chowed down on. (I am a bad mother; the BBQ pork was so good, I kept it all for myself.) A little voice kept piping up from the back seat: “More. More tacos, Mama.” I’ve never seen him eat so much!


Review: Grilled Cheese Truck

Two Fridays ago, the Grilled Cheese Truck parked itself on Seward Street just north of Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, and served lunch from 12 to 2. At 12:30, there was no line – eight or 10 quasi-hipsters/post-production-house types were milling around, but they’d ordered already. This was my second visit to the truck – no, not that day; I mean I’d first checked it out in early December. That time, I’d had the Harvest Melt with roasted butternut squash, Gruyere, agave syrup, thyme and balsamic reduction ($5), and a Plain and Simple Sharp Cheddar sandwich ($4). I remembered that the squash was tender without being mushy, and that the cheddar tasted pleasingly expensive despite the sandwich’s reasonable price tag.

Grilled Cheese Truck

Stepping up to the ordering window this time, I heard a guy inside the truck tell a customer that the owner was standing next to the truck. I looked where he pointed, and saw Michelle Grant, who, along with chef Dave Danhi, opened the Grilled Cheese Truck in November 2009. Grilled cheese royalty! The guy who took my order wasn’t Danhi, but he was very friendly and helpful. Whoever served me last time hadn’t mentioned that there were dipping sauces besides ketchup for the Tater Tots ($3): garlic aioli, chipotle aioli and barbecue sauce. I chose the chipotle aioli – whenever I go to Wurstküche, the sausage joint in downtown LA’s arts district, I practically bathe in the stuff. The GCT’s version was just as good.

The food took about 10 minutes to come up. I grabbed a wad of napkins as thick as my forearm, and dove in. The Plain and Simple American and Gruyere sandwich with an add-on of sliced apple ($4.50) was the perfect combination of tart and funky – the apple was a Granny Smith with a nice crunch. Next was the Cheesy Mac Melt ($5), which slapped Southern macaroni and cheese with sharp cheddar between two slices of wheat bread. A mac-and-cheese sandwich sounded dodgy: how to stop the bread from getting soggy? Whatever it took, the GCT managed to do it – no sog whatsoever. The sauce was creamy and the pasta was toothsome, as Top Chef contestants would say. I had the option of adding BBQ pork and caramelized onions for an extra $2, but I didn’t this time. Finally, I had another go at the Harvest Melt. It wasn’t as good as the first time. The squash was slightly undercooked, and the Gruyere was at the sweaty, rather than the melted, stage. One of my dining companions suggested that if I’d saved the Harvest Melt to eat last, perhaps it would have cooked a little more while it sat in its foil wrapper, and the squash might have attained a better consistency. I’ll try that next time – the sandwich was still good enough for me to want to eat again. I didn’t finish this one, though, instead turning my attention to the Tater Tots, which were crispy and awesome, but could have used a touch more salt.

Grilled Cheese Truck food

Vegetarian-friendly? Yes. Most of the sandwiches are meatless.

Vegan-friendly? Not really - cheese is the star here.

Overall impression: I smelled like grilled cheese for several hours afterward, and I liked it. Next time I’ll try the tomato soup ($2) and the dessert melt, which features roasted banana puree, Nutella and marshmallow fluff ($6).

The Owen-ometer: Owen, my 21-month-old son, always joins me on my food-truck adventures. He’s a legendarily picky eater who dines almost exclusively on Trader Joe’s cereal bars, so I thought he might make a good, tough truck critic. What did he think of the Grilled Cheese Truck? He devoured the Tater Tots, just like a stereotypical kid. He’s a fan of spicy flavors, so I asked if he’d like to dip a Tater Tot in the chipotle aioli. “No,” was his succinct reply. He took a piece of the Cheesy Mac Melt, and I waited with bated breath to see if he’d actually have a bite, but no dice: after walking around with it for 10 minutes, he said “Mama’s turn,” and handed it to me.

EDITED TO ADD: The Grilled Cheese Truck informs me that their tomato soup is vegetarian, but has a little parmesan cheese in it, so it's not vegan.


Phamish still offering $1-off coupons!

At the Haiti fundraiser, Phamish were handing out coupons for $1 off their Vietnamese home cooking - and they've still got plenty left. Hit up the truck at 5900 Wilshire Blvd, on Miracle Mile, today (January 25) from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and Wednesday (January 27) at the same time.


Miracle Mile truck spots in jeopardy?

According to food-truck gossip, Los Angeles city authorities may be about to tighten up on truck parking in certain areas. The 5700 block of Wilshire Blvd., on Miracle Mile, is a popular weekday lunch spot for trucks. Since last August, owners and managers of local restaurants like Toshi's, Baja Fresh, Koo Koo Roo and Johnnie's New York Pizzeria have been complaining to the city that the trucks are stealing their business. (In the case of Toshi's, they may have been right: the Asian takeout joint recently closed.) In December, mysterious Tow Zone street signs even appeared on the block: the LA Department of Transportation confirmed it didn't issue the signs, and sent people out to take them down. Los Angeles Business Journal covered the battle between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks on January 18. Now, rumor has it that a city ordinance could soon be passed to bar food trucks from parking on that stretch of Wilshire.

Trucks could perhaps combat this potential ban by convincing a local store to invite them to park outside. Farther north, on Melrose Avenue, vintage store SLOW invited Don Chow Tacos to park in its lot on January 16, and has hosted other food trucks before: maybe some non-restaurant-related businesses on the Miracle Mile will follow suit.


TLofts Food Trucks For Haiti: Review

This Saturday’s Haiti fundraiser at TLofts had an enormous turnout. 25 food trucks lined the intersection of Tennessee and Butler Avenues in West LA, and, from 11 AM to 4 PM, seemingly thousands of people showed up to eat for charity. Participating trucks included Nom Nom Truck, Bool BBQ, Buttermilk Truck, Get Shaved, Fishlips Sushi, India Jones Chow Truck, and many, many more.



I ran into a fellow food-truck aficionado; too overwhelmed to order yet, we stood and chatted for a while. Like me, he was stunned into inaction not only by the Disneyland-long lines at each truck, but also by the staggering variety of food on offer. The problem with such a concentration of trucks in one area is that you can’t possibly eat everything that looks good. By the time I left, I’d only managed to make it through a meatball sub from Vesuvio, a Del’s frozen lemonade, and a chocolate milkshake from King Kone. It would have been great if each truck had prepared smaller portions of some or all of its dishes, so customers could sample more than one truck’s cuisine: although maybe it’s to a truck’s advantage to fill customers’ bellies so full that they can’t fit anyone else’s food in there. I asked a woman at Vesuvio if she could make me a half-sandwich instead of a full order; she told me they “don’t really do that.”


The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly: everyone wanted to know what everyone else was eating and which truck it’d come from. At Vesuvio, I waited with two other women for arancini (savory rice balls), and we cursed our luck together when the staff told us they’d run out. My friend accosted a man eating a good-looking tostada, and he directed her over to LA FuXion. Sadly, they were all out too.


By 3:15, almost all the trucks began to run out of food. Willoughby Road had erased most of its blackboard menu; one or two lonely items remained. Don Chow Tacos held off on taking orders, unsure it even had enough food left to fulfill the ones already on the docket. Asian Soul Kitchen took off, honking its horn triumphantly (or perhaps simply attempting to clear the road of chatting diners). The Grilled Cheese Truck and Louks To Go left next. Ridiculously full, I departed soon afterward.


Notable absences: Frysmith, who had a prior commitment at the Natural History Museum; Marked5, who tweeted today that it’ll be “coming back soon;” TastyMeat (its truck was in the shop); Baby’s Badass Burgers; Kogi BBQ; and Grill ’Em All – as a huge fan of both burgers and Metallica, I was sad this new truck wasn’t there today.


Tomorrow: TLofts Presents Food Trucks For Haiti

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 23), from 11 AM to 4 PM, West LA's eco-friendly condo complex TLofts is hosting a benefit for Haiti earthquake relief. As of this posting, 24 food trucks have signed up to participate in the benefit. They'll be parked by TLofts, at the intersection of Tennessee and Butler Avenues, one block south of Olympic Boulevard and three blocks west of Sawtelle Boulevard. A portion of the trucks' proceeds will go to the Red Cross International Response Fund. Keep checking this Twitter feed list for the most up-to-date list of the trucks that'll be there. (Make sure you're signed into Twitter in order to view the list.) Personally, I'm looking forward to trying Vesuvio and The Sweets Truck, and eating good food for a good cause.


Via Little Spoon Loses The Truck

LA Weekly's Squid Ink food blog reported today that mobile dessert company Little Spoon is getting rid of its truck. Instead founders Melissa Hanna and Laurel Tincher are going to make their desserts available on other food trucks: Willoughby Road and the Nom Nom truck will start serving them next week. LA coffee-shop chain Groundwork is also going to be carrying Little Spoon sweets, starting in mid-February.

I'm a fan of Little Spoon's cookie bark and lemon bars, and I'm glad its desserts are still going to be available. I can't help noting, however, that its retirement from mobile baking means there's a fully equipped truck for sale. Could someone please buy it and start up the bagel truck I've been dreaming about?


Interview with Don Chow Tacos

Interview with Don Chow Tacos Truck from Find LA Food Trucks on Vimeo.

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Bobby Flay Throwdown Vs. a Truck

On October 14th, Food Network chef Bobby Flay "threw-down" against the New York-based Dessert Truck. Food Network describes the show as the following:

"Chef Bobby Flay is on a secret mission: to challenge the absolute masters in different kinds of cooking – award-winning BBQers, bakers, pizza makers and more. In each episode, one of these cooks thinks Food Network is shooting their profile for a show. What they don't know is that Bobby is going to drop in for a surprise visit and challenge them to an unexpected cook-off. Since they're in their element and Bobby's out of his, prepare for an exciting, tension-filled competition."

In this episode, the throwdown took place out of two trucks parked in Union Square, and the judges were random pedestrians. You can find out when they will air the episode again at Food Network.

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October First Friday on Abbot Kinney

This past friday night, I got a taste of Barbie's Q and The Gastro Bus at First Friday on Abbot Kinney. I must say I was pleasantly surprised to see an Applewood Smoked Veggie Burger on the Barbie's Q truck menu! I'm a vegetarian, so I always get excited when I see promising vegetarian barbecue. I have to admit the burger was absolutely delicious and filling. I would recommend this burger to any fellow vegetarian or any omnivores. The other great thing about Barbie's Q, was how friendly and nice the gentlemen working at the truck were.

I must also highlight the delicious Shoestring Fries with Garlic Aioli from The Gastro Bus. These french fries were very tasty and the garlic aioli was perfect for dipping.

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to try out the food fare from these great trucks. I cannot wait to taste more vegetarian treats from the other food trucks.