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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Food Trucks Roundup: Fressers and Grilled Cheese

I randomly ran into not one, but five trucks on Abbot Kinney one recent evening, so after having had a full dinner, I sampled each and every one of them with my partner in crime and here's my report.

The best trucks were Fressers hot pastrami and the Grilled Cheese Truck. The very worst were Calbi and Flying Pig. A sympathy vote goes to the mediocre Fire Hook, which doesn't twit or even have a Web site. But more on that later.

Let's start with Fressers, the best: piping hot, hand-sliced pastrami sandwiches on rye with good quality mustard. The pastrami was soft and seasoned just right, except there was something slightly off in the seasoning that was too pungent and didn't gel well. Otherwise, a very solid sandwich.

The price of $9.25 seems steep for street food, but I was able to finagle half a sandwich for $5 and they threw in a delicious potato salad that had just the right amount of mayo -- enough to actually taste the potato. It was no Langer's and definitely no Katz's in New York, but for a mobile truck, it was superb. And hands-down the best out of all of the trucks that night.

Now for the grilled cheese truck. Going for a plain one seemed too boring, so we got the Signature, aka Cheesy Mac and Rib, which is mac-n-cheese and bbq pork with caramelized onions, all melted into one goodness of a sandwich. Who's in for carb overload? It tasted like comfort food on steroids. There's oozy cheese, tender bbq pork and warm, toasted bread all holding it together? Sign me up! Definitely not for every day consumption but would go great with a cold glass of hefeweizen!

Now for the duds -- BIG time. I should preface this by saying I never liked kogi's tacos, only because I thought the relish was overpowering and oftentimes the meat was overly sweet. But these impostors or copycats were so incredibly bad that they made kogi look good. To be perfectly honest, it's easier and better-tasting to make Korean tacos and kimchi quesadillas at home!

First off, Flying Pig. The braised pork belly in a bun was not soft (the bun was but the pork wasn't) and Momofuku-wannabe combination of adding red onion escabeche and sesame cucumber wasn't working.

The short rib and spicy pork tacos were drowning in sugar or whatever sweetening agent they used. The meats were not good quality and smelled. The relishes were straight up bad.

The bigger offender, however, was Calbi. Perhaps not too surprising, considering it cut a deal with the Baja Fresh owners to franchise the truck. Franchise this garbage? Sacrilege! We could barely take another bite of these tacos that I would go as far as describing as disgusting. The short rib and spicy pork tacos were just that -- not edible. We threw them in the trash after one bite. Ugh.

The Fire Hook truck was standing in an isolated corner, with no foot traffic to speak of. There were two older Korean ajushis hanging out in the back who made our spicy pork tacos. The minute we spotted the OG of all Korean orange juices -- Sac Sac -- we knew the meat would be a lot better than the other trucks. We also saw other cans of refreshments offered, like shikhe, the sweet rice dessert drink, and soojeonggwa, a ginger and cinnamon-based dessert drink. As expected, the spicy pork itself was as it should be -- spicy and flavorful without being too sweet. But the taco wasn't really a taco. One shell of tortilla that they topped with some shredded lettuce lightly tossed with some sesame oil and sesame seeds. To make matters worse, they added chopped tomatoes and cheap, rubbery-tasting shredded cheese. The only good addition was chopped kimchi that was barely noticeable.

It was clear these guys had jumped on the bandwagon without much thought or preparation. I mean, living in LA, it ain't hard finding someone who can actually make authentic tacos. Even if one were to argue that these were their interpretations of an authentic taco, it still wouldn't fly because it didn't have any such character. It was mimicking but poorly so. If you want to reinvent what kogi did or a real taco is, I'm all for it, but poor reproductions don't help anybody.

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