Main Location:St. Paul, Etc
I’ve somewhat discussed the idea of trucks coming into business during the fall season, right after the busy summer has ended and gliding into the hard, hard winter months. How some of them make the decision is a mystery to me; how they actually survive to the warm weather is spectacular (we do make ‘em hardy in Minnesota don’t we?). So it’s interesting to see if and when anything happens during this season, to both the old and new guys, and any evolution that may happen as the snow falls and melts as it does.
Coming into the fall of 2013, Asian Invasianhas easily survived the harsh winter with high popularity. Before year’s end, their bulgogi taco had already earned a spot in Citypage’s Top 100 Foods of 2013. Whether this is a result of, or one of the main factors in, their late-season survival I am not sure, but it certainly is something to say isn’t it?
As the name suggests, Invasian deals in all items Asian-themed, mainly the more “well known” (or cliché) dishes from the big mainland countries. Dining options vary from rice bowls of Chinese Sesameor Lemongrass Chicken, Indian Pork Curry, and Chicken Fried Rice to Korean Bulgogi(short ribs) wrapped in Tacos. Vietnamese Pulled Pork Bahn Mialso makes its appearance, alongside with those iconic fried Egg Rolls and Wantons. My particular travel also saw a couple Hot Dog based “specials;” whether they often offer asian-flavored wieners is as yet unsure, but it’s a consideration.
In reality I have yet to finish my travels to this particular mobile operation, as the main object of my desire had been unknowingly snatched away from me after ordering. That said I figure I have enough of an idea of them so far, and I will surely update if needed once I wrap my fingers around that beefy goodness.
My pursuit to get the Bulgogi Tacos was put to a quick halt as I later found out (a while after the order got accepted) that they had run out, so I grabbed the Bahn Miinstead. Similarly, they had run out of Pork Katsu Curry, but had a Chickenversion to try instead.
Both items had noted ups and downs in my view. The curry itself was nicely flavored, and the meat and veggies cooked well, not quite amazing but better than one made with generic curry powder. Though then again I’ve always found that this particular style of yellow-spiced-curry is hard to identify high quality versions… sort of like root beer. Either way, I liked it. What I didn’t like was the giant mound of rice beneath it… or perhaps just the notable lack of curry that went on top of it. I understand potential cultural relevancies behind it, the habit of having a lot of rice to just chew on plain next to the meal, but we’re not in India or Japan. I want to be able to actually mix the sauce into all the rice without its flavors practically disappearing under the starch mass. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only local who wants to taste the already subdued flavors.
There’s not much I can say about the Bahn Mi. They used a different bread than they should have, but they got a flat crunch on the outside which was nice (no inside crunch, but I don’t mind it sopping up stuff so long as there’s texture somewhere). The pork itself, though cooked well at least, was somewhat boring… it just reminded me of another pulled pork sandwich but without any sauce. I really wish they had a sauce. Or a different kind of pork, like something grilled and glazed or a pate, like is pretty proper. I guess the pickles were nicely acidic and tart, but that’s about it… still wondering if the jalapenos were cut a bit too big in mine. It’s part of the experience but I feel like I’ve had them thinner in other bahn mi’s.
I will say though… they’re really good at frying things. Don’t think this is me being passive-aggressive and snotty, I’m serious. The Sweet Potato Frieswhich automatically came with the sandwich had that perfectly thin layer of crispness on the outside with a tenderly soft inside; not the easiest thing to do (I doubt it’d last long, but no sweet potato fry ever does). And the chicken in the curry (also used in their Sesame), which was also deep fried, had that really nice tempura-ish crust, which stood up very well through the sauce, without overcooking the bird. Could tell it was an actual scratch-made batter too, not the generic thick sweet-and-sour batter used in almost every Chinese buffet or to-go restaurant. Either way, I was excited to eat it; and something about the texture reminded me of pork cracklings.
That said, one can expect that the wontonsand egg rollsare to be cooked well; I’m also giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Bulgogi and the Pork Katsu (sounds like they’re deep-fried meatballs) that I was not able to sample at this time. So I’m giving them a little higher score than I normally would have. Hopefully I’ll be able to try the Tacos soon to properly update the blog with.
So far, every item seen has been giving in some form of “bowl” (to-go aluminum version) or basket of plastic or regular composure. Everything requires two handedness, many require a fork, fried “apps” have a dipping sauce one needs to take into consideration (non-covered), and even potentially high-mobile sandwich is grounded by a side of fries. The Tacos and Hot Dog Specials are probably the only truly mobile options, with the latter possibly only needing one-handedness depending on how much topping it’s given (though I’m sure it’s served in a basket, one can just readjust on their own).
Basically the same pricing structure as the recently-visited Butcher Salt, with all main items at $8 and smaller onesat $5, but I feel the quality for cost is very divergent among them. As for the cheaper things, the Hot Dog Specials (at $5) may be a good deal, though that also depends on the dog used and how much they’re garnished. On Fried, I’m a touch uneasy; the Pork Wonton/Fried Dumpling yield a good option, but one only gets two okay-sized Egg Rolls (they look tasty, but not much there; at least with Vellee they gave 5 finger sized ones, it seems more bountiful), and Cream Cheese Wontons are always just that.
As I mentioned previously, with the bulk of the rice dishes being quite obviously the, well, rice, it’s difficult to contemplate the price justification. Though the Sesame seemed quite loaded in comparison, and the Pork Katsu meatballs do seem like they could lift the dish nicely; if only they hadn’t run out. The Bahn Mi is, as one can see, quite small compared to other Bahn Mi’s, and should probably be served for a couple dollars less, though they use the automatic inclusion of Sweet Potato fries to justify. Bulgogi is quite likely to be the one item that stands at the peak of price quality though.
Of course this little session of me whining over whether prices are worth it should be taken in a sense of minute quantities, one dish vs the next, and not in too major a fashion (maybe next to other trucks though). Obviously these prices are still much better than lots of restaurants.
It’s pretty hard to judge this properly, as though my Curry came out rather quickly (a couple minutes, and there were other tickets in the window), I actually had to wait at least 5 or more minutes before the guy leaned out the window to inform me that they were out of my Bulgogi Taco order. After that, though, I don’t believe I had to wait too long for the Bahn Mi. Others around me weren’t waiting more than a couple minutes between orders, ish. Certain items come out faster than others. Overall not too bad seemingly.
There’s a great “theme” to this place. It’s a great idea, has a fun decoration and logo and feel to it, and there’s been something about it during the chase that really made me quite excited at the prospect of finally getting to it. However, I will say that in hindsight, the fact that many of their items are based on the most cliché Asian items sort of takes a decent chunk of the experience away for me. Now they’re good versions of each, I will definitely give them that (it’s one of my big highlights), so props in not sticking to the crappy take-out recipes or whatever they all get for that. But it’d be nice to have seen either some more in depth, non-everyday regional Asian dishes, or Twist their applications some more (like putting the bulgogi in tacos and the curry-topped hot dogs). Overall, Strong showing in “ambiance,” pretty good in Technique (with some noted exceptions), lacking in creativity/interest.
Alright, so… they ran out of things a lot. Which sounds douchey to use for a deduction, and normally I wouldn’t; shit happens, sometimes things run out, even bacon (-gasp-). But these guys ran out of quite a few things on their menu, pretty vital and simple things too: Chicken Fried Rice, Pork for Curry, possibly a wonton, and worst of all the Bulgogi Taco, their mainstay item. Thing is, by the time I got there they hadn’t been on the street that long, good chance of only an hour’s worth of service. I doubt they had that much traffic, there was one moment of a little crowd when I got there but that’s it, since it was pretty gray and chilly out. There’s not much reason I can find for the lack of, besides highly insignificant prep.
Though, in itself that’s not too bad at all, I’m not really upset or feel too lacking for that in itself; though it does make a point that they probably shouldn’t have that many items on the menu, if they prep so little of some that they run out easy. What gets it for me is the fact that I wasn’t informed of the bulgogi loss until 5-10 minutes after ordering and waiting for my food. Not to mention the fact that not once did they offer to comp the meal, add an order of free wontons, or anything of that matter, which most establishments do (or should do) after such annoying circumstances come up. Either way it’s something to think about.
I find there are a couple needs this could place could satisfy, one just needs to choose carefully for each. For the basic Street Food delighter on-the-go, Bulgogi Tacosare the way to go, than and possibly a Curry Hot Dog(or other fun hot dog specials). These can also be used to satisfy “snack stops” for Truck samplings or when one just needs the small stuff; I would also lead towards the Fried Pork Wontons/Dumplings(the Cream Cheese ones are good I’m sure, but they can only get so exciting in my opinion).
As for those in the mood for a sit-down, something to take back to the office, or just needing a replacement for skyway Chinese food, the Sesame Chickenand Pork Katsu Curry are your destination. Maybe see if you can get more sauce though…