Citypage’s 100 Favorite Dishes, 2013-14 Food Truck Breakdown

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                It’s safe to say the press and attention our Food Trucks have been getting through local news, papers, and blogs has yielded a wide breadth of coverage, strong reviews, and some pretty fun and interesting online articles. For the past… well I guess it’s actually been half a year, I’ve been occasionally following one of these yearly “projects” posted in Citypages: they’re “100 Favorite Dishes” (of the previous year I’m assuming… and the beginning of 2014).

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/100_favorite_di/

                I took notice a few weeks into their beginning of this year’s list after seeing a certain Food Truck’s mobile options as one of their favorite. After reading the article, considering things, I thought it would be fun to stick around and see who all else they might raise to inspired cravings. And let me say, our meals on wheels brethrens have racked up quite a few spots in the limited selection; not huge, but certainly not a puny few.

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                The first pic, coming in rated at #94, is World Street Kitchen’s Kimchi(and blue cheese) Scones. Though, yes, this particular Brunch item is only available through the RESTAURANT, I do believe the originally street-savvy business deserves the credit. Especially since this would make an AWESOME item on the Truck; god, I would hunt their truck down in a SECOND if I knew they had this guy on its menu, total Toe Ring material. Baked in house, this soft and yummy pastry is twisted with an interestingly funky mix of fermented cabbage and the moldy cheese. They have other scones too, which all sound quite yummy as well, but I gotsa love me some Kimchi all the time.

 http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/12/asian_invasion_bulgogi_tacos.php

                Asian Invasion comes in at #90with their oh-so-signatory Bulgogi Tacos, as I made some mention in their review. Kimchi makes its second appearance in this list, joined by jalapenos and the sizzling beef. I still have yet to get my hands on this soft and delicious package, but soon… soon…

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/12/100_favorite_dishes_no_78_potters_coconut_curry_veggie_pasty.php

                #78was taken up by my own favorite, Potter’s Pasties, and the much agreed-upon choice in what’s likely the best of the classic opions (or at least in the running), the Thai Veggie. Don’t think I need to express any further opinions on this item, those who read know my love of the savory pastry cart. Though I will say, so far, these favorite selections are really quite Asian aren’t they?

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/01/100_favorite_di_54.php

                One of last year’s summer newcomers, Paulette’s quickly scores itself up to #61in Citypage’s highlights with their Chocolate Croissant.Though really they could have picked any the croissants they offered, what with their mutual use of that buttery, flaky handmade and folded pastry. Can’t blame them though, a good chocolate croissant almost being a work of art, and this really is a good chocolate croissant. I’ll have to write myself a note to have it again sometime soon.

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/02/100_favorite_dishes_moral_omnivore.php

                Not a surprise, Moral Omnivore comes into the ratings, and quite high at #48, easily edging itself into the upper half of this list with their BLTwhere the T stands for Terrifically-Fried-Tomato. There’s a reason both these guys and Paulette’s made it into my own Top 10 Truck list, and the items responsible are both featured here as well. Just simple, beatifull, and perfectly fun and street worthy. If one still has yet to visit them, you should, they were probably THE stand-out truck for me of 2013, if there ever was any (hold on, did Motley’s premier in 2013? If so than MO is #2).

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/03/100_favorite_dishes_foxy_falafel_cheese_curds.php

                Foxy Falafel made it in at #28, but it was for the restaurant’s Cheese Curds, which I just found out typing this… it makes my feelings confused. On the one hand yes, it’s quite the accolade to get so high up on the list, and those local, cornstarch and dill-breaded curds look perfectly crisp and delicious… but come on, you have Foxy FALAFEL on a top 100 list for CHEESE CURDS!? I guess I should be happy it’s still a classic street fair food, but… but… falafel… please…

                -cough- Anyways. Drumroll please! The final Food Truck, which reached in all the way up to spot #23is….

–dadadadadadadada–(… in case you can’t tell, that’s a drumroll)

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/03/100_favorite_dish_world_street_kitchen_yum_yum_bowl_sameh_wadi_delivery.php

                -Gasp- World Street Kitchenagain! And it all comes full circle, and with the menu item that many could say launched their popularity: the BBQ Beef Yum Yum Rice Bowl! I still remember the many times I walked past them in the summer of our first Food Truck year. Even now, it’s still never an item that initially stood out to me that much, but when I finally had it one lone night did I get to experience the balanced beauty of this asian mixed bowl delight. Though not the most mobile, its origins hark back to the days of weary travelers getting sustenance from small roadside “cafes.” And the heart and soul has translated well throughout all these years.

                And with that ends this year’s iteration of the 100 best, my response posted notably later then I wanted it to be (they snuck the last one under my nose without me noticing for over a week, darn them!). A big congratulations to EVERYONE who made the list, this is truly quite the gathering of delicious food offerings. Maybe I should start another One Craving Project around trying each one of them? Let’s hope next year yields a similar level of Food Truck involvement. But until then, enjoy all your culinary adventures, whether they’re mobile or stuck in the ground. Good Luck and Good Eating!

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                Honorable mention towards Indeed’s LSD Alereaching #70, much love to our business brothers in the local Breweries, and Chef Shack Ranch’s Chicken Wingsat #37 (god I still need to go there… and other restaurants).

 

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Brunch-fest of Champions

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                   Cafer Racer and a Fulton for Brunch, best way to start off the day! Got to finally try Racer’s Carrot Souffle, which ends up as this mound of awesomely chewy cheese (if you’ve ever had those parmesan “crisps,” it’s like that but thicker) and delicious sweet carrots. The chicken was a bit drier than their pork, but considering they only use the breast meat it’s to be expected; the flavor is still really good and awesome though, and that’s before mixing everything together (and thank you god they’re topping it with all their sauces now, AND the crispy fried strip things!). As for the beer, Fulton’s seasonal Libertine (Imperial Red Ale), quite the tasty fella, and strong of course… took me a bit of a walk to recover, but worth it.

Brava on Wheels

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No Websites so far

Main Location: Minneapolis

                With a name indicative of known restaurant ties, Brava on Wheels has stated to only be a possible offshoot of She Royal. That’s about as much as we currently know about this big Black and Gold beauty, as the seeming delay in twitter, facebook, or any other website has left an information on them a mystery. Guess all we have now is their food and a name and design reminiscent of a Glee offshoot.

            Dishes and flavors seem to be Thai based, at least for now. These take the form of a couple sandwiches, rice bowls, a wrap and salad, each basically topped with some protein (Chicken most of the Time, but also offering one Fish and Lamb dish) and a Red Curry Sauce (they try making the distinction of a different “Brava” sauce in the sandwiches, but really it’s the same).

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Food: 6.5

               As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve required dual visits to really get a sense of these guys, grabbing myself the Lamb Sandwich and Chicken Curry Bowl in subsequent attempts. What I found was two particularly different experiences in which to report on.

              The bun on the lamb wasn’t toasted, but it wasn’t unpleasant, in fact I really liked the ciabatta they used; soft and easy to bite through. I wish I could say this was the norm, but for some weird reason I kept seeing them handing out sandwiches with what looked like pretzel buns on my second visit. I know it wasn’t for something specific… both sandwiches on the menu said ciabatta, which is what I saw both fillings in too. It could be some unwritten possibility for people who had… some sort of eating requirement? Either that or they decided to just use something else for every other sandwich.

               Speaking of second-visit sammich differences, I’m glad to say they no longer served that bland, crappy coleslaw (sadly homemade); though the change to cheap, mass-produced ripple chips wasn’t too much of an improvement.

              The Lamb itself was pretty tasty along with the mild brava sauce, the cheese was done decently, and the fried onions were nice. I very much enjoyed the whole experience of it (sans coleslaw). Ironically, though, while the sauce did a decent job acting as a base there, its use in the actual Curry dish was highly disappointing; though it wasn’t the only thing.

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               Can’t argue that they give you a lot, it certainly is impressive. It’s just too bad that girth mainly comes from the rice and vegetables. It looks like a decent amount of sauce at first, though one quickly discovers it’s not nearly enough for all the rice beneath it (like Cajun’s beans and rice).The squash and vegetable are decent on their own, with a nicely firm texture, but not too much flavor overall. And finally, the grilled chicken was dry and overcooked, even with the sauce around it.

               Though I can’t say this myself, I also hear that the spiciness level of the “extra hot” option isn’t too impressive either. Oh, and am I the only one who’s starting to get a bit bored with all the places making Hibiscus Punch or Lemonade or whatever? I know it’s good, but at this point… oh well, at least these guys have Glass Coke and Fanta!

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Holdability: 8

                 Depends on the item, but overall it’s mainly just a two-handed requirement. The rice bowl is of course a bowl, but an easy one to walk and eat out of. I definitely want to make note of the Lamb Sandwich; at first glance, one can’t help but think sitting down is required… but it doesn’t. Amazingly, I found I could eat this with one hand (basket in the other) while walking with only minimal pieces of meat falling out, my teeth cutting through the bread and meat easily. You know if they just wrapped this in foil and served as-is it’s be a pretty good Street item.

                Something odd, the Chicken Curry Wrap is a naturally great Walk-around alternative to a rice bowl, usually using chickpeas to replace the starch. But for some reason though on every order, after wrapping it tight in foil, they then proceed to move to a paper bag… sort of defeating the whole purpose.

Price: 8

               Well, not much to say, price is same as the score at $8 for every item. Though quality can’t always be said, they definitely give you a lot for the price.

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Speed: 7

               Seems to be dependent on rhythm and what time one gets in. Sometimes it can be average or a bit faster, other times it can be pretty darn slow, either when waiting behind multiple tickets or alone (read about someone who had 10 minutes for a single order of Curry).

The TOE: 5

              This really sucks, the name and design becken you in nicely, ya start getting the feeling this is potentially something fun, and then… yeah. At the very least, the menu DOES have a common point between items, that thai curry thing, but then one reads all the menu items and just gets… well, not bored. But it all just has this feeling of the generic, the unexciting, I can’t think of anything that jumps out and just says “HEY! Get me! This is why you should be coming here every week!” I know one item is good, but there’s none of that “special” feeling, that little “extra” something that all the good places have. Maybe they just need time, need to get a few more curries and work on improving the food outside of something one would find in a regular Thai-based café.

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                          Tally: 34.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            Mainly good for when one wants a decent amount of lunch for $8. As for what to get, if they actually do decide to visit (I mainly say wait it out and hope they improve in a couple months), the Lamb Sandwich has proven a notable high point in the list. Though I wouldn’t suggest any of the chicken dishes, if one is looking to get that Thai/Curry experience from a Food Truck, the Chicken Curry Wrap looks to be a fun little version (very much like what Indian is doing). And hey, the chicken might not always be overcooked.

            When not requiring portability… I find myself still curious about the Tilapia Curry Bowl. It could be interesting, but considering certain other missteps, I’ve very dubious on whether or not it’s worth it. Though I guess that’s my overall thoughts of this place anyway.

Emconada

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https://www.facebook.com/emconada.cateringroom?fref=ts   

Main Location: Minneapolis

             One of the best things about Street Food cultures; whether it be Bazaars, Food Trucks, or the various State Fair set-ups; is innovation. Only in these situations does one see people create weird, unique, tasty little things that would probably never even be considered to grace the menu of a restaurant, purely as it has no use outside of the streets. Whether it be on a stick, in a cone, or sandwiched between two donuts, it’s hard to argue that some of the greatest, and sometimes just plain bizarre, food creations have happened on the road.

            Sad to say, though, these particular offerings don’t come out too often within the regular Food Truck lineup (though they do seem to hold 50% of the State Fair culinary backbone). But after much a wait, Emconada Catering has hit the street, filling one of the Marquette line-ups with their “Empanadas in a Cone” (as their mantra goes).

            As one can imagine, I was quite curious as to what form this might take during my original spotting of them. And I think I can safely say I find no disappointment in how they’ve chosen to transform this Latin staple. Instead of the original stuff-n-fry (ugh, sounds like a really lame sex move), the traditional dough is shaped and fried into a familiar cone. Once done, the packages are held for service, ready to be filled with either Chicken or Seafood mixes and served with a Salad and/or Spanish rice.

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             Serving out of their big orange trailer box, various pictures of menu items festooned across the menu, Em certainly makes themselves known on Marquette. Not least of all with half of their backdoor completely wide open, making for a really great and fun view of the entire kitchen as they work, and also offering a smart way to cool down on a hot day (if you haven’t guessed already, those trucks can get HOT on a good day).

            Overall, not too bad a visit for a place I was literally running down the street after a little over a week ago.

 

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Food: 7.5

              A fun surprise was found in the chicken filling for my emconada; my expectations were somewhat low on what seemed a pile of cooked and shredded meat. Happily, I was found wrong, with the chicken being of a good texture and having notable seasoning from lime and probably some other flavors. However, I still find just a pile of shredded chicken, even flavorful, feels lacking, and wish they had mixed in some extra elements, like a rich stewed vegetable mix or relish or whatever. As for the Seafood mix, which I didn’t have the chance to have, it’s a mix of Clam, Shrimp (I think), and something else I couldn’t make out; but it’s Mom’s recipe apparently, and it looks and sounds really good.

             Empanada dough is decent, not bad at all, though overall it doesn’t stand out. This is mainly due to the cooking process, where the dough is for once fried from both inside and out, so the interplay of crisp out to softer in is much lessened. This also leads to a consistency that is more likely to crumble, which is actually sort of fun at the end, cuz you get to mix the leftover meat, dough, salsa, and rice all together.

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            Speaking of which, the rice is a clearly better side than salad, even in their pictures it looks limp; but that doesn’t mean it’s all much to think about. Sort of sticky, not too much flavor to it, sort of the Spanish version of generic fried rice.

            A word on the Salsa/Hot Sauce – don’t be afraid to get Hot, the Medium is pretty mild even for me (believe me, that’s saying something).

Holdability: 7

              The potential that they hold in this category is extraordinary; history upon history of ice cream service has proven the wonderful abilities of the cone (not to mention Japanese Tamake… which Sushi Fix STILL hasn’t added to their menu!!! AHH!!!). However, this potential gets tossed over the shoulder as not a single one of their menu choices allows for buying the product as-is. Every single option requires at least one side of rice or salad, thus subjugating this possibly perfect and fun item into a basket.

             I don’t have too much against the basket itself, it’s not a difficult one to eat from, especially since one can eat the cone with hand. Plus, with the particular way they make the cone, one does benefit with the basket; I found a noticeable amount of my chicken ended up falling from the rim, with the shell crumbling near the end. Plus, if they sold the pair of emconadas as-is, then one would need to battle with holding two separate cones at the same time.

            So how do we solve this issue? Quite simple, both of them are a result of the size made for these cones; it’s not big enough that the filling required to make it tasty all stays in, nor for them to create a viable option of only selling one. As such, I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to create, on the side (not saying they should get rid of these smaller cones, I’m assuming they’re the easiest size for them to create), some larger sized cones which they can sell one at a time. Thus would create an easy, clean, fun (and as we’ll see below, affordable) little handheld addition to our Street Food lineup. Just need to have the hot sauce in squirt bottles next to the window for ease of addition.

           Final note, other menu options of just filling mixtures and salads are, obviously, purely basket-fork affairs, but at least not as messy as other basket-focused items which I’ve seen in other trucks.

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Price: 6.5

           Various combo dishes which range from $7.50-$9.50, ultimately staying in the sorta high area of Food Truck prices without offering any lower deal items. Much like my issue with holdability, I don’t quite understand why they don’t offer the choice to only buy the emconada. In this example, it would offer a better deal for those only looking to sample, form a more complete menu, and ultimately create a better feeling to the customers upon reading over the selection.

Speed: 9.5

            An ice-cream cone filled with meat, Em has created a fantastic product for quick-service needs in those long lines (you know, assuming there aren’t any of those inconsiderate groups of inconsiderate talking businessworkers in front who just stand there when it’s obviously their turn in line). Just requiring the action of filling the cone with pre-made mix, adding the side, it makes for a short wait.

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The TOE: 8

             There’s a REALLY great feeling that you get when going here, just centered around the fun and wonder of trying this new, mysterious little orange box. It was so refreshing being able to go somewhere that I can DISCOVER something again; not to knock Trucks that make familiar(ish) and traditional(ish) foods, they have their own amazing qualities, just on a different end of the spectrum.

              Now, all they need to do is get rid of the all-combo-basket idea and introduce options for just the cone, maybe get a couple more fillings (which I’m sure they will in time), and they can finally get RIGHT to that perfect point so many others have successfully reached.

                       Tally: 38.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            Definitely a truck for Foodies and those starting to explore the Food Truck scene; also a viable option for those needing their lunch quick.

            Currently not too many options to pick and choose from, making choices easier. The salads don’t even count in my opinion; I still pity those people who go all the way out to a Food Truck JUST to get a salad (I mean really, people? That’s not a Food Truck experience; if you need something healthy or vegetarian there are quite a few options that still stick to it).

            Seafood seems to be the more interesting of the two fillings so far, and is definitely what one should try first! If they still don’t adjust the menu so one can just buy the cone, which is the only option I would ever suggest for customers, then grab the Spanish Rice, the mixed greens don’t look good at all, even in their pictures.

Hibachi Daruma

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https://www.facebook.com/HibachiDarumaMN?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/HibachiDaruma

Main Location: St. Paul

             After a few rocky delays from weather and other issues, Hibachi Daruma has appeared on the St. Paul streets! Clad in varying shades of purple and pink, one can often find this funky mobile operation parked outside of the Capitol, at least when in the general Rice Park area.

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            Reflecting the various designs and daruma paintings on their side, Hibachi focuses on simple Japanese fare. As name suggests, this all takes the form of food cooked on a hibachi: the large, flat, hot metal grill famously used in various tepanyaki restaurants (you know, the place where they throw shrimp at your face). Though, sadly, one can’t sit around and watch them do various tricks while cooking, the wide window allows for a fun little viewing of the two chefs as they work away at the hot griddle. One griddle for meats, one for rice and veggies, with each little pile being handled and mixed in a special way, one is almost able to get that feeling of hibachi’s long history.

            So far, the menu is really simple, offering Teriyaki of various basic proteins as well as two Noodle dishes. The Teriyaki’s are all served with a pile of Fried Rice, hibachi’d veggies (onions, celery, carrot, etc), and a little side of Shrimp Sauce.

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           I will say, interestingly enough it was the shrimp sauce that brought me back; I remember going to a tepanyaki place once when I was a kid, and for some reason I loved the shrimp sauce I had to put it on EVERYTHING. At one point I literally had just a bowl of plain rice with shrimp sauce thoroughly mixed in… and I sorta did the same thing today too (it’s fun to mix everything together!).

 

Food: 7.5

                  For a simple teriyaki dish, I’ll admit it’s pretty good. It’s not the kind of food that’s gonna make you dance around in the middle of the street purely from giddy excitement (… you know, cuz I’ve never done that… not at all…), but the chicken still has bite and juice, the teriyaki sauce has quality, and the accompanying veggies aren’t bland. In fact, I find the soft, grilled onions to be a welcome, satisfying relief from various lame vegetable sides in countless other restaurants.

                I am unsure if their noodles are homemade or pre-bought, it’s hard to tell, maybe I’ll learn sometime soon. I would assume the latter, but hope for the former.

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Holdability: 6.5

                  Really not something that’s meant to eat on the streets. Big styrofoam box filled with rice, veggies, and chopped up whatever-meat, ideally eaten with chopsticks (stop eating Japanese food with a fork! Pleeeeeaaassseeeee!!!); this is definitely a sit-down-required, “bring back to your office/home/similar” kind of meal. To make this stand out even more, they pack with a to-go plastic cup of Shrimp Sauce, which can make application quite sticky… and the food ever more messy (though it does taste pretty damn good).

Note: Since my original review, Hibachi has actually gone on to change and improve their menu. They now offer items like Yakitori, Gyoza, and some other more portable items hanging in the $5-7 range. A detailed recounting of this is listed Here, but suffice to say that I have thus increased the scores on Holdability, Price, and Toe since then.

Price: 7

                Teriyaki dishes range from $7-$10(highest being a combo of two meats), the cheapest item being a $5 Vegetarian Noodle dish. Though you get a decent amount with the order, it’s still a little high (besides the noodle dish) for such simple, unexciting fair; at the very least it is when compared to our other Truck offerings.

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Speed: 8

                Takes a bit of time to get the teriyaki worked over, but the time is spent watching them work the dual griddles, so it’s sort of fun, helps pass the time.

The TOE: 6.5

                  They get points for a really fun paintjob/truck design and that experience of watching two guys constantly working various food piles at the flat, searing hibachi grill (very reminiscent of Japanese Street Stands), but other than that they just don’t feel like a Food Truck at all. There has been no real effort to transform themselves into anything more unique than a Chinese Food Court, which is just such a shame.

                I was actually looking forward to this Truck so much; the moment I heard we were getting a Japanese addition (yes I know Sushi Fix; but I think we can agree sushi has elevated itself to a whole different world separated from the rest of Japanese cuisine) to our streets. Finally, I thought, we might get somebody serving steam buns, or takoyaki, or good tempura skewers, or even a traditional noodle bowl! All of these are pure, authentic street foods that, done right, transfer over to Food Trucks so well, and would really make for an integral option to our Truck Line-up… but what do they end up doing instead? Japanese stir fry, over rice and veggies. Compared to most, it’s pretty good hibachi, but it’s just hibachi, nothing more; this is not a food that screams “Eat me while walking around!” Nor does it stay in our senses as anything memorable; besides, of course, the vibrant hues of purple and pink.

                      Tally: 35.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            For those in the mood for lunch from a pan-Asian place to bring back to their office, this is a great substitute Food Truck option, offering similar flavors with a little rise in quality at about the same prices. Either that, or if you’re looking for something to take home for dinner later to heat up (it actually tastes pretty good while cold; at least with the shrimp sauce mixed in).

            For the money conscious, Noodle dishes are the way to go, and the Chicken Teriyaki is the most reasonable of the teriyaki’s at $7. If willing to spend more, then I definitely would suggest the $10 combo to at least get a couple meats with the meal.