Joes on the Nose. Photo by Carissa Casares. A fleet of social-media-savvy food trucks has begun to invade San Diego. As you read this, new food trucks are putting it in park all over the country. A quick visit to the cleverly named website RoamingHunger.com, where you can “follow the street food movement,” confirms it: There are more than 250 trucks in operation in the U.S. Mind you, these aren't the old-fashioned loncheras (lunch trucks) that have been around for decades. These food trucks roam cities, using social media to alert people to their whereabouts and selling specialty items that can't be found anywhere else.
For those unfamiliar with the food-truck phenomenon that's overtaken cities like Los Angeles and Portland, here's how it's happening: A new truck gets in the game by creating accounts on Twitter and Facebook. They then start making various stops around town, using their accounts to post updates on their location and menu items. Night owls with hunger pangs find a truck and give it a try. If it's delicious, they tell their friends, who then tell their friends. Lines grow longer, demand grows and there you have it: success.
“I think they're coming,” says David Wasserman, owner of Joes on the Nose coffee truck. “I can't really disclose some of the people I know that are building these things because they're not up and running yet, but there's definitely cool stuff coming.”
Having started his organic-coffee truck almost three years ago, Wasserman is now the go-to guy when it comes to mobile food (and drink). He was the first person in San Diego to establish an alternative food truck, and thus was the first to go through the process of navagating the red tape.
“I spoke to everyone,” he says. “It took me around a year to go through all the legal paperwork and build the truck and do things the right way.”
His orange truck started out small, just selling coffee at the beach, but has now moved on to serving at large events, parks and farmers markets. Because of his success, many other truck-operating hopefuls have come to him for help.
“I knew one group of people that were building one and then kind of got overwhelmed by the workload because it's harder than you think,” he says. “It's like building a restaurant on wheels, especially if you're doing full cooking in a truck.”
Food-truck chefs aren't only doing full cooking in tiny spaces; they're doing inexpensive specialty, gourmet items that would otherwise sell for a pretty penny in a fancy sit-down restaurant.
Tabe (pronounced Tah-bay) BBQ is an Asian fusion food truck that's popular with both lunch crowds and late-nighters. Its daytime stops include San Diego State University and Little Italy, and at night it frequents Bluefoot Bar & Lounge in North Park and Rich's nightclub in Hillcrest. Executive chef Todd Ichinaga worked at the five-star, five-diamond Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills for two years and has a standard for his truck that most likely surpasses a lot of restaurants.
“Just because we're a truck doesn't mean we're going to put out subpar food,” Ichinaga says. “As a chef, that's important to me.”
Tabe BBQ's Asian-fusion tacos and burritos are filled with pork, chicken or beef that's been marinated for hours. They're so good, their juices will run down your arm. Knowing he had a specialty item on his hands, Ichinaga set out to be one of the first Asian-fusion trucks in San Diego, having seen the explosion of Kogi BBQ in L.A. If you don't know that story, Kogi is perhaps the most successful food truck in the country, known to draw crowds upwards of 100 people at a time.
Tabe BBQ isn't the only truck in San Diego dishing out unique items with a gourmet twist. There's also Food Junkies, a cart run by longtime caterer Brett Doogan that parks behind The Office bar in North Park on Friday nights. Doogan and his crew serve up street food like the TJ dog—a hickory-cured, bacon-wrapped hot dog—along with old favorites like tater tots. He's quick to point out the symbiotic relationship between these new food trucks and bar owners.
“The bar owners like us because a lot of people go to bars, and if they don't have food there, then they leave the bar to go eat but then they never go back,” Doogan says. With a food truck mere steps away, patrons never have to stray too far, which means good sales for both the bar and the truck. With the agreements, many bars allow food from the trucks to be eaten inside.
Then there's Dave Long of Chef Dave De Jour Street Food. Chef Dave, as he's more commonly known, roams mostly in North County but ventures south to San Diego twice a week. A former Navy Seal turned personal chef, Long is a culinary artist. From his truck he plates pork-belly sliders, adobo chicken confit, grass-fed beef skewers, truffle fries and mac-and-cheese on a stick, which customers have affectionately named “crack on a stick.” He uses his iPhone to update his Twitter followers, tweeting things like: “Will be at the bar luecadian at 23:15. Fresh caught yellow tail, mac on a stick, oh yeah and truffle fries baby!!!”
Because of their savory menu items and new-media know-how, food trucks can often make what they call “brick and mortars” jealous. Restaurant owners have been known to call the police on food trucks, but the truckers don't let it get to them.
“We're legit business. We have our business license. We have our health permits. We have just as much right to be someplace as anybody else,” Long says. “It's not a matter of me or any of these other trucks posting up in front of a restaurant and taking business from these people. We're filling a niche, a need.”
Food Carts on Twitter
Dave de Jour Street Food: @davedejourFood Junkies: @foodjunkietruckTabe BBQ: @tabebbqJoes on the Nose: @joesonthenose