Washington, DC

Read Queenedix’s previous food truck reviews here.

Pizza is, most often, a food produced for mass consumption and not maximum enjoyment. Great local options aside, most people think Papa John’s when imagining pizza, not Paradiso. Within the last week, somewhere in America, a group of college students celebrated the end of their term by purchasing several 18-packs of reduced-calorie pale lager, ignoring the concept of moderation, blasting top-40 hits on Spotify, and, inevitably, ordering some quantity of low-quality pizza from a national chain pizza restaurant. Because it lacks flavor anyway, it will be dunked in “garlic sauce” and ranch dressing, serving mostly as an alcohol absorbent and not an enjoyable meal. Pizza is a food that can become sublime, even gourmet (Graffiato’s Countryman pizza springs to mind), and yet most pizzas are made as cheaply and quickly as possible—a reality that made me extremely skeptical of DC Slices, one of the oldest food trucks in the city. Perhaps I should blame months of hearing about Herman Cain and Godfather’s Pizza for subliminally instigating my pizza cravings, but I finally ignored my fear of disappointment and dove into the DC Slices menu.

DC Slices

Pizza: 3 Seconds

Tater Tots: 4.5 Seconds

There are a few things you might hear at a food truck that immediately reassure you of your lunchtime decision. “Would you like fresh basil on your pizza?” and “Your food might take a few minutes, we cook to order,” are two such comments. DC Slices is a solid, reliable, affordable lunch option that might not compete with the specialty restaurants around town, but firmly rests many levels above your average chain or lunch-takeout pizza joint. At $4 a slice, or $5 combined with a soda, it is the best lunch deal I’ve found so far. Their tomato sauce is homemade and well-seasoned, the dough is soft enough to fold your slice but still has a good chewiness, and your pizza is served melty-hot out of the oven. The cheese and pepperoni options were solid; their version of my personal favorite combo, sausage and onion, was tasty but not terribly exciting—the flavors of sausage and onion didn’t stand out on their own from the sauce either time I sampled it.

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From a press release:

The District’s first traveling restaurant opens in Georgetown December 13th through 17th

Uncurbed is a traveling restaurant that brings the enjoyment of the food truck experience off the curb and into various vacant spaces. The first Uncurbed DC will feature a BBQ Bus Holiday House Party in a vacant second-story space at 2805 M Street NW.

Jeff Kelley of Wonky Promotions explains, “Uncurbed was born out of a desire to bring vibrancy to vacant spaces through a combination of great food, local art, and lively entertainment. By joining forces with food trucks to cater food service at these events, we are partnering with
people who care deeply about engaging their customers in meaningful and innovative ways. Che and Tadd at BBQ Bus epitomize this thoughtful approach.”

The restaurant will feature a menu of smoked ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and other BBQ and comfort food classics regularly served by the BBQ Bus food truck.

“We opened BBQ Bus because we love cooking and sharing good times with family and friends,” said BBQ Bus Chef and owner Tadd Ruddell-Tabisola. “Uncurbed gives us the opportunity to share those passions with guests in a relaxed, house-party environment.” Uncurbed is a production by Wonky Promotions and verdeHOUSE, a DC based company that activates vacant space with temporary users.

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I just spotted the Dorothy Moon food truck on Sat. at Farragut Square. Looks like they just launched. From their Facebook page:

Launching November 2011 – Serving the DC area with the best burgers two guys can make
Description
The menu will consist of 5 burgers (for now) as well as a list of
toppings in which one could create their own scrumptious burger.
-All burgers will be hand-pattied with the best natural beef found in the area Menu:

1)The Dorothy – Fried Egg, Smoked Bacon and Mild Cheddar Cheese

2)The Tony Pepperoni – Homemade Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese and Pepperonis

3)The Mexican Entourage – Homemade Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Jalapenos, and Mild Cheddar Cheese

4)The Classic – Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Smoked Bacon, Mild Cheddar Cheese, Swiss Cheese, Mayonnaise, Ketchup and Mustard

5)The James Madison – Grilled Teriyaki Mushrooms, Smoked Bacon, and Swiss Cheese

Like the sound of the burgers?

After they’ve been rolling a while we’ll have Queenedix for a 5-Second Rule critique.

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1st Yellow Vendor

Read Queenedix’s previous reviews here.

For those of you who remember the dark days when chicken curry was merely a glimmer in a Fojol’s eye and food carts in D.C. almost exclusively served reheated half-smokes alongside “FBI” t-shirts, you might recall a small yellow cart run by a mother-son team that parked at 15th and L and served Korean food. This cart, the Original Gangster of D.C. food trucks, first appeared in 2007 and seems to have bred a curious phenomenon—in a city without many duplicative competing food truck concepts, there are at least 4 different trucks in the Greater D.C. area focusing on Korean cuisine. Even more intriguing—two of the carts, Yellow Vendor and 1st Yellow Vendor, are often assumed to be related but are actually in fierce competition with one another, and have taken to Twitter repeatedly to make it clear they are NOT affiliated…although their trucks, names, and serving methods are nearly identical. I can’t help but suspect there’s more of a connection, probably even a familial one, which makes the competition between these trucks especially interesting.

Given that this many similar trucks are in business, I decided to investigate the seemingly booming bulgogi market. Since we’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving, I reviewed not one or two, but three different Korean trucks in the Ultimate Bulgogi Battle. I checked out the bulgogi/chicken combo, spicy combo, and kimchi at AZNEats, Yellow Vendor, and 1st Yellow Vendor to determine the best option for your next Korean craving.

Yellow Vendor
3 seconds

AZN Eats
2.5 seconds

1st Yellow Vendor
1.5 seconds

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Read Queenedix’s previous reviews here.

Over the past few months, I’ve discovered a challenge in reviewing food trucks: Cost. When I check out new trucks (and readers, feel free to leave suggestions for future reviews when you comment on my pluralizing of traditional European desserts) I try to consider how good the food would be, objectively, to a random hungry passerby on a nice day, but also whether or not the cost is worth the food you receive. This in itself becomes an options-narrowing challenge—recently, I spent $18 on an entrée and side from a previously untested truck, only to determine that the quantity of food, overall quality, and cost didn’t compel me to go back and review the place again. I would think many of you, like me, would be hard-pressed to drop a $20 on a meal that doesn’t even include real silverware or a complimentary piece of bread.

In the hunt for a good, satisfying bargain, sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the best. This week I convened a circle of hungry friends to help me try Big Cheese Truck, the popular purveyor of things grilled and cheesy. Bringing together a group to taste has its benefits, especially with something as familiar as grilled cheese—there’s a lot less to quibble about than when trying a more complex dish. A variety of tasters help me figure out whether I subjectively reallllly love any kind of grilled cheese, or whether the sandwiches are, objectively, delicious. The verdict at this truck is clear: Big Cheese Truck is a new favorite spot.

Big Cheese Truck

4 seconds

I had already tried many of the offerings at Big Cheese Truck before convening my “tasting circle,” but I was glad I gave the truck another shot. On my first few visits, there was always something that made the sandwiches not-quite-perfect, like un-melted cheese in the sandwich’s center. Although it was not offered on the day of the tasting, I absolutely love the “Truffle Shuffle,” which I have seen on the menu and tried only once. Not for the faint of palate, this sandwich is loaded with flavor—black truffles in the cheese, smooth and earthy artichoke hearts on a slightly sweet, dark bread makes for a hell of a sandwich—one of the best ways I think I’ve ever spent $6.50. With the “tasting circle,” I re-sampled other menu items I’d tried before—the Midnight Moon, standard grilled cheese, “Thrilled Cheese,” and “Mt. Fuji.” We also dipped our crusts in Big Cheese’s homemade tomato soup.

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Read Queenedix’s previous reviews here.

Believe it or not, Queenedix is actually one-quarter Italian. And not in the way everyone thinks MTV’s Jersey Shore cast is entirely Italian. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my first-generation Italian American grandfather lovingly picking figs, canning waxed peppers, and making sauce on a warm summer evening. Needless to say, “Ragu” was a four-letter word in my household—I hold Italian food, especially pasta, to pretty high standards. So when a consigliore raved about the manicotti at Basil Thyme food truck, I was skeptical. Family recipes? Handmade pasta? I imagined so many ways the food could go wrong, dreading an experience more JWoww than Don Corleone. But given that my most recent lunchtime experience with lasagna was courtesy of Lean Cuisine, I figured any truck chef who gets up before dawn to hand-make pasta deserves my confidence—and a posthumous nod of approval from my dear old grandpa.

Basil Thyme

4.5 Seconds

Basil Thyme gets it 100% right—from the crusty, browned edges of each substantial piece of lasagna to the amazing depth of flavor. The classic Linda claims to be just like Mama’s—and it absolutely delivers. Layers of fresh pasta, perfectly cooked, are lined with a fantastic, flavorful sauce, complete with chunks of tomato, well-seasoned ground beef, and smooth ricotta cheese. I like to pretend this is the meal Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone was planning the day she accidentally died in Fabrizio’s bomb plot gone wrong. Freshly-grated parmesan tops both the pasta and the salad—another wonderful touch. The Lisetta, pork in vodka sauce, is equally flavorful, although I could have done with a little more meat in my portion. The Giuseppe (points off for misspelling it on their menu) is a wonderful combinationof savory and sweet butternut squash, cooked tender but not mushy, and soft, tangy goat cheese—topped with fried basil leaves. And the cannoli—the cannoli! It changes regularly, but the pistachio version I tried was outstanding. It might be the best food truck dessert offered.

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Photo by PoPville flickr user yostinator

Read Queenedix’s Eat Wonky critique here.

Despite my love of food trucks, I’m the first to admit that the food, at least in the still-infantile DC truck market, derives more of its appeal from the novelty of being made on a moving tank of propane than it does from balanced seasoning and nuanced flavors. When you’re competing with overdressed $12 salads, reheated Chinese takeout bars, and the ever-popular $5 footlong, it doesn’t take much to provide at least baseline gastronomic satisfaction. To be honest, after last week’s review, I sort of dreaded blowing $25 to taste the entire menu of a new truck, only to determine it wouldn’t be worth eating after a second on the floor.

However, there are a few instances when food truck meals rise above the typical fare to provide a dining experience capable of competing with some of DC’s better restaurants. Every once in a while, you try food that isn’t just a greasy chaser to calm your hangover or a fun Friday “cheat” on your latest weight-loss regiment. Sometimes, you find a truck serving food that is complex, balanced, rich, satisfying, and affordable—a place you return to without guilt because the mere pleasure of experiencing the food again is worth a 20 minute wait in line. I had intended to try something new this week, but noticed a personal favorite, *Takorean*, parked outside my office on Tuesday, and was inspired to bring you my thoughts on a truck I find truly exceptional. Sometimes, you have to set the highest bar to know how good everything else is, and in my opinion, Takorean (and a very small handful of other trucks in DC) set that bar.

After all, any place that makes tofu taste THIS good deserves high accolades.

Takorean

*4.5 seconds*

Takorean excels partly because they offer a small number of options in their very specific niche, and they do these things very well. Start with options of beef, chicken, or tofu, all marinated in a sweet and slightly spicy bulgogi-style sauce. On my first visit to Takorean shortly after it opened, the tofu option was sold out—an early indication of just how good this protein, so often scorned by meat-lovers like myself, is at Takorean. You can add napa slaw or kimchi (a tough decision, as the slaw is crisp and sweet and the kimchi tangy and punchy) and then a smattering of toppings best ordered all together, as “the works.” These include a crema (much like crème fraiche), sriacha hot sauce, and sesame seeds. Everything comes wrapped in a freshly grilled corn tortilla (props for the grill marks to prove it).

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The first Juice Truck in DC, Juice Revolution, is launching Oct. 28th. The owner writes in an email:

“It will be the first Juice Truck in DC, and one of only a handful in the nation, to juice fresh, organic and mostly local vegetables and fruits right on the truck. I hope to serve vegans, vegetarians, and all those folks looking for a healthy treat they can feel great about.”

Their Web site says:

“Juice Revolution is a food truck juicing up fresh vegetable and fruit juices for the people of the D.C. area. We are passionate about health! Our truck is driving a movement to offer nutritious and delicious options to our community. The health benefits of drinking our fresh, un-bottled (aka, Live!) juice are pretty awesome.

We strive to provide the highest quality product, using local produce in season, and organic when possible. Our juices are squeezed to order to maintain the freshness and vitality of the juice. If you haven’t tasted a fresh juice before, prepare to be amazed at how much better it tastes than the pasteurized juices you’ve been drinking until now.”

You can find them on twitter here.

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