Dozens of the Valley's food trucks hit Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon for the Taste of the Trucks food truck festival.
We headed out on Sunday to sample just what the fest had to offer -- and we're happy to say many of the complaints we shared after the last RoRo food truck event in 2011 ceased to be an issue this time around.
With 25 food trucks to choose from each day, the festival offered plenty of variety. And though the samples given at each truck tended to be pretty small (a good thing), we knew we probably couldn't hit each and every one. Our plan of attack involved skipping some of the city's best-known mobile eateries like Jamburritos and Pizza People to leave plenty of time and stomach space for new dining adventures.
Some of Sunday's standouts included the trio of breaded balls from the guys of Goodness Gracious Great Balls and Sliders. Not only was this one of the more entertaining stops of the event, the truck's deceivingly simple-looking balls packed a lot of flavor. While the classic mac and cheese ball was tasty and the Mexican variety (with Mexican rice and a white cream sauce) was also good, the best bite came from the kimchee ball. The ball of deep-fried sushi rice was topped with a well-balanced secret kimchee-inspired sauce definitely made a strong impression.
We also liked the offerings from Island Loco, the food truck that's been serving Hawaiian fusion cuisine to the city for about a year. Early in the day, the truck served small portions of Spam musubi, an island favorite sometimes described as "Spam sushi." An accompanying dash of garlic aoili put this truck's version squarely in "fusion" territory, but made for an interesting and enjoyable take on the dish. Later the truck offered up kalua pork toastadas, a pile of pork, salsa and sauce atop a crunchy tortilla.
On the other hand we filed Paradise Melt's Aporkcalypse grilled cheese under the "Less Than Thrilling" category. The sandwich, which included bacon, ham and pulled pork inside a sourdough and cheddar grilled cheese, came off as an appeal to some people's indiscriminate love for all things bacon rather than a well-developed dish.
In fact, bacon lovers might have been more satisfied by the bacon street taco served up by The Hungry Monk food truck. With Applewood smoked bacon, pico de gallo, bacon slaw and bacon beer aioli, this dish delivered on bacon and actual flavor.
And if we had to choose between the 'que at One Eighty Q or Sweet Magnolia, we would have to opt for the latter. The former's beer battered chicken and Gorgonzola slaw were forgettable, while Sweet Magnolia's pulled pork was simply good and the slaw, excellent.
We also enjoyed the Satay Ayam with gado-gado sauce from Satay Hut. The skewers of moist chicken were elevated greatly by the accompanying spicy (and we mean, spicy) peanut sauce. And it looks like Jamburritos may have some stiff competition when it comes to mobile cajun eats thanks to Sanda Dee's Catering, LLC. The food truck is a Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry "Certified Creole Product of Louisiana" and served shrimp creole and a blackened fish taco on Sunday.
In the past, long lines have been a huge problem at local food truck festival events. But our experience on Sunday involved no such issues and we heard from many food truck owners that Saturday night also brought far fewer lines than past events. There was ample seating too, in our opinion, though more trash cans would have been nice.
As for the "dust bowl" problem, sorry, but no resolution this time around. A large portion of the event was held on a dusty grass-less lot and, thanks to lots of crickets, at times felt like it was moving beneath our feet. More shade would also have been nice, since Sunday afternoon felt a lot more like summer than fall -- but then again this is Phoenix.
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For the most part we felt this was a great event that offered both the food-truck-familiar and those trying to feel out the scene plenty to explore.