The Phoenix food truck craze is over.
Not that we still don't enjoy food trucks. Their offerings at lower commitment levels than those of their dine-in brethren make them the most accessible and cheapest culinary adventures in town. But gone is the hype of the new. With more than 30 food trucks currently listed in the Phoenix Street Food Coalition directory, we can afford to be picky about our options -- and we've come to know what to expect.
The granddaddy of all local food trucks, Short Leash Hot Dogs, continues to be a crowd favorite, with fans regularly lining up for a taste of Brad and Kat Moore's naan-wrapped dogs ($6) topped with ingredients like mango chutney, fried pickles -- even peanut butter and Cracker Jacks. And since Short Leash's launch in 2010, other mobile kitchens have tried to emulate the truck's concept of gourmet street food served fast and offered at a fair price -- some successfully and others not so much.
Here's a sampling of six of them, listed in order of my favorite to my least favorite.
Taste Rite (Po' boys) www.ritewaycatering.com
The Skinny: Chef Darryl King, owner of Riteway Catering in Phoenix, uses the trailer he originally built for participating in barbecue contests to serve non-traditional po' boys and a few specials.
Tastes: King's deftness with barbecue makes for a decent sandwich called The Blazing Pig ($8), featuring tender pulled pork, half a hot link sausage with a good skin snap, and slaw stuffed into a soft but sturdy roll slathered with a sauce that doesn't hold back on the heat. The jerk pork bowl special ($8), with chopped jerk pork, coconut rice, and candied jalapeños, may be less jerk- and more barbecue-flavored than you'd expect but still makes for a satisfying and spicy bite. All meals are served with a choice of crispy and garlicky tater tots or green chile mac and cheese, addictively fruity sweet-and-sour slices of dill pickles soaked in Kool-Aid (called Koolickles), and King's version of an after-dinner mint: a Dum Dum sucker.
Aji Mobile Foods (Latin American sandwiches and snacks) www.ajimobilefoods.com
The Skinny: What little the Valley has in the way of the flavors of Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, this father-and-son team brings to the streets in the form of sandwiches, empanadas, and sides.
Tastes: Sandwich lovers looking for some Latin flair could do worse than the El Gaucho ($7). Better than the too-meaty Cuban ($7), this hefty hoagie comes packed with chunks of flavorful grilled steak, caramelized red onion, and a slathering of bright and slightly spicy chimichurri aioli, or Argentine tartar sauce, on a crispy-crusted oblong roll.
The Verdict: Fairly fast and with a menu of fill-you-up items priced at $8 and under. You can add an Inca Kola (the cream soda-like beverage from Peru) and score a Latin-style lunch for under 10 bucks.
Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Truck (Filipino street food) www.heyjoetruck.com
The Skinny: It might not be as famous as that of its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, but Filipino food has some tasty dishes, and Brian and Margita Webb serve several of them, street food-style, all over the Valley.
Tastes: If the lechon kawali ($8.50), four pieces of braised and deep-fried pork belly, is not overcooked, it is satisfying. But for a more adventurous taste of the archipelago, you'll want the sisig ($8) when it is available. The succulent hash-like dish of diced and sautéed pig snout, ears, and jowl with onions and chiles gets even better when Brian Webb cracks a raw egg over the top while the plate (one you're expected to return to the truck -- not a good idea) is still sizzling-hot.
Pizza People (Pizza) www.pizzapeopleaz.com
The Skinny: Personal-size pies prepared by longtime Phoenicians MaryBeth and Tim Scanlon, who use scratch-made dough and locally sourced ingredients.
Tastes: The crust -- slightly crispy on the edges and soft within -- makes for a satisfying foundation for simple, well-made pizzas such as the fresh-spinach-topped Popeye ($7.50) with tomatoes and garlic, and the spicy Hottie ($7.50) with bits of Schreiner's Italian sausage, jalapeños, and slices of bright Serrano peppers. There are vegan and gluten-free options, too.
Luncha Libre (Quesadillas, tortas, and salads) www.lunchalibreaz.com
The Skinny: Specializing in what they call "Arizona-inspired food," husband-and-wife team Tim and Kim Cobb use local products to prepare an ever-changing menu of quesadillas, tortas, and salads -- often with an Asian twist.
Tastes: The Papa Verde Quesadilla ($8), too heavy on the cheese and salt, is bested by the more unique Thai'd Up version ($8.50), a flour tortilla filled with ingredients like citrus-kissed chicken, Serrano peppers, caramelized onions, and a stinging, sweet Thai chile sauce. More daring diners can say the magic words "Rey Mysterio" and receive chef Tim Cobb's special of the day.
The Verdict: With most dishes accompanied by corn chips and homemade salsa, Luncha isn't leaving anyone hungry. And given its salty side, you'll be grateful for handcrafted agua frescas ($4) -- although they're served in mason jars that are yours to lug around forever or return to the truck for a future discount.
The Grilled Cheese Truck (Grilled cheese sandwiches) www.thegrilledcheesetruck.com
The Skinny: Roaming the streets of L.A. since 2009 with his cheese-centric mobile kitchen, owner and chef Dave Danhi expanded his business into Phoenix in January, with an eye on the franchise prize.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Tastes: The sandwich that started it all, The Cheesy Mac & Rib, a.k.a. "The Fully Loaded" ($7.75), is a compact creation of oozy sharp cheddar, smoked barbecue pork (without much smoke), mac and cheese, and caramelized onions between grilled bread, and it is the most flavorful and filling of the bunch. Unlike the Pepperbelly Melt ($7.75) with habanero jack cheese, a feeble chili, a curious-tasting cilantro lime sour cream, and Fritos, "The Fully Loaded" doesn't trade taste for sheer novelty. Forgettable sides like tomato soup and dipping sauces should be ignored.
The Verdict: Given a clear, easy-to-execute concept and the option of building your own melt, these cheesy eats might seem road-ready. But with more salt than you'd probably prefer and an asking price of around $7 for what is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich, it's tough to justify stepping up to the window.