Flame Cafe co-owners and husband-and-wife team Norm and Tori Sandoval are each other's old flames. As in, at the age of 15, she was his first girlfriend.
As time passed, however, and the pair graduated from high school, they drifted apart. Norm would go on to become a baker, and Tori, a commercial chef. She would work for the burger chain Islands for almost two decades.
Then, 30 years after their graduation, the two met at a reunion and resumed their decade-spanning relationship. After deciding they were both tired of working for other people, the couple decided to start a food truck.
Hence the name, Flame Cafe. Tori is Norm's old flame, and vice versa. The truck is their new one.
Now, almost three years since the truck's beginning, they've really gotten the hang of things. Tori does most of the cooking, while Norm moves in and out of the truck – which is really a trailer – barking orders and hyping up the food to customers.
"No one goes hungry on my truck!" he says periodically.
And he's not wrong. Despite a microscopic kitchen, the truck specializes in what could be called maximalist comfort food: heaping portions made from a laundry list of ingredients. This food packs significant flavor. The truck roams across the Valley, but focuses on the east side, in particularly, Gilbert.
"We love Gilbert," Norm says. "It has the most lenient food truck laws."
Perhaps most remarkably, everything is prepared and cooked on the trailer. The couple does no prep at a commercial kitchen, and nothing is frozen or stored elsewhere. All meals begin and end within the truck.
"We're doing things right off the bat, and that's where the flavor's at," he says.
Moreover, ingredients are locally grown and sourced, and it shows.
On Norm's recommendation, we tried the day's "street-smart" tacos, as he calls them, and a blue cheese and balsamic burger.
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The tacos – pesto shrimp with black bean paste, sautéed shrimp, chipotle sauce, cabbage, queso fresco, cilantro, and onion – were excellent. They were delicate and complex, and certainly made us start thinking about pesto and Mexican food in a new way. Nine dollars gets three tacos heaped with fillings, though the flavors were balanced enough to overwhelm.
The burger was another pleasant surprise. While blue cheese on a burger feels a little old-hat, the addition of fig balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions, locally grown spring vegetables, sliced tomato, and a sun-dried tomato aioli made for dynamic bite. And two large burger patties might seem a little excessive on most anything that isn't In-n-Out, but the variety of flavors and fresh vegetables made the meatiness manageable.
The Flame Cafe menu doesn't really fit any genre, but somehow, in a truck that successfully specializes in the go-big-or-go-home mentality, it feels just right.