In its third year, New Times' annual Street Eats Food Truck Festival has become a must-attend event for the food truck fan and novice alike. I've attended (and written about it) every time. After a warm, filling Day One at this year's Street Eats, I can tell you that this year's festival is a good one, but I do have some advice for you if you're heading out tomorrow.
As always there were some delicious bites, but long lines and confusion over payment methods made the first day of the festival at Salt River Fields a challenge.
The first thing you'll need to know this year is that you need to buy tokens in order to be able to buy food at all of the trucks. Some will also take cash and others will take credit/debit cards, but there are quite a few that will only accept tokens. And it's a real bummer to find that out when you've already waited in a long line.
Warning: You can only buy the silver food and drink tokens at two tents set up at either end of the event. They cost $2 each and can be bought only with cash -- which is also important to know before you wait in yet another long line to get them. Good news: There are ATMs available on site.
As far as the food goes, if you're going for the quality over quantity then The Main Lobster Lady should be your first stop. But you won't get in on this delicious lobster action without a substantial investment of time and money. We waited for an hour and forked up nearly $20 for a Traditional Style Maine Lobster Roll.
We had no regrets. It was easily the best thing we ate all day. It's a simple sandwich but features impressive chunks of Maine Lobster inside a warm buttered roll. The lobster is remarkably fresh and if you close your eyes you might even be able to pretend that you're dining seaside. When we left the fest around 4 p.m. the truck still had a huge line but unlike in years past hadn't run out of food.
Last year I had to skip Devilicious, the California-based food truck that appeared on the second season of The Great Food Truck Race, due to -- you guessed it -- a really long line. But this year it was a reasonable wait to get our hands on an $8 or two token Duck Confit Grilled Cheese. The caramelized red onions and Gruyere and mozzarella cheeses made for a tasty sandwich, but the stand out ingredient had to be the port honey reduction sauce that also helped counteract the dryness of the duck.
There are a few Cajun and Creole food trucks at the truck including local favorites Jamburritos and Sandra Dee's Catering. In the interest of trying something new, we headed to Person's Cajun Food out of California for a taste of the South.
The Person's menu includes catfish, crawfish, and Po'boys, but we went for the more interesting Frog Legs with Cajun Fries. If you're looking for a dining adventure this is a pretty mild one. The legs come fried in a flavorful batter but ours were a little on the dry side. On the upside (or downside depending on how you see it) they really do taste kind of like chicken. Oh and don't even bother with the Cajun fries, which are just standard state fair-variety with seasoning sprinkled sparingly on top.
And we couldn't resist checking out Frank., the gourmet hot dog truck that hit Valley streets last October. It's pretty gutsy to do a fancy sausage truck in a town where a certain other hot doggery has such a strong following, but we'll happily admit we really enjoyed Frank's Demeter dog.
We ordered ours with a bratwurst -- and yes, they use locally made Shreiner's sausages -- and pretzel bun. The brat was as good as expected but the bun fell short. The dog comes topped with falafel, cucumber, tahini, tomato, and feta cheese and makes for a tasty but messy meal. Most notably, the falafel is surprisingly good, both on its own and on top of the dog.
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There were long lines at the Hao Bao truck when we went by. The Chinese comfort food mobile returned from a hiatus five weeks ago. If you're looking to get in on their signature pork and shrimp dumplings, just know that they'll cost you $8 but that they'll only accept tokens. Yatai Ramen, the Valley's first ramen truck, also takes token only but is wisely serving small sample-sized portions for one token a piece.
And speaking of portion size, we noticed that most of the trucks this year have returned to serving full sized dishes. A whole grilled cheese; sandwich; or plateful of fry bread is a lot to enjoy if you want to eat at several trucks. Next year we'll be hoping to see more affordably priced, smaller dining options.
Finally, while few trucks ran out of food, we found drinks difficult to come by as the festival drew on. And thanks to this year's particularly warm weather, you're probably going to want at least a bottle of water or three, which will cost you $2 a piece.