Portland: Battle of the Food Trucks – Tacos Tangle with Pizzas


By Tom Finke | RiverFrontTimes |

Gentlemen, start your engines!

In a world where our social interactions are dictated via our Internet connection, the food truck is king. Sure, you can experience the serendipity of random interaction, the chance street-food vendor, but who leaves these things to chance any more? Get thee to Twitter, you Luddite, where the food trucks reign supreme.

Testimonials have been trickling in from the coasts: The streets of Portland, Oregon, are almost literally paved with vendors of every stripe; Los Angeles is home to a mythic Korean taco truck; even Kansas City chimes in, with artisanal Sno-cones on wheels.

St. Louis desk jockeys are now served by a handful of food trucks. Those fortunate enough to occupy cubicles downtown, at the Wells Fargo campus in midtown or at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex in the Central West End can take their pick from mobile offerings, thanks to their population density. Not so Gut Check, who, if we want to dine al-food-truck-expressco, must take to Twitter and thence to the streets, to flag down our lunch.

The Contenders
Cha Cha Chow The bright yellow truck is a ray of sunshine on a frigid winter day. On the day we catch up with them, they’re peddling Mexican hot chocolate in addition to tacos and sandwiches. But we’re on a mission for lunch, and a food coma seems unadvisable.

Alissa Nelson
Taco platter, coming right up!

Gut Check opts for the taco platter ($7.50) with one each of curried sweet potato, pork and beef spareribs, plus a side of black beans. The sweet potato is a welcome vegetarian addition, more Jamaican curry than South Asian and topped with a bright salsa verde and cheese, probably Chihuahua. Pork is sweet and salty, topped with the same salsa verde and juicy and succulent and entirely overstuffed in the best possible way. Rounding out the trio, the beef spareribs are touted by the women staffing the truck. While the beef tastes smoky and spicy and is aptly topped with a creamy house sauce and crunchy red cabbage, the meat itself is dry. The beans are black and glossy, clearly cooked from scratch to the optimal texture. They taste pleasantly garlicky but could have used a hit of cumin or cilantro.

Pi The smell of tomato sauce wafts from the Pi truck across the street, where four different deep-dish pizzas bake in a mobile oven. Word to the wise: You can only buy a whole pie, so be prepared either to split with a coworker or write a passive-aggressive note on your leftovers to keep the fridge bandits at bay.

Alissa Nelson
When is pizza NOT a good idea? Never, that’s when.

We opt for spinach-mushroom ($12), made with Pi’s standard thick cornmeal crust. The sauce is bright with fresh tomato flavor, but the balance is a bit heavy on the salt and light on the herbs.

The Winner
It’s a tight contest, but with extra points for alliteration, Cha Cha Chow’s taco truck takes it! The variety of options means no belly will go unfilled, and no coworker will be able to resist the pull of the outdoors.