Food truck. Lonchera. Roach coach. Whatever you call a rolling restaurant, it’s hard to deny the surge in their popularity these days. These mobile caterers went from construction site staples to foodie obsession overnight, and now you can’t walk down the street without having to dodge a retro-fitted hot dog wagon now serving Korean schnitzel kabobs. Maybe you’re the scavenger hunt type, but frankly I’m sick and tired of having to track down the latest meal on wheels like a caveman hunting a particularly delicious elk. Isn’t it time to send these gastronomic nomads back to the garage?
I live in Los Angeles, where the gourmet lonchera craze really hit its stride with the now-famous Kogi truck. It featured a delicious and brilliant combination of traditional Mexican street food and Korean barbecue. It capitalized on the burgeoning social media scene to make eating an event. People (read: hipsters) lined up for hours to devour the kimchi quesadillas that all their friends were blogging about. There was a community element to it. There was a sense that something was happening. And then, like all good things, it turned into just another way for enterprising individuals to make a quick buck. You like Kogi? Great. Now there are five Kogi trucks. You like Korean-Mexican fusion? Awesome. Enjoy the stream of Korean-Mexican imitators that cropped up, not to mention Chinese-Mexican, Indian-Mexican, and Native American-French Canadian (totally made-up, but doesn’t fry bread poutine sound amazing?). The movement became commodified and now it sucks.
I get it. Food trucks are way easier to start than restaurants. People who never had the time, money, or stamina for brick and mortar finally got the chance to have their own place, albeit one that gets eight miles to the gallon. Forget permits and inspections and health codes, just grab a truck and start driving. Sounds easy, right? Well, that’s the problem. In most places, it’s too easy. (Big cities like New York and L.A. have finally wised up and made it just as much of a regulatory headache as opening a “real” restaurant. To them I say: Nice work.) Because the barrier to entry is so low, just about anyone can operate his/her own truck and be celebrated for it. But we don’t tolerate this business model in other arenas. When the guy down the street says he has his own circus because he trained his cats to dance in his living room, we don’t all rush to support him. Although, if that circus sold fantastic Polynesian-Belgian dumplings, perhaps we would.
Okay, so maybe I’m going overboard. Food trucks aren’t all bad. Some of them have amazing food at pretty great prices. More often than not, though, they serve not-so-great food at pretty bad prices. That’s why I think it’s time for some food truck population control. I don’t know how, but we need to invent some sort of system to eliminate the poseurs and just keep the trucks that are truly dedicated to providing good food. If you come up with an idea, please let me know in the comments. Now, excuse me, but I have to go find some fry bread poutine before this afternoon’s cat circus.
Based in Los Angeles, Jason Kessler has written for television shows such as NBC’s The Office, True Jackson, VP on Nickelodeon, and The MTV Movie Awards. Photo by Matt Armendariz.
Follow him on Twitter @BANitpicker