Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville Food Truck Championship comes roaring downtown this weekend

Latin Soul Grille Mofongo.

By Caron Streibich  |  Jacksonville.com

Latin Soul Grille Mofongo.
Latin Soul Grille Mofongo.

It’s one of the most highly anticipated culinary events in the area.

The fourth annual Jacksonville Food Truck Championship is from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at The Jacksonville Landing.

Twenty-five pre-eminent local food trucks will converge downtown, serving unique and innovative food while also competing head to head for the chance to be recognized as the best among their peers.

For those uninitiated to the delightful joys of eating from the colorful mobile kitchens taking Jacksonville by storm, I wanted to highlight a few examples of the kinds of cuisine found at the event. So here’s a ride off the eaten path.

Having won “Best Overall” and “People’s Choice” awards twice in the past three years of this competition, On The Fly is a must-visit destination at the championship. To gain an appreciation of why this truck has garnered so many accolades, grab a pair of chopsticks and order the Firecracker Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna.

First, slices of seared ahi tuna are sprinkled with sesame seeds. The tuna is served atop crisp wasabi Napa cabbage slaw, then topped with a sweet chili soy glaze and clump of pickled ginger. The sweet, slightly spicy and moderately salty sauce is a perfectly balanced medley that covers a bed of crunchy slaw — providing a great contrast to the tender sushi-grade tuna present in seemingly every bite.

Not many food truck owners have cooked for the Dalai Lama, but chef Ashley Amin of Fusion Food Truck had the honor of doing just that while in the midst of an award-winning culinary career in San Diego. Now in Jacksonville, she’s ditched the grueling, long hours of restaurant ownership to open a food truck focused on the flavors of India, Thailand and the Mediterranean.

A good choice for Fusion newbies? Tikka Masala. It touts a rich and creamy tomato-based sauce that simmers in a blend of Indian spices, with a hint of ginger and garlic. The sauce is served with basmati rice and your choice of tofu or chicken. Fusion’s version is not only a great entry point for those unfamiliar with Indian food, it’s some of the best I’ve tried anywhere in the country.

Latin Soul Grille features an eclectic mix of authentic Puerto Rican food fused with wood-burning barbecue techniques. Try the mofongo, a traditional delicacy that combines green plantains that are mashed together with bacon and garlic then topped with stewed chicken soup.

Though plantains are technically a fruit, this starchy dish takes on the texture and flavor of moist mashed potatoes, soaking up every ounce of the savory chicken stew doused on top. This comfort food is the culinary equivalent of a warm hug.

Work your way over to Chew Chew Food Truck, a colorful gastropub-inspired kitchen on wheels that marries global flavors with pub-food favorites. For those wanting to try an exotic item in a more familiar package, I recommend getting your hands on a Korean barbecue short rib melt.

The sandwich is a hybrid between a Korean-inspired taco and a traditional American pulled pork sandwich. Braised short ribs and melted Gouda cheese are slathered with a tangy Korean barbecue sauce on Texas toast, and served with a side of crunchy kimchee napa cabbage and carrot slaw. Fish sauce in the slaw adds an element of umami. For those desiring even more depth, ask for an egg cooked over easy.

Funkadelic Food Truck has a menu that’s as funky as the colorful jazz-playing octopus painted on the side of the truck. Try the shrimp sliders: panko-crusted fried jumbo shrimp, crisp bacon, avocado and sriracha slaw are topped with an addictively sweet concoction simply called “Funk Sauce” that is all somehow wedged into a sweet Hawaiian roll. If these sliders haven’t put a smile on your face, maybe the tranquil sounds of Bob Marley playing from the truck will chase your worries away.

Hungry yet?

Don’t fret your calorie-counting self, as a portion of each dollar spent among this mouth-watering caravan is donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida. With the help of the Landing, Community First Credit Union of North Florida and Intuition Ale Works, maybe I’ll save you a spot in line next to me.