SB County Fair: Gourmet food trucks vie for votes
Santa Maria Valley native Norm Hays knows all about fair food.
He’s been coming to the Santa Barbara County Fair for 70 years, and has encountered many greasy corn dogs and funnel cakes.
The gourmet food truck fare he sampled Friday at the fair, however, was good enough for him to jokingly consider drastic measures to force the food trucks to stay put.
“They need to flatten their tires so they don’t leave town,” he said, indulging in a kurobuta pork sandwich topped with coleslaw flavored with green apple and apple cider from The New Black truck.
“After the fair, I’ve got an idea they’re going to be gone.”
Hays was one of a handful of fair-goers who visited the Santa Barbara County fair’s three gourmet food trucks Friday during the lunch hour.
The trucks — White Rabbit Original Filipino Fusion out of Los Angeles, O Street Truck from Santa Barbara featuring French fusion and The New Black Progressive American Barbecue from Santa Barbara, are engaging in a friendly competition during the fair in which patrons drop vote cards into a ballot box and the truck with the most votes at the end wins.
The contest is the first of its kind at the Santa Barbara County Fair, which takes place through today at the Santa Maria Fairpark. The trucks are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Despite the unique and raved-about fair food offerings, owners of the gourmet trucks said their location towards the back of the fair near the livestock barns made them difficult to find for would-be customers.
“We have people trying to find us, but that’s not a great thing to have people trying to find us,” said Liz Bradley, owner of O Street Truck.
“Tell them to search all the way down,” she added.
Bradley, a trained pastry chef who used to own a bakery, said food trucks are a new concept for Santa Barbara County. Meanwhile, in cities such as Los Angeles, Portland and New York, they are a staple.
She said her business and The New Black are two of the best gourmet food trucks on the Central Coast, and called the White Rabbit “phenomenal.”
Bradley said the reception at the Santa Barbara County Fair was friendly.
“Everyone’s been so lovely to us, they really have,” she said. “I think Santa Maria’s just a little, ‘what is this?’ This is a little off the beaten path just in terms of the culture of the fair, but so far it’s been great.”
Similarly, Melvin Chua, part-owner of White Rabbit, said Santa Maria fair-goers were not used to seeing food trucks.
“Once they try the food and everything, they’re totally responsive to it,” he added.
Chua was enjoying the competition.
“It’s been fun. We’ve gotten a lot of people that go to each truck, get something small, (and) really sit there and deliberate it,” he said.
Five Cities resident Tom Hughey sat at a table outside the White Rabbit food truck, and was joined by his young son as he dove into a pork sisig burrito that contained garlic fried rice, swiss cheese and a fried egg.
He said he wanted to try the White Rabbit because he saw the eatery featured on the Travel Channel’s show “Man Vs. Food Nation.”
“It’s really good,” Hughey said. “I don’t remember seeing these here last year.”
Chris Sullivan, co-owner of The New Black, said fair attendees were grateful for the offering of non-fried, quality food.
“Everything’s handmade except the bread. That’s it,” he added.
Nipomo couple Yvonne Sansom and Rick Bowen heaped copious praise on O Street Truck’s steak and chicken tacos, which were served with Provencal salsa. The chicken was marinated in garlic, cayenne pepper, cumin and Corona beer, while the steak was marinated in the same spices and Dos Equis beer.
“The chicken was awesome. I mean, fresh salsa, fresh ingredients and that’s what I was kind of looking for, anyway,” Sansom said.
Costing just $5 per order for the tacos, “that’s not a normal fair price, either,” she added.
“I want these food trucks to come back,” Sansom said.