When is a restaurant not a restaurant? If you’re a “foodie,” it’s when your next meal is part of the food-truck revolution.
Let’s differentiate the various types of street-food vendors; there are your small mobile carts — think taco or hot dog cart; there are seasonal stands, like snow cones, chestnuts or fruit stands; there are booths, like at farmer’s markets; and, finally, up the proverbial food chain, there is a food truck.
A food truck is gourmet food in a mobile and tricked-out truck. Food trucks allow talented chefs to serve the public up-close and personal. They also allow a chef to serve food without the cost of a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Gourmet food trucks have been popping up everywhere, and recently they have become increasingly popular in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, Utah is well behind in the food-truck movement. There are only two major contenders: Torta Truck and Chow Truck.
Finding these trucks is like a food scavenger hunt. You can look at their websites, get e-mails or follow them on Twitter. Torta Truck is usually found in the business parks and industrial areas west of Salt Lake City. Chow Truck is usually parked in east Salt Lake City, including a weekly stop near the University of Utah.
Both trucks are trying to find a weekly spot in the downtown area. The trucks usually repeat the same routine each week but the owners are always looking for new places or venues.
I recently hunted down our Utah food trucks and sampled some of their dishes.
Torta Truck is Julie Sheehan’s food truck that serves homemade Italian Rustica and a few other choices. It was a Frito-Lay truck before Sheehan, of Salt Lake City, converted it into the eye-catching blue Torta Truck.
“I like the idea of being mobile and being able to go to people,” Sheehan said.
The signature dish, the Torta Rustica, is an Italian dish similar to a pot pie. It is full of meats, cheese and vegetables layered into flaky dough. The torta I sampled had roasted red peppers, garlic, spinach, onion and cheese. It was delicious and had a mellow, fresh flavor.
I also tried the grilled panini with roasted red peppers, fresh spinach, provolone cheese, creamy red pepper sauce and roasted turkey on a stone-ground bakery ciabatta role. The bread was perfectly crisp and chewy and the vegetables all tasted fresh.
The menu also includes a salad and a vegetarian burger. Also delicious is the rosemary shortbread cookie.
Chow Truck is an Asian food truck owned by SuAn Chow of Salt Lake City.
As to why Chow turned to this type of cooking, she said, “I have been in the restaurant business before and I wanted to do something more unique and different and progressive.”
The bright yellow truck serves items like Asian sliders and tacos. I tasted the coconut lemongrass chicken taco, the pineapple-ginger pork slider, the BBQ beef brisket taco, and the Asian spiced root chips.
The tacos were served on corn tortillas with Asian slaw and wonton crunchies. The slider was served on a bun with wonton crunchies and slaw. All of the entrees were packed with flavor and very appetizing, especially for the great price. The chips were like potato chips with a yummy flair.
Chow Truck also serves a variety of Asian drinks and candies.
With choices like duck tacos in Minneapolis and made-to-order gourmet donuts in Los Angeles, foodies are ready for creative curbside cuisine. Cities like Portland, Ore., have food trucks all over — 450 at last count, enticing diners with Indian (rice pilau, masala), Korean (Seoul sliders, kimchi quesadillas), Polish (pierogies, sausage), Italian, French and Middle Eastern dishes and more.
Other trucks specialize in desserts. Again, the emphasis is on originality and great taste.
So why is Salt Lake City so far behind in the food-truck movement?
Chow said, “I think there will be more, but the city ordinances are strict.”
The difficult regulations include rules on where food carts can park and how long they can stay there, which is only two hours.
“I think if there were more, it would be great,” Sheehan said. “The more the merrier, to a certain extent. It should up the quality of food.”
So, the next time you are in the mood for a moveable feast, think about hunting down a food truck. Food trucks are an easy and exciting way to try a new type of food that you might not normally try in a restaurant. The chefs are creative, experienced and approachable; they want to see you enjoy the food.
Let’s start a revolution right here in Utah!