It's More Fun in the Philippines... in Los Angeles
Found regularly on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Koreatown when they're not catering private events or parked outside a concert venue or in a church lot, this mostly Filipino food truck feeds hungry Angelenos with generously proportioned BBQ rice bowls, burgers (including a tocino burger — grilled pork patty with tomato, egg, mango-bell pepper slaw, and aioli), Filipino fish cakes, and such specialties as tapsilog, beef marinated in soy and garlic, served with garlic fried rice, a fried egg, and pickled slaw.
Read More: 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012
The team behind Neri and Romy Seneres, owners of Neri’s Restaurant (along 6th St and Occidental Blvd. in Los Angeles), and their two nieces—Rhea Rachelle Espino and Maria Belzunce—as their business partNeri's Curbside Cravings consists of Neri and Romy Seneres, and their two nieces (and business partners) Rhea Rachelle Espino and Maria Belzunce. Their hard work has won them a loyal following in LA and a spot on The Daily Meal's 2012 list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America. In this interview, Neri's Rhea Espino explains the truck's inspiration, spills on some new dishes and brick-and-mortar plans, and how they came up with their signature dish.
When did you launch your truck?
Our food truck was launched in January of 2011.
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
My cousin who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2010 had been asking my aunt (who has had a Filipino Restaurant for 28 years) to open a food truck. At the same time, I was doing consulting work for some friends. When my aunt found out, she offered to the three of us that my aunt (Neri), my cousin (Maria), and myself (Rhea) become partners in this business. My aunt told me that in the past I always had partners with my previous restaurant business who were not family members. She said, "Maybe it is about time to be in a family business." It was a very interesting partnership — three women from different age groups and with cultural differences all working on one food truck business — but also a very good marketing tool for the restaurant, to remind other generations about our restaurant. What also inspired me the most was that I could bring Filipino dishes (both traditional and fusion) to the streets for everyone to enjoy.
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
Well, being that people eat outside and on the curb, and they would get this urge to have or food, we thought "Curbside Cravings" would be a perfect fit.
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
We wanted to show some colors associated with the Filipino flag, and my aunt wanted something clean and simple so, my friend Mutch Carino came up with the design.
Does your truck have a vanity license plate? And if so, what does it say?
No vanity plate, but we have stickers that say, "It's More Fun in the Philippines."
What model truck do you have?
A 2006 HiV CO truck.
What's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
Our signature dish I would have to say is the Tocino and Tapa Burger. My cousin Maria (who is her 20s) loves this burger. She was born and raised here in America. She came up with the idea of making a burger with the marinated meat we use for our Tocino and Tapa dishes. We baked our own bread sized like a hamburger bun (pandesal bread are usually found in Asian markets, but are typically really small), then made a patty topped with an egg, cucumber, tomato, slaw made with mango, radish, carrots, bell pepper, and a garlic aoili spread. But I think our most popular dishes are the barbecue plates: teriyaki, barbecue chicken, and barbecue pork served with steamed rice and salad (red cabbage with cilantro, mango, and radish with a mango and ginger vinaigrette dressing). Another signature dish is our crispy lechon — crispy pork belly with garlic rice and jicama slaw and liver sauce on the side. Our lobster balls (like a fish cake or a crabcake) is also a very popular dish.
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
Hmm, all of our dishes are inspired by how our grandmothers prepared traditional Filipino cuisine for us growing up — well-marinated, seasoned all the way through, and made with a lot of love.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
The operation is pretty challenging, the logistics of the parking, finding a spot, managing staff, and most of all making sure the customers are happy. After all, they need to be satisfied at all times.
If you haven't already, would you ever go brick-and-mortar? And if you have, is there anything you feel gets lost in the transition?
Yes, although we already have a restaurant that has served Los Angeles for 28 years, we still would like to open a small café catering to the menu that our truck offers. I think that transition would be much simpler and easier.
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
"You have to love what you are doing," is what I usually tell someone who wants to run their own business. Any business, not only one in the food industry, takes a lot of dedication, focus, and hard work.
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
Yes. In 2013 (our second year), we plan to revise the menu a bit. We will still have all the main items on our menu, but add more items that will use our pandesal bread, maybe a teriyaki sandwich, or a pork barbecue sandwhich so that our customers are not limited to rice plates.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
There are some in the works, but we will wait until we have taken our first steps.
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant, and that probably goes double on the road. As such, be it weird, funny, good, or bad, what's one superlative or particularly outstanding moment or story that's ever occurred with your truck be it with customers, in the kitchen, or just in general?
Hmm, there are plenty of stories, but the most frequent funny thing that happens is when someone comes up to our truck and wants to order to order a taco or burrito. Most of the people walking on Wilshire associate food trucks with Mexican food. It still happens often, even in our second year on the scene.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.