8 Best Food Trucks in Washington, D.C. Slideshow
January 10, 2013
Chef Brian Arnoff, who has worked under Barbara Lynch in Boston and for one of Michael Mina's establishments in D.C., describes his wandering food truckas "The Capital of Macaroni." Mac and cheese is thus, not surprisingly, the main draw here, either in classic form or with meatballs or "sloppy" with meat sauce. There's also long-cooked brisket over rigatoni, Buffalo chicken mac, and a "happy ending" bar — a layered concoction involving a chocolate chip cookie, a coconut brownie, and a sheet of honey walnut toffee.
7. Tasty Kabob
Tasty Kabob works the nation's capital pretty much from one end to the other (and deploys a sidewalk cart in Crystal City). The Kelly green wagon is an elaboration on what New Yorkers would call a halal cart. The meat, in fact, is halal (the Muslim equivalent of kosher), and mostly involves very tasty skewered chicken or lamb, over salad, over rice, or in gyro sandwich form. The meatball kabob, available Wednesdays only, has a dedicated following.
6. The Big Cheese
"Grilled cheese used to be your favorite sandwich," notes The Big Cheese truck’s site. "What happened? You grew up. Isn't it about time your sandwich did, too?" So what does that mean? Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and bread from Lyon Bakery. The Thrilled Cheese (chipotle Cheddar with jalapeño and guacamole on sourdough) has to be a draw, but the Cherry Glen may be the truck’s true calling, something you’ve rarely seen: a grilled cheese with chèvre and lemon fig jam.
5. DC Slices
Oh, D.C. pizza truck scene, do you want to be Jumbo slices or not? Do you know? It’s hard to tell with people lined up during lunch down the block for DC Slices. As much as Washingtonians may hate to hear it, DC Slices is much closer to Adams Morgan’s Jumbo Slice than it is to either Pizzeria Orso or Two Amy’s. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. It just has that same mottled cheese and sauce look and texture, and that same non-crispy bottom. It’s a style of pizza that those not from Washington but who are adopting it as their next big city, and sensitive about their own small-town sensibilities, should just stop equating to New York and enjoy it for what it is, another regional style, and hey, a pretty good one at that, especially when you’ve had a few drinks (but not necessarily because of it). There are all the familiar toppings to be expected (including Buffalo chicken), no surprise there, but a strong side move is to order the tater tots either loaded, with pizza, bacon, and Cheddar, or chili and cheese style.
4. Pepe Food Truck
Launched less than a year ago, Pepe Food Truck might still be the best example on the planet of how far food trucks have come. It’s chef José Andrés for crying out loud. This is the kind of move toward food trucks by a major chef that starts to build up in you that bravado to ask, "Hey, Thomas Keller, that’s right, you bum, Grant Achatz, where’s your food truck! Are you just being lazy?" There have been about eight sandwiches available on the menu at Andrés’ D.C. sandwich truck since it hit the scene in March. Recently, the menu featured a Spanish pork burger, fried chicken sandwich, roasted eggplant with red peppers and mojo rojo, a Spanish grilled cheese, a ham and cheese, and a seared beef tenderloin with caramelized onion, piquillo pepper confit, and blue cheese. There’s also a sandwich that’s not likely to make the chef any fans in Madrid, "Fútbol Club Barcelona," thinly sliced chicken with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and shallot mayo. How anyone who has had Ibérico pork would be able to turn down the "Pepito de Ibérico" featuring it with serrano ham, green peppers, caramelized onions, and aioli, we’ll never guess. But hey, if this chef put it on the menu, trust you won’t be disappointed.
3. Basil Thyme
In June 2011, former IT professional Brian Farrell introduced the District of Columbia to homemade and gourmet lasagnas made with from-scratch pasta and served on the go. The "scratched" metal finish on this food truck is just where the hard work began for Basil Thyme. "It took me 250 hours with a drill and sandpaper to create the swirled-brushed aluminum look," said Farrell. "In the beginning, I had no funds for a fancy wrap, so I just hoped people would get it: scratched truck equals from-scratch food — and forgive our appearances in favor of our 100 percent hard work (and hopefully tasty) menu! People seem to like the finish, though, so I think it's going to stick."
People also seem to really enjoy the food Farrell serves with the help of chef Alberto Vega. There are five different kinds of artisan lasagnas, among them the Linda ("traditional" lasagna with seasoned beef), the Cantena (wine and shallot sautéed chicken with spinach), the Guiseppe (black truffle lasagna with gorgonzola and portobello truffle cream sauce), and the newer lobster or crab lasagnas — it was the Washington City Paper’s readers' pick for second-best food truck in the city.
2. Red Hook Lobster Pound
What started at husband and wife Ralph Gorham’s and Susan Povich’s kitchen table (yes that Povich, she’s the daughter of former A Current Affair host and daytime TV star Maury Povich), has turned into a hugely successful multi-city lobster roll truck. The couple, so the story goes, "were tearing into the fresh live lobsters that they’d brought home from a trip to Maine, wishing that someone would start a business bringing live lobsters to Brooklyn," until it dawned on them, "why not us!" Six months later, The Red Hook Lobster Pound opened. Gorham haggled with lobstermen in Maine each week, and Povich devised the menu. The truck, "Big Red," opened not long after in 2010, bringing "Maine-style" lobster rolls to the masses. There are shrimp rolls, a lobster BLT, bisque, and New England and shrimp and corn chowder, but let’s face it, it’s about the lobster roll: lobster, served cold with celery, spices, a touch of homemade mayonnaise and on a J.J. Nissen split-top bun (or Connecticut-style, warm and buttered) isn’t Reds on wheels, but it’s one of the city’s best renditions; save Pearl Oyster Bar it’s likely New York’s best. It’s also one of New York’s best food trucks, period. The lunch move? The hookup: a lobster roll with Cape Cod chips and a choice of Maine Root Sodas (root beer, ginger brew, mandarin orange, blueberry, sarsaparilla, or lemon-lime).
Twitter Handle: @Redhooklobster
Location/Schedule: Check for listings
1. Fojol Bros.
Fojol co-founder Justin Vitarello and his partners timed the launch of their innovative food truck to the Obama inauguration in 2009, a date which you can basically attribute the launch of Washington, D.C.’s food truck scene to, and in colorful fashion. It’s a shtick, but a powerful one. The Fojol Brothers of Merlindia and Benethiopia, a group of four young men (three from D.C., one from Seattle), dress colorfully, wear turbans, and sport twisty Ringling Brothers throwback moustaches. There are blankets for customers to sit on while eating; biodegradable and compostable eating materials and napkins made from 100 percent recycled paper; a portion of the proceeds from these products fund at-risk youth programs; and a loudspeaker blares opera, John Philip Sousa marches and Punjabi music. The food? Merlindian butter chicken, saag paneer, and chicken masala are all of high quality, so too the Benethiopian beef berbere, split peas, and lentils. The "traveling culinary carnival" got in hot water this summer when it was accused of racism and minstrelsy, but more than two years after its launch it all seemed more like opportunism for nascent activists looking to make a name than about them actually caring about the people supposedly being taken advantage of. Case in point, all indications are the Fojol Bros. don’t actually cook, having partnered with a former hot dog vendor turned Indian-cuisine chef who it’s said "prefers to remain anonymous." Funny how little fuss, or media attention, there’s been about that.
Twitter Handle: @fojolbros
Location/Schedule: Check Twitter