Our small mobile food community doesn’t look so small anymore. With four new trucks rolling since the beginning of the year, this is looking to be the best mobile restaurant season we’ve had so far.
In addition to the four new trucks, three more are on the way and two others opened over the winter. On May 1, Tacoma’s first food truck pod started serving at four Tacoma locations. That brings the total number of active food trucks to around 40, and that doesn’t count the mobile food vendors popping up at the Puyallup, Tacoma and Gig Harbor farmers markets (that’s another story).
Here’s a quick update on the food truck scene — from what’s happening now and what’s happening next.
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Arnold’s Happy Days Burger Truck
At the same time she was starting the roving truck pod called T-Town Food Trucks (read more below), Donna Gross and her fiancé, David Arnold, after whom the truck is named, were working on licensing their own truck. A retro-themed rolling burger joint serving burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and fries, Arnold’s Happy Days debuted in April and serves Friday-Sunday with T-Town Food Trucks and at special events.
This is their first restaurant, mobile or otherwise, but they have long careers in food service (both currently at St. Joseph Medical Center, but in different departments).
The menu: Burger combo meals ($8.50-$9.50); hot dogs ($6-$6.50); grilled sandwiches ($4.50-$5.50).
Order this: Elvis with fries and a soda ($6.50), a grilled peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. A quarter-pound cheeseburger combo with fries and a drink ($9.50) was a bit on the small side for the price, but had just the right burger construction with crisp iceberg lettuce, chunky-cut onions, dill pickle chips, tomatoes, special sauce and a slice of American cheese. Fries were crispy, delicious and just a little bigger than shoestring.
Fifteen years ago, Andy and Paul Huynh’s mother owned a Vietnamese sandwich shop in the Lincoln District, which for the last few decades has been the best neighborhood in Tacoma for Vietnamese dining.
She closed shop after a few years, but that experience prompted her sons to leap into cooking years later. In March, the sons debuted VietNom Nom, a truck with a short menu of Vietnamese specialties.
Paul caught his mother’s cooking bug after graduating from Stadium High School (brother Andy graduated from Foss). He worked for the catering operations for Pacific Grill and X Group before taking a full-time cooking position at Multicare, a job he still has. The brothers operate the truck with business partner Chris Weltzer (a Wilson grad). Find the truck serving at T-Town Food Trucks, and at assorted car dealerships and special events.
The menu: Banh mi sandwiches ($6) and rice bowls ($7-$9).
Order this: Pork banh mi ($6). The sandwich was built on a crusty roll with tender grilled pork. The marinade slipped between sweet and salty, with a lingering tease of ginger. Crisp pickled daikon radish and carrot added crunch, sriracha mayo and sliced jalapeños brought the heat.
Curbside Urban Cuisine
Info: Serving 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday at the Bates Technical College South Campus, 2201 S. 78th St., Tacoma (near Building A); 253-680-7247 or on.fb.me/1KdQbTq
The new food truck from Bates Technical College, Curbside Urban Cuisine doubles as a training ground for culinary arts students. It’s part of a two-quarter program at Bates that will prepare students to start a mobile food business.
Will we be seeing a flurry of graduates open trucks? Richard Houle certainly hopes so. The Bates culinary arts instructor is the architect of the program and the truck.
The truck opened in April and is a stationary truck only serving at the school’s 78th Street campus. Something to note: With startup trucks, I’m seeing menu prices creep upward to the $10 price mark. This truck, however, is well-priced, with little over $6.50.
The menu: Sandwiches, burgers, wraps, weekly specials, all $3.25-$6.50
Order this: Pulled pork sandwich ($6.50, with fries). A Stadium roll was packed with delicious hunks of slow-cooked pork shoulder dressed with a mustardy sauce packing a serious pucker. Just like in the Carolinas, it came topped with a snappy slaw, dressed in an equally puckery vinaigrette. The fries were bigger than shoestring, but thinner than a typical cut.
Smokin’ Zees BBQ and Catering
This truck serving a Carolina-Texas hybrid barbecue got its start working at the Gig Harbor Farmers Market. The truck now serves Fridays at Narrows Brewing and Saturdays at Zog’s on Fox Island.
The truck chef is Joseph Erck, an Art Institute culinary arts graduate. There are two other owners who operate the truck — Peter Landstad and Leo Khuen.
The menu: Pulled pork sandwich ($8.50); ribs ($6, three bones); brisket sandwich ($11) and sides.
Order this: Pulled pork sandwich ($8.50), on a hoagie roll, with a light hit of smoke and a consistent seasoning throughout the meat. This pork shoulder had been treated well, with large pieces that carried a pleasing texture. The sauce, which can be ordered on the side, was a tomato-based sauce that tasted more Carolina than Texas. It had a deep kick of vinegar and a slightly sweet-and-spicy backnote. Slaw on the side was snappy.
TRUCKS COMING SOON
The Ram International: This outpost of the Ram restaurant group (with Pierce County locations from Tacoma to Puyallup) will operate at catered and special events.
Gnosh: This Wauna-based truck serving a menu of grilled cheese sandwiches signed a lease in April to serve alongside Neptune’s Galley and the Taqueria Las Torres taco truck in Purdy. Find more information at on.fb.me/1F9yghY.
Da Tiki Hut: The Sixth Avenue Hawaiian restaurant launches its food truck May 23 at the Fruitland Grange, 11102 86th Ave. E. Puyallup.. Info at on.fb.me/1Euj4Z1
The Galley: In November, the Gig Harbor food truck started serving outside the 7 Seas Brewery. The restaurant is a collaboration between the brewery and Robby and Justin Peterson, owners of The Eleven Eleven and Valley taverns. Find the truck at 3006 Judson St., Gig Harbor; facebook.com/thegalleyWA.
Hometown Dogs: Chicago native Debby Graham couldn’t find a decent Chicago dog here, so she started a truck that serves one. It opened in December. The truck is also an outpost and training center for Centerforce, the nonprofit organization Graham heads. Find the truck at various Lakewood locations. Info at hometowndogs.com or 253-584-1001.
FOOD TRUCK FESTIVALS
Wright Park: The second food truck festival from MetroParks Tacoma in Wright Park will be noon-5 p.m. July 19. Info at metroparkstacoma.org/foodtruckfest.
Sprinker Recreation Center: Pierce County Parks and Recreation will host its first Mobile Food Fest from noon-7 p.m. Aug. 22. Info at bit.ly/1Ey2ma9.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse: The theater group will have its first food truck festival from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 1 at the theater. Organizers are still looking for trucks to participate. Info at tmp.org.
T-TOWN FOOD TRUCKS POD
T-Town Food Trucks is a new association representing six mobile food vendors. The organization, led by Donna Gross of Arnold’s Happy Days food truck, negotiated a pilot project with the city of Tacoma to allow the food truck pod to rotate through four city-owned properties in downtown Tacoma and along Ruston Way. The trucks, which debuted May 1, appear every Friday-Sunday through July.
FRIDAYS: 6 a.m.-2 p.m., between South Ninth and 11th streets on Market Street on the first and third Fridays. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. second and fourth Fridays at Tollefson Plaza.
SATURDAYS: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. near Cummings Park on Ruston Way.
SUNDAYS: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. near Silver Cloud Inn on Ruston Way.