TNT Diner

This new restaurant debuted with a spectacular burger ... and a steering wheel

Two bites into the crunchy breading and I knew something was tastier about the Street Eats Mobile Eatery’s fried chicken sandwich.

That wasn’t chicken breast. It was a chicken thigh dunked in a crispy coating. It also was one of the tastiest fried chicken sandwiches I’ve enjoyed since I bit into the chicken thigh sandwich in August at Wooden City in downtown Tacoma.

Swapping a chicken thigh for the more typical chicken breast is just one of the chef touches from Street Eats owner Cory LaFranchi, a Le Cordon Bleu culinary school graduate and former construction worker turned food-truck operator.

The Street Eats truck serves food with some thought behind it, and its owner plans to move the menus with the seasons.

The 5-ounce, hand-formed burger patties are ground from brisket from Painted Hills — by way of Puyallup’s Blue Max Meats.

The sauces are house-made by LaFranchi and Tim Hartman, a chef who also cooks on the truck.

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The Fat Stack burger from Street Eats Mobile Eatery. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The chicken thigh sandwich is brined before it’s dunked into as perfect an example of fried chicken coating I’ve sampled in Tacoma (yes, even including the fabulous Uncle Thurm’s).

The pickles were spectacularly tasty.

“With our truck pickles, we marinate our own cucumbers in salt, sugar and vinegar, letting them sit for 24 hours, and that’s all, just so you have the freshness and crispness with the pickle-y, vinegary taste,” said LaFranchi. He also pickles his own jalapenos.

He also does something my favorite chefs do.

“Tomatoes are out of season, so we took them off the burgers,” he mentioned in passing. He should get an award for that.

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Burgers and beers, a pairing at Edison City Alehouse. Street Eats Mobile Eatery recently served there. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Who taught this guy about good food, other than culinary school? LaFranchi credits his mom, now a restaurant consultant but previously of Salty’s at Redondo Beach where LaFranchi started his restaurant career as a prep cook and dishwasher. After leaving Salty’s and interning at El Gaucho Tacoma, he cooked at The Golf Club at Newcastle.

On-and-off, he ditched cooking in favor of better-paying construction jobs to save money to start his food truck. He and wife Ashley spent years hosting pop-up dinner events — about 20 taco feeds and 10 multi-course dinners hosted with help from Anthem Coffee and Tea, run by LaFranchi’s friend, Bryan Reynolds.

Those events helped the couple build a food following and also raised cash for a food truck. A brick-and-mortar restaurant was out of their financial reach.

“We worked hard for three years to do it. We got our truck, and it was a nightmare. It was the worst thing that could happen,” said LaFranchi.

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A fried chicken sandwich from Street Eats Mobile Eatery. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The truck broke down minutes after they bought it. Friends and customers came together — including a generous friend who is a mechanic — and they got it running, licensed and finally fully operating in September.

The debut menu is all about the burgers, but LaFranchi expects to rotate all kinds of food through the truck’s menu with one common theme: It always will be some kind of handheld street food.

In the three weeks since his debut, he’s served at Dillanos Coffee in Sumner, Off-Camber Brewing in Puyallup, Edison City Alehouse in Tacoma and at community events, such as the car show at Tehaleh in Bonney Lake, where Cory and Ashley live.

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A Dixie fried chicken burger (upper right), Fat Stack burger and tots from Street Eats Mobile Eatery. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Here’s a first-bite report of the current menu but do note that it will change seasonally. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

Menu: Three burgers ($10 to $12), a grilled portobello sandwich ($9) and fried chicken thigh burger ($9), plus tots ($3).

On a first visit: Get the Fat Stack burger ($12). That fat-laden Painted Hills patty thwarted the burger’s paper wrapper and leaked juices down my wrists. Tillamook aged white cheddar secured the criss-crossed bacon strips, topped by red onions (from Sterino’s), truck pickles and a briny swipe of olive tapenade aioli on the top and bottom bun, which was anchored with arugula.

That marvelous chicken thigh sandwich was jacketed in an ultra crunchy, well-seasoned coating ($9) with a house-made cabbage-and-carrot slaw double-punched with spice from pepperoncinis and a splash of the pepper brine in the slaw vinaigrette. It was served on well-grilled ciabatta with truck pickles and mayo.

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Tots from Street Eats Mobile Eatery. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Tots are the only side offered, but they are well fried with a choice of three seasonings and side of ketchup ($3).

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Street Eats Mobile Eatery. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Prices: Slightly above market (but worth it) due to the labor of handmade food (all the way down to the pickles) and premium ingredients, such as Painted Hills meat and some locally sourced produce.

Coming next: A Nashville hot chicken themed sandwich, something with Brussels sprouts and a new menu in a few months.

Appearing where? He’s working on a semi-regular schedule. For now, count on 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Dillanos Coffee in Sumner and 4-8 p.m. at Off-Camber Brewing in Puyallup every Thursday.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner

Street Eats Mobile Eatery

Contact: 253-302-1011, streeteatsmobileeatery@gmail.com, facebook.com/StreetEatsPNW

Serving: Check streeteatsmobileeatery.com for the monthly schedule

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