Kevin Smead | SDUN Reporter
There’s an irony in being stuck in traffic on the way to a food truck event. Sitting for an extended period of time in traffic on the 805 south made me question my dedication to going to an event that should, in theory, come to me. However, the promise of a plethora of tasty food, huddled all together in one parking lot, was enough to motivate me. That, and like many other Americans around dinner time, I was hungry.
My destination was Smitty’s Service, situated on the corner of Adams Avenue and Hawley Boulevard in Normal Heights. Though it’s a garage by day, every Tuesday from 6 – 9 p.m., the service station is turned into San Diego’s very own interpretation of San Francisco’s wildly popular food truck gathering Off the Grid. I was promised killer food, great music, and good company. These are all things I’m very much into, so why would I not go?
I parked a few blocks away and made my way down Adams. I knew I was on the right track once I heard the sounds of a blues harmonica, accompanied by the rest of local blues group Chickenbone Slim and The Biscuits. Its sound of down-home blues was instantly recognizable and very welcome.
Once I actually got to the station, I couldn’t help but feel like my senses were a bit overloaded. Not only did the warm sounds of Chickenbone Slim sedate me into some kind of bluesy calm, but I was greeted with complex, wonderful smells and various choruses of, “Oh that looks good!” This, I knew immediately, was going to be a problem.
By nature, I am a very indecisive person. This permeates many facets of my life. However, it’s arguably worse when it comes to food. I take food pretty seriously. When presented with seven different food trucks, all of them offering up something looking mighty tasty, I was at a loss. Gathering myself, I decided the best course of action was to do some recon. What were other people eating?
I immediately noticed the gathering line at the Devilicious truck. Upon initial inspection of their menu, I could see why. It seems that in keeping true to their name, their theme is all things sinful. All crab crab-cakes sandwich? Check. Duck confit grilled cheese? Check. A positively unholy take on the classic BLT? Check. It wasn’t until I noticed a patron behind me appearing to have some kind of religious experience, the catalyst of which was a sandwich on Devilicious’ menu that I hadn’t previously noticed.
Butter poached lobster grilled cheese? Woah.
“From the looks of things, that sandwich is pretty good, huh?” I asked the guy.
“Best sandwich I’ve ever had,” he said to me through a mouthful of lobster. He was selling me, sure, but with six other trucks, I’d be doing a disservice to myself if I went for the first thing I saw.
Despite what I had previous thought, my recon only made my decision more difficult. Everything looked delicious and with it all priced between $9 and $12, it was certainly not an easy call. After some intense thought (and awkwardly looking at what people were eating over their shoulder) I decided to give my money to Tabe, an Asian-Mexican fusion truck, in trade for what looked to be a magnificent burrito.
I looked several feet up at the window of the truck and asked the cook to confirm what I had previously suspected, “Yeah bro, the 7th Heaven is basically a California burrito with our 5 spiced fries, portabella mushrooms, and caramelized onions. You get the Roja salsa and creamy aioli, too.”
Indecisiveness aside, this was an easy call. I ordered my burrito (in my case with the protein of Korean BBQ beef) and the cook had it up in no time.
“Record time!” he said as he handed me my burrito. “You’re going to love it!”
He was certainly not wrong. In hindsight, I could write an essay on the magnificence of that burrito. The perfectly crispy fries, the earthiness of the mushrooms and onions, the smoky sweetness of the Korean beef, all working together to create a cultural meet-up I was proud to be a part of. I’ve yet to mention the two sauces which played perfectly off of one another, with the aioli providing a cooling creaminess to counteract the Roja’s heat. Cap it all off with a Faygo root beer, and I knew I had made the right decision. The man who had earlier extoled the virtues of the lobster sandwich tapped me on the shoulder as I sat on the curb eating my burrito.
“Should have got the lobster, man!” he said jokingly.
“Next time!” I replied in full seriousness.
After I finished eating, I caught the same cook who had made my burrito on his break. I went over, shook his hand, and introduced myself. We talked for a minute and he afforded me some insight into the workings of the event. The cook, whose name was Mark, explained that the event was organized by the food trucks with the permission of the garage. Various city codes prevent food trucks from selling on a lot of public property, so private property (such as, say, a service station) is where they mainly set up shop.
“We’re trying to bring a mobile food court to the people,” he said. “And events like these help us get through some of the slow times.”
I thanked Mark again and decided to watch some more Chickenbone Slim before making my way back east. It was then that I had the brilliant idea of saving myself some trouble for next week by browsing the menus and pre-deciding what I’d eat. I asked a question regarding God Save the Cuisine’s fish and chips when the member of the truck I’d be talking to, Kevin, let me down hard in a delightful British accent.
“We actually won’t be here next week. The trucks rotate and are only here about once a month. The two mainstays are Operacaffe and Perogi Truck.”
Crushed that the lobster grilled cheese might not be waiting for me next Tuesday, I headed to Perogi Truck to find out more. I was informed the best way to find out which truck would be where was to follow them on the various social media sites. While I’ll admit this is a different style of dining than I’m used to, I’m not one to turn down a good hunt, especially if there’s a delicious sandwich waiting for me at the end.
As I left Smitty’s, I was excited not only about chasing my white whale of a sandwich, but also about coming back next week to maybe discover something even better.
To track down food trucks in San Diego, follow @SDFoodTrucks on Twitter.