Food Truck Craze: What’s the Big Deal?

What springs to mind when I say “food trucks?”

Do you picture a solid white van with blue vent flaps on the top, stainless steel innards, and an intercom blasting “La Cucaracha?” Do you imagine greasy, tasteless food, that is probably Mexican or classic Americana? Is “roach coach” the phrase that instantly springs to mind? If so, you’re either too old to be reading this paper, or you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple years — because things have changed.

Of course, I only mean food trucks. Food trucks have advanced from the days of roach coaches to bring us garishly painted behemoths with names like Devilicious, Lobstahtruck, the infamous Kogi and so many more. These culinary caravans not only have clever names, but ingenious menus. Long gone are the blase days of carne asada tacos and pint-sized turkey burgers. Oh no. These new trucks are quick to bring about flavors you’ve never even considered: crazy fusion ideas like Chimichurri french fries and lobster California burritos, not to mention a plethora of gourmet spins on the classics, like burgers with spinach leaves and havarti, or chicken sandwiches topped with a truffle glaze.

No one knows where these gourmet food trucks truly originated from; the movement appears to be spontaneous. LA’s own Kogi (Asian/BBQ/Mexican Fusion) was one of the first food trucks to gain infamy via wacky foodstuffs and a Twitter feed, but the city of San Diego lays claim to some of our nation’s finest food trucks, where I myself spent a few weeks this past summer for a Cog Sci internship. While I was there, I was treated to two of the best food truck roundups this planet has ever seen, such as Tabe, SuperQ and, from The Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race,” Devilicious. My meal consisted of an Oreo-Shake-Cookie, a Mexican Coke and the Tabe BBQ OMG Burrito. The OMG Burrito consists of either Teriyaki Chicken or Bulgogi Beef, seasoned french fries, shredded cheese, spicy teriyaki sauce and spicy mayo. And yes, it’s exactly as delicious as it sounds.

Of course, there’s one caveat to these delicious, mobile concoctions: the price. The meal I described above is a total indulgence, not just because of the absurdly high-calorie content, but because of the toll it took on my wallet. The meal cost me around $16, for a burrito, cookie and drink. Yeah, it filled me up, but if I just wanted to be full, I could go to Taco Bell and fill up on $4 worth of value menu items. The point is, most of the food trucks, in their attempt to create new, brilliant and outlandish menu items, have created a huge crunch for their main customer group: college students. For most of us students, money is a huge issue. We can barely afford to buy that lunch at Taco Bell, so it’s a bit of a stretch to run off to every food truck round up and shell out all of our cold, hard cash.

So, naturally, you’d think that these gourmet food trucks would be little more than a pricey fad and would fade out of existence in just a few years. And while that may still be a possibility at the moment, it looks to be quite the opposite. KogiBBQ has 91,000 followers on Twitter, and the truck itself has been known to cause traffic, and incite lines that stretch outside of the trucks and parking lots where it puts up camp. The same can be said for any of your local food truck round ups: come 6 p.m., it’s not uncommon to see a line from each individual truck wrapped around the entire area. In LA County alone, there are well over 200 of these trucks, with more being designed and planned every day. Devilicious, partially due to its fame on the “Food Truck Race,” has expanded to multiple trucks and counties.

So what does the future hold for gourmet grill restaurants? Will food trucks fade out, due to their high price, or will they flourish as a burgeoning industry? Despite the expensive fare, I for one love the things, and I hope they’re here to stay. They push the boundaries of our culinary conceptions, encourage us to get out and socialize with strangers at the round-ups, and bring us some of the tastiest treats we’ll ever indulge in.

Ryan Cady is a second-year psychology major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.