Street Grindz: Not just @food!
We visit 10 food trucks and, between bites, reflect on the phenomena of mobile food and Twitter.
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Parking lot behind 1346 Kapiolani Blvd., enter from Makaloa St., Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
OnoToGo has a Twitter account, but, mercifully, also a fixed parking-lot location near the back of Wal-Mart.
In the lot, owner Wedge Lee (@WedgeLee) fires up a black Weber Grill, just like in your neighbors’ backyard. That’s what the food reminded me of, too—if your neighbor could pull off highly competent pulehu-rubbed chicken and short ribs and make sure his teriyaki steak was incredibly tender to the bite. Add rice and a macaroni salad better seasoned than most, and the cuisine at OnoToGo was 100-percent Hawaii comfort food.
GoGi Korean Taco
Location and hours variable, (702) 808-7044, www.eatgogi.com
If OnoToGo seems essentially Hawaii, GoGi is all Los Angeles.
GoGi is a tribute to—that sounds better than a copy of—Los Angeles’s Kogi Korean BBQ, which set off the food-truck craze nationwide. Founded by a Filipino-American who’d married into a Korean family, Kogi came up with fusion Korean tacos. And, finding it hard to gain a following, finally hit upon the notion of tweeting its whereabouts.
In 2009, Bon Appetit put Kogi on its “Hot 10” restaurant list. In 2010, Food+Wine gave its chef, Roy Choi, “Best New Chef” accolades. Newsweek called Kogi “America’s First Viral Restaurant.”
Must be viral, it’s spread to Honolulu. GoGi’s Jim Wilson ate Kogi tacos in Los Angeles, then discovered a friend in Las Vegas with a lunch truck he wasn’t using. A fancy mobile kitchen like GoGi’s costs about $100,000 new, $50,000 used. Says Wilson, “Fortunately, my friend gave me a good price.”
Fusion food: A kalbi quesadilla with kim chee mayo and a GoGi Dog, because a hot dog always needs bulgogi, cheese and fried egg.
Wilson, who learned to cook on Matson container ships, intuited that Honolulu was hungry for Korean tacos. He struggles to keep up with the demand. “I hate seeing long lines. EatTheStreet, that was crazy.”
I finally found him via Twitter on Kapiolani, on a normal weekday, with a normal three or four people in line in front of us.
On the way there, @thedailydish (who, IRL, that is, in real life, is blogger, Facebooker and incessant Twitterer Cat Toth) asked her 3,515 followers what we should order.
That’s how we ended up with the pork belly on steamed buns, which was not on the menu, but fabulous, a thickish slab of pork belly, soft bun, a little crunch supplied by a slice of cucumber and perhaps a little too much of a sweet jolt from hoisin.
Plus a vividly flavored kalbi quesadilla, and even more vivid french fries with kim chee mayo, Parmesan, green onions and pickled garlic. Whoo hoo!
We also ordered a spicy pork taco, which, perhaps only in this context, seemed bland. Outside of that disappointment, this was, for $25, a thoroughly flavorful and pleasurable lunch for three—even though we had to eat it off the trunk of my car in a hot parking lot.
Location and hours variable, www.melthonolulu.com
Food trucks seem taco-centric. I’ve eaten more tacos this month than in the previous year. But, mercifully, there are more than tacos out there.
Case in point: Melt, which does grilled cheese. [Editor’s note: One of Melt’s owners, Martha Cheng, contributes food articles to HONOLULU.] Melt doesn’t mix cultures like a taco truck, it scrambles comfort and gourmet food. When I finally caught up with the nomadic eatery, I figured out why. Cooking at the truck grill was Lindsey Ozawa.
The last place I’d seen Ozawa cook? Nobu Waikiki. Ozawa said he’d left his job as Nobu’s executive chef when the company asked him to move to the Bahamas.
“How did you end up with a lunch truck?”
“We all got drunk one night, and it sounded like a good idea.”
Ozawa created a huge buzz at EatTheStreet with his duck confit sandwich, which sounded great, but not so great that I was willing to wait in line 40 minutes to order, then another half hour to get a text message that it was ready.
However, Melt’s regular menu, eaten on a Wednesday on Ward Avenue, no line, offered much to be enjoyed.
The regular grilled cheese ($6) comes with three cheeses—Gruyere, gouda and cheddar—on sourdough. For $2, you can dip it in a little cup of Ozawa’s perfectly textured San Marzano tomato soup.
There’s also a bacon melt ($8), with the sharp tang of cheddar and marinated tomatoes. But save room for the $11 Melt of Shame. A grass-fed beef burger between two whole grilled-cheese sandwiches, with grilled onions and Melt of Shame sauce, a lot like McDonald’s secret sauce, except it tastes good: mayo, tomato paste, shallots, brandy.
Have a Melt of Shame. Tweet me if you can finish it.