Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Great Food Truck Race 2013 (Portland, OR)

(NOTE: This blog post goes into some detail about what the general public saw during the Portland filming of The Great Food Truck Race. Any opinions about the food and the overall experience are strictly my own. I include some theories to explain what may have gone down on the episode, but it's only speculation and not intended to be fact. There are no spoilers on who advanced and who was eliminated on this episode.)

Yup, it's finally happened.

It took four seasons, but The Great Food Truck Race finally filmed an episode in Portland, Oregon, for the upcoming season. The season should start in late August 2013. Seven teams of food truck owners made their way from San Francisco to PDX and sold their food on Saturday (May 18) and Sunday (May 19).

(Image Credit: Food Network)
I first learned about this joyous news from Brett at Food Carts Portland. With some help from Scott Batchelar, Steven Shomler, and the Portland community, we tracked down the locations of most of the trucks and I laid out a game plan for myself to visit as many as I could.

While I already had some plans to hit up a couple of Portland food carts, there was no way I was missing The Great Food Truck Race. After all, there may never be a next time to try the food.

We signed agreements which allowed Food Network employees to use our image for media purposes. Of course, you could refuse, but not this panda.

SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2013:

My adventure started in downtown Portland and the Pearl District. On NW 3rd Ave., a team from Hawaii set up shop. Lanai Tabura, Adam Tabura, and Shawn Felipe run Aloha Plate. For my Hawaii friends, that's the same Lanai who has been doing radio and TV for many years. Being from Hawaii, it was an honor to finally meet him.

They even had the Hawaiian flag on the truck. Seemed like we only needed some tiki torches and Hawaiian music. Mahalo to my buddies at 808 Grinds for filling me in on their location.

I had Aloha Plate's combo plate, consisting of a teriyaki burger, lettuce wrap, and a refreshing strawberry-pineapple lemonade.

It was a bit of a wait for us customers to get the food at the outset, but we enjoyed our lemonades during that time. Smart move to have Lanai taking orders and mingling with the customers.

The burger was easily my favorite of the three items. Explosive teriyaki flavor in a lightly packed patty. The mayo was good, although there shouldn't be a real volcanic Kilauea eruption of spice in your mouth.

I wondered if this burger was too safe an option for serving. Being in a city with thousands of food options, it may take an extra bit of effort to make the person come by with some friends and overcome the tough competition. And that's not even mentioning the six other trucks Aloha Plate is directly competing with as this TV series goes on.

The lettuce wrap was a nice low-carb alternative with baby shrimp inside. Everything was fresh. I appreciated the healthy choice here. Colorful presentation added to the appeal of this dish.

I know several people who had issues with how much Aloha Plate charged for their food. At this point, a bunch of people in Portland who went to this truck have already spread the word, and you could probably find out that information via Facebook comments and Twitter posts.

Fortunately, the appeal of a very limited-time opportunity -- plus a chance to be on Food Network -- might have mitigated that damage somewhat.

Before fully jumping to conclusions, I'd like to watch the episode first when it airs on TV. Something does not add up, and I'm suspecting that the guys on the truck might have lost a challenge, paid some type of penalty, or even just forgot to pick up certain items and couldn't go back to the store.

Next on my Great Food Truck Race list was Bowled and Beautiful, a cart headed by three women from Southern California. Heather Marshall, Liza Barnes, and Jessica Butorovich had what I felt was the prime spot in Portland: near Voodoo Doughnut and next to the Portland Saturday Market.

The lunch line was ridiculous, nearly going around the block. It was then that I realized I needed to get back to the meter and avoid the ol' parking ticket. Not in the mood to find out how much a parking ticket costs, right? But I knew I'd be back to get my fix.


I decided to head to NW 23rd Ave., where The Slide Show set up shop near the 1400 block. Another SoCal truck with team members Ahren, Das, and Maurice. As one might expect, it's sliders and fries at this food truck.

I got here a bit after the lunch rush, so I couldn't gauge how busy they were even an hour or two prior. NW 23rd is a street with a lot of foot traffic on weekends, but parking can be a major issue.

No Food Network crew when I arrived, so I avoided any chance of my ugly mug shown on camera here.

Looking to get something a bit lighter, I got a veggie slider: mushroom, bell pepper, caramelized onion, provolone, and pesto.

I'm a huge pesto fan, and this slider passed with flying colors. Great execution on all components. I've said on this blog many times that a toasted bun can make all the difference. I admit that a more gluttonous side of me wanted to eat every single slider and a side of truffle fries, but I needed to pace myself so that I could get to more food trucks.

I navigated some back roads and made my way back to downtown Portland for my Bowled and Beautiful meal.

The genius panda struck again -- sorta. There was virtually no line this time and the camera crew wasn't filming. However, I also noticed the prices increased in the 90-minute time frame I was gone. Before, the veggie bowl was $5 and the chicken bowl $7. I came back, and the prices jumped to $7 and $10, respectively. Yay inflation?

I ordered a Burnside Bowl with chicken and the spicy sriracha sauce. It contains quinoa, a spring vegetable mix, chicken, and some peanuts on top. A delicious and healthy meal. The sauce wasn't spicy to me, but keep in mind that I tend to laugh at ghost peppers in a maniacal way. Creepy panda alert.


By chance, while eating at Bowled and Beautiful, I also met Tiffany Love, the co-owner and executive chef at the Love Belizean food cart at SW 6th and Columbia. They're only open Monday through Friday at lunch for now, so I'm currently unable to make it down. However, Tiffany mentioned they will open on Saturdays during summer.

I've passed by Love Belizean a couple of times and now kick myself for not ordering there. They have (at last count) eight different habanero sauces and have gotten a number of rave reviews. This article in the Willamette Week makes me a very hungry panda.

I drove a few miles north to the North Station Food Pod and had some food from the Boardwalk Breakfast Empire. Ilene Winters, Joanne Garelli, and Tim Boulous representing New Jersey!

The Portland Pancake Club appeared to be a unique choice and one that resembled breakfast the most, so I went with that. Cheddar pancakes (a savory pancake), a cilantro turkey burger, lettuce, tomato, and bacon! There's also some chipotle mayo on the side.

This became a cool spin on a triple-decker BLT burger. The soft pancakes held up well as a substitute for the bun, and I appreciate that they tied things back in with a breakfast theme. Loved the juiciness and flavor on the cilantro turkey patty. A satisfying, lighter option.

The chipotle mayo was great, but I couldn't help but think something like maple syrup would have been the ideal condiment here to keep the whole breakfast theme going. Pancakes and syrup go hand in hand, at least in my world. Perhaps some eggs, too? Not surprisingly, I love sweet and savory combinations.

For the record, I had a nice experience here and I hope people got to try their food.

My last stop on Saturday was Tikka Tikka Taco, parked at the Cartlandia food pod for the day. A family business trying to get off the ground. Mike, Shaun, and Sam are very friendly dudes. Shaun just came back from serving in Afghanistan for a year (Army). Had to thank him for his service.

Mike and Shaun live in St. Louis, while Sam currently resides in Dallas, Texas. All are originally from the Bay Area.

You'll find Indian fusion street food at this food truck. The protein of choice is chicken tikka masala, which you'll find in their tacos and "Tikkitos," the latter being a nice play on the Mexican taquitos (a.k.a. flautas).

I got a couple of tacos and an order of their Tikkitos. Both food items come with raita, a yogurt-based sauce.

The Tikkitos were a home run with me. The chicken combined with some creamy, salty feta cheese for a wonderful snack. The raita had a controlled bite that toned down the saltiness in the feta and made it a more balanced dish. Who woulda thought Indian, Mediterranean, and Mexican (all wrapped in flour tortillas) would combine for a killer combo?

For those wondering, feta is hands down my favorite cheese.

The tacos took those same flour tortillas, chicken, and raita, then added spinach and cilantro. You could really get the cilantro punch with each bite. For each dish, the chicken was moist and had wonderful flavor.

It was here that the Food Network crew decided to pull me aside to ask me some questions on camera. Real nice people and a neat experience. I'm wondering if some of that footage will make it to air.

The other two trucks that made it to Portland were Frankfoota and Philly's Finest Sambonis. I couldn't locate them on Saturday, but I did my best to track them down on Sunday.

(NOTE: Found out after the fact that Frankfoota was at Base Camp Brewing on Saturday, near SE 9th and Oak.)

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2013:

Basically, all of us had a game plan because us food bloggers did our homework.
  • Tikka Tikka Taco would be next to Koi Fusion at 20th and West Burnside.
  • Boardwalk Breakfast Empire was at A la Carts Food Pavilion (SE 50th and Division).
  • Bowled and Beautiful would be at SW 2nd and Ash again (same as Saturday).
  • Aloha Plate was back near NW 3rd and Couch (same as Saturday).
  • The Slide Show was at the same spot on NW 23rd, near the 1400 block.
  • Philly's Finest Sambonis was either gonna be at Hillsdale Food Cart Park or SW 2nd and Oak.
  • We had little idea on where Frankfoota would be, but had narrowed it down to PSU or Base Camp Brewing.
I drove down to Hillsdale at lunchtime. I killed some time at the Farmers Market there. Not seeing any sign of Philly's, I ventured through downtown, into NW 23rd a couple of times, back into downtown Portland, back to Hillsdale, and finally into SE Portland. In other words, my car probably wanted to hate me and would have demanded a vacation on the spot.

Bowled and Beautiful was at their spot. The Slide Show was at theirs. I exchanged texts with my friend Steven to get the latest.

No lively food truck activity anywhere.

Then, it hit us:

The truck must have been given the ol' truck stop and/or speed bump.

A truck stop is that lovable time where the trucks have to stop what they're doing and meet up for a challenge that would give one team an advantage. A speed bump is a twist where any and all teams have restrictions placed on them for a food service (i.e., cannot use the stove, only one person can run the truck, etc.).

In other words, no lunch for the general public on Sunday.

Originally, I had a sneaky suspicion that the Food Network crew caught on to the internet-savvy Portland crowd and decided to play the proverbial Grinch card. But speed bumps will occur at every spot anyway, so it was bound to happen. It's just the grumpy panda rearing its ugly head.

So what was the speed bump? Each truck faced a challenge on selling 20 orders of any dish -- but it had to contain geoduck (basically a large saltwater clam). The trucks would only be selling that item. Once all 20 orders were sold, with cash exchanged and food distributed, the trucks were gone and off the street.

By chance, I ended up finding Philly's Finest Sambonis -- on NE Martin Luther King Drive across from the Oregon Convention Center. I didn't get any names since they were busy getting orders ready. The guy who worked the crowd was quite the charismatic dude.

Philly's did a geoduck fritter with cheesesteak fries for their special.

A nice, crispy fritter with seasoned fries and juicy cheesesteak meat. Very good cheese sauce.

Not intending any negativity, but the seasoning on those fries really reminded me of a beef soup base or a chicken soup base one might find in the ramen noodle packet. It had a strong celery flavor, perhaps onion powder as well. Hey, I was in college once and briefly had that ramen diet.

I talked with a wonderful family who went to the Philly cart on Saturday and really loved those cheesesteaks. I wish I could have tried one myself; cheesesteaks remain one of my many weaknesses.

I spent some time at Tikka Tikka Taco earlier on Sunday afternoon; they ended up parking as scheduled right by Koi Fusion at 20th and West Burnside, next to Jeld-Wen Field. Two other food bloggers reported that Tikka Tikka Taco did a naan geoduck wrap. Rave reviews all around.

To Frankfoota, I'm sorry I couldn't find your truck. It would have been great to try your food. I heard you were still selling geoduck fritters near PSU at around 6:15 p.m., but I had already gone home by then. I heard there was a "Cherry Popper" dog on your menu that had some spice to it.

I went back to work on Monday, but I heard Tyler Florence and all the trucks were filming at Pioneer Courthouse Square around lunchtime. It may have been the segment where one team gets eliminated.

Scanning the ol' Twitter feed, it appears the Great Food Truck Race headed to Idaho for their next filming.

I wish all the food trucks the best and I hope Food Network comes back to Portland next year. Who knows, perhaps I might be able to say I tried a dish from the winner of The Great Food Truck Race Season 4!

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your dedication to reporting on all these visiting trucks, and that you are mindful how the show rules might be affecting the customer experience. I was not lucky enough to be in the loop enough to go visit but I hope to remember to watch this when it airs!