WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
California’s food-truck movement began in 2008 when chef Roy Choi rolled onto the streets of Los Angeles with his Korean taco truck, Kogi BBQ. Now considered the “godfather of food trucks”, Choi quickly gained prominence after opening up shop, and his vision soon caught the attention of aspiring entrepreneurs across The Golden State. The popularity of food trucks was further spurred on by the economic downturn of the Great Recession, as a mobile restaurant became a lower-risk way to test out a concept before going through the slow and expensive process of building a brick-and-mortar business. Since the real-estate industry slowed down during the recession, food trucks stepped in to reimagine underutilized spaces, bring people together, and create an experience along with a meal.
Over time, the food-truck model has adapted to better economic times, built communities and destinations with food halls, and become part of more ambitious business plans. While their novelty has largely worn off in the past decade, food trucks have established their staying power as feasible business entities in a tumultuous landscape. Food trucks are now, in large part, a single piece of a much bigger puzzle; many companies are making use of multiple trucks to service an expansive region, some are using food trucks to supplement their brick-and-mortar eateries, and others have adapted their once primary method of income into a supplemental catering vehicle.
Food trucks have established their staying power as feasible business entities in a tumultuous landscape.
Though it may be easy to assume that food trucks operate in the same fashion and have equivalent ethnic distributions to brick-and-mortar restaurants, this could not be further from the truth. According to Off the Grid’s most recent annual report, approximately 70 percent of food-truck owners surveyed were women, immigrants, part of the LGBTQ+ community, and currently or previously members of the military. This reflects a much more diverse and inclusive community than that of the restaurant industry, which has a long history of gender and race disparities. Food-truck owners also agreed that there was more room for creativity, risk-taking, and innovation than in traditional restaurants—leading to more intricate dishes, unique flavor combinations, and interesting cuisines.
While these differences have contributed to the staying power of food trucks, their longevity is also due to the high-quality products and convenience they are able to offer. For instance, in order to generate a more convenient experience for customers, food trucks banded together to create food halls like Off the Grid. These halls serve as regular meeting places for community members so they don’t have to track the various trucks on social media to see where they’ll be next. The end result has produced lively gathering spaces where people can feel free to relax and discover new cuisines.
With so many food trucks, it can be hard to decide which ones to try. After scouring the state’s food-truck landscape, we found some staples to try no matter where you end up.
1. Kogi BBQ
The one that started it all, Kogi BBQ is an L.A. staple featuring Mexican- and Korean-fusion cuisine. Now serving the El Segundo, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Venice, Hollywood, and Irvine areas with three trucks, this company offers world-famous short-rib tacos, burritos, blackjack quesadillas, Blue Moon mulitas, and even a few desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth.
2. Green Truck
This food truck is unique in every way possible. From its ability to run on leftover vegetable oil, to its solar-powered kitchen, to its recyclable and compostable packaging, to its certified-organic ingredients, Green Truck has sustainability in mind through every step.
3. India Jones Chow Truck
The India Jones Chow Truck serves up Indian street food in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. With tons of options—from masala fries, to spinach pakoras, to butter chicken curry, to garlic naan—deciding what to order from this creative innovation might take a while. Luckily, the generous truck offers combination plates, so trying everything on the menu is a bit easier.
4. Crepes Bonaparte
Orange County classic Crepes Bonaparte crafts gourmet savory, breakfast, and dessert crepes with plenty of vegetarian options. Popular dishes include the hearty California Sunrise crepe (packed with avocado, crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, and roasted tomato) as well as the sweet Al Capone (featuring fresh blackberries, mascarpone, and chocolate drizzle).
This mobile creative team is all about modern forms of traditional street food. Grab an order of the golden fries topped with succulent bacon, garlic confit, parmesan cheese, aioli, sour cream, and scallions—or go for the unbelievable garlic shrimp taco featuring pineapple-marinated prawns, house-made slaw, and a drizzle of aioli. Finish with the dulce de leche–stuffed churro to complete a very special culinary journey you will only find in Santa Cruz.
This Cuban food truck servicing San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties sells traditional dishes in convenient packages. Try the medianoche sandwich filled with marinated pork, ham, and cheese for a taste of Cuba—or sit down with a plate of beef picadillo with rice and perfectly crispy empanadas to be transported to another world of flavor. Check the menu of the day to snag your favorite items, or pop by to discover something new.
7. Off the Grid
What began in 2010 as a simple idea to bring community members together at Fort Mason Center with a large selection of street-food vendors has become a Bay Area tradition. Now located in 27 cities across the San Francisco Bay Area, this food market hosts 50-plus weekly public events offering all kinds of cuisines, from vegetarian delights to fire-roasted chicken and everything in between.
8. Twirl and Dip Soft Serve
This dessert truck has found a fairly permanent home in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, near the museums and gardens that attract scads of pedestrians. Don’t let the ice-cream truck demeanor fool you, though—this is no ordinary dessert. The soft serve here is created with organic ingredients, the toppings are handmade with care, and the chocolate sauce is crafted from fair-trade dark chocolate. Try the soft vanilla-bean ice cream in a hand-rolled sugar cone with chocolate drizzle, a Luxardo cherry, olive oil, and sea salt for a flavor combo that will rock your world.
9. SoMa Street Food Park
Open for lunch every day as well as for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, SoMa Street Food Park brings together a variety of food vendors, families, and their dogs—and even provides games and free WiFi—for a social and culinary party. Since the list of rotating vendors is so extensive, a new culinary delight is always waiting to be tried. Craving Greek food? Try Gyros on Wheels. Need Chinese food, Thai cuisine, sandwiches, or pizza? The Chairman, Khao San Thai, Mayo and Mustard, and Del Popolo (respectively) have you covered.
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