Five Things I Learned Eating at Food Trucks Every Week in 2012

Lou Bustamante
The California Sisig Burrito at SeƱor Sisig
Our weekly bite explores the city's food trucks, one at a time, highlighting our favorite mobile dishes and snacks.

Kicking off a new year of food truckin' merits a quick look back at what eating at more than twenty mobile vendors has taught me. My exploration of the food truck scene has yielded more than a few surprises, and thankfully, none of them were gastro-intestinal issues.

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5. Each food truck usually has a specialty dish or signature item.
As a matter of differentiating itself from others, each truck has its must try item. So if you run into a truck you've never seen before, just ask them what they're known for. You'll sometimes get the "Oh, everything is good!" response, at which case it's best to ask the person ahead of you in line.

4. It's not impossible to eat healthy (or vegan) at food trucks.
Face it, food trucks build their menus for maximum appeal, i.e., salty, fried, or fatty items, and a lot of the great dishes fall in this category. That being said, there are a few trucks that offer tasty and healthy alternatives that won't make you feel like you're missing out. The salad at Liba Falafel is outstanding, with a sidebar that allows you to tailor your greens with toppings and sauces. The surprisingly fresh and filling chirashi sushi at We Sushi left us feeling energized and ready to take on an afternoon full of meetings. A little heavier, but still a great alternative is the pad Thai from Phat Thai that is vibrant, with plenty of flavor, but not greasy or overly sweet. One of the best sandwiches I ate also happened to be vegan: the Teriyaki Zen with Pineapple KoJa at Koja Kitchen doesn't taste like consolation prize.

3. Just because a truck is popular doesn't mean it's good.
Some of the most disappointing dishes I tried these past few months weren't bad, they were just overhyped. While I won't name names, mainly since this is such a subjective study, there are waits better spent elsewhere for me.

2. There are strategies to getting the most out of a food truck.
To get the most out of a food truck experience, it helps to keep a few things in mind:

- Hit the trucks during lunch and going on the early side is optimal for best for selection (some dishes do run out) and ease. While I actively hit the trucks at the prime lunch hour to time the total wait, I often do this on my off time.

- For the dinner pods, Fort Mason Off the Grid in particular, the key is to go with a posse. Using the effective "Divide and conquer" technique, secure a base camp, then assign food orders, and hit multiple trucks and vendors at once. You'll get to sample a wide range of dishes without having to spend all night standing in line.

1. Most customers expect dishes that are cheap, fatty, and salty, but there are some great organic, local ingredient-driven trucks making the rounds.
This is a tricky one since there is an inherent blue-collar history to the food truck that creates some protest when someone doing fresh, local ingredient driven cuisine shows up charging appropriately for their dishes. There is clearly room for both, but how this will affect the growth of the trucks, remains to be seen. If nothing else, the trucks have increased the chances of finding something delicious near you.

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5 things I learned from eating food trucks this year:

5. there are all kinds of food trucks now, everything from Ethiopian to Hong Kongese, and from sandwiches to cupcakes.

4. SOMA Streat Food Park is a great idea, and hopefully they will have some more 7 day/rotating food truck places in the future.

3. Food Trucks are almost everywhere now, not just in the city, but all thru out the peninsula, South Bay, and East Bay.

2. The 2 biggest event organizers are probable Off The Grid and Moveable Feast.

1. I need to start going to the gym more!

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