Keep on (Food) Truckin’

Every Friday night since February, a couple thousand of my neighbors and I get together for dinner … in a parking lot next to a freeway in a semi-industrialized area of Willow Glen.

We’ve sampled gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches, and skewers, burritos filled with short rib and kimchi, baked buns stuffed with pork belly and pickled daikon radish, mac-n-cheese egg rolls, foot-long banh mi, and homemade horchata ice cream sandwiched between snickerdoodle cookies.

Like the bumper sticker says: Life is good in Willow Glen.

But these days, life is good for foodies all over the Valley of the Hearts Delight. That’s because the gourmet food market has gone mobile, and it’s coming to a VTA Park-and-Ride near you.

Food trucks are nothing new in the American experience. We’ve seen taco trucks and other “roach coaches” pulling up at office campuses, industrial zones and public events for years. But it was a niche market, mainly for working people in need of a quick, cheap lunch.

As the 21st Century economy has hit the skids, mobile food has taken on a new model. The low prices and convenience remain, but the quality of product has seen a renaissance thanks to entrepreneurial chefs who used the recession to take their culinary skills to the streets—and thereby the masses.

Dishes that typically run over $15 in brick-and-mortar restaurants can be had for under $10 from your local food truck, without the hassle of sitting inside for an hour listening to Muzak and coughing up a 15 percent tip at the end of the meal. (Although, I do recommend leaving a buck or two in the food truck tip jars.)

Want to know where your favorite truck will be on a given night? It’s just a tweet away.

The phenomenon first caught on in New York, then spread to Los Angeles and San Francisco before finally landing in our backyard in the form of Moveable Feast, a regular food truck gathering organized by Ryan Sebastian, creator of the world’s first known ice cream/karaoke truck, Treatbot.

After launching last year with sporadic “meet-ups” downtown, Moveable Feast expanded to include two weeknight dinners: Blossom Hill VTA on Mondays; Curtner VTA on Fridays; and a Saturday lunch at the Garden City Casino. In June, Moveable Feast will launch a Tuesday night event in the “Five Wounds” neighborhood at 28th and Santa Clara Streets. Next week, they’re opening a Saturday dinner in Saratoga.

I’ve done a lot of harping in this space on San Jose’s lack of a cohesive economic development strategy, but the city can’t climb out of its hole alone. (As noted in a previous blog about the budget, the city doesn’t have the resources, personnel or the money.) Industrious residents and business owners like Sebastian need to step up with fresh ideas for delivering the luxuries that people have come to expect from living in an urban metropolis.

It’s disappointing that Moveable Feast has been essentially forced out of the downtown core by city regulations, but it’s not surprising. Downtown has been, and seemingly always will be, San Jose’s problem child, the missing harmony in the Song of our City. Hopefully, the folks at City Hall can find a way to bring Moveable Feast and other innovative events back to downtown.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that gourmet food trucks pop up in all of our unique neighborhoods and continue to deliver eclectic cuisine to our diverse residents.

Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San Jose. His favorite local street foods are baos from the Chairman and pan con chicharron from Sanguchon.

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