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Culinary Clash #2: Filipino Food Trucks

January 4, 2011 2 comments

The Los Angeles gourmet food truck craze has spawned over 2,000 mobile eateries.  They are truly unique eating experiences, sometimes over-hyped, but often times they’ll break new culinary ground.  Think about it.  With no seating and unpredictable ambience, these trucks have got to come up with creative offerings to bring in business.  From Korean BBQ tacos to burgers smothered with sausage gravy to red velvet pancakes, the menus are inspired and inspiring!  In this “culinary clash”, I’d like to highlight two of the street food scene’s newest competitors: The Manila Machine and The White Rabbit Truck.  As a Pacquiao fan Filipino, their island offerings are near and dear to my heart.  And stomach.

The Manila Machine, the brain child of two food bloggers, was the very first Filipino food truck on the scene (see my original review here).  They offer dishes that feature familiar ingredients that are presented in creative ways.  Their style is a fusion of old school and nouveau.  Excellent food from really friendly folks.

The White Rabbit Truck takes a more aggressive approach, creating a Mexican-Filipino fusion.  Traditional Filipino meats like Adobo and Tocino are paired with tortillas to create distinctive tacos and burritos.  I must admit, the thought was quite off-putting at first.  Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Mexican food (as in King Taco not Taco Bell)!  It just seemed so very wrong to have the comfort foods of my youth served with anything other than white rice. 

This deep-seeded prejudice overwhelmed me as I approached The White Rabbit Truck while it was parked at Disney headquarters in Glendale.  I ended up ordering an old fashioned Sisig rice bowl.  No fusing cultures on my watch!  We were keeping everything separate … but equal, of course.  But as I waited for my racialy pure dish to be prepared, I had an Affirmative Action moment.  Why not give a Filipino taco a chance?  About 90 seconds after ordering my Sisig, I ordered one Tocino taco.

And it was good!

Tocino taco ... judged by the content of its character!

Really good!  Tocino is cured pork that many think of as “Filipino ham”.  It is not smoked and quite a bit sweeter.  White Rabbit serves it on two corn tortillas and tops it with a tangy and slightly spicy slaw.  The flavors work together like the colors of a rainbow.  I couldn’t believe my taste buds.  Tocino tacos … who woulda thunk it?

Sisig. Kickin' it old school.

The Sisig was also quite good.  A melody of crispy (yet succulent) bits of fried pork, sauteed with onions, garlic, and jalapenos.  It is brightened up with a splash of citrus.  I can definitely see this working fabulously as a taco, kind of a kicked up version of carnitas.  Two complaints about my first White Rabbit Truck experience: the steamed rice was a bit dry, and the tortillas were not warmed up on the griddle (they were brittle and one actually cracked).  C’mon, White Rabbit, measure out the water carefully and slap those tortillas on the griddle for a couple seconds!

Now for “The Clash”….  The Manila Machine makes their Sisig with pork cheeks, and you don’t get much more tender than those nuggets of goodness.  They add a textural counterpoint with crushed chicharrones on top.  The flavor profiles of the two trucks are very similar with this dish, but the unique mouth-feel of The Manila Machine’s rendition is truly a wonder to behold.  Score one for the bloggers!

The signature items … now, that’s a different story.  If I weren’t so full, I definitely would’ve returned to the truck to order a few more tacos.  The Manila Machine’s pandesal sliders were tremendous, especially the Beef Tapa with Achara slaw.  I’d have to call it a draw.  Obviously, more research must be done.

Both trucks are really good, and different enough to carve out their own distinct niches.  I suppose the Sisig and attention to detail (properly cooked rice and gently toasted pandesal) give The Manila Machine the slight edge.  But if they were parked on the same block, I’d definitely visit both!

Mabuhay!

The Manila Machine

August 28, 2010 1 comment

I gave The Manila Machine some love last month for simply being L.A.’s first Filipino food truck.  It also happens to be the brain-child of two food bloggers who share a love for island cuisine and a desire to bring it to the masses.  It could very well be the first food truck started by bloggers.  It’s a great story and another source of pride for us Filipinos, the main one being a certain boxer-turned-politician.

The Fun Family finally had the chance to catch up with this popular mobile kitchen.  Turns out that it really lives up to all the hype.  Excellent food and friendly service.  They offer a nice mix of traditional dishes and unique twists.  The Chicken Adobo was pretty much what you’d expect out of “lola’s” (grandma) kitchen.  Very tasty, though just a tad overcooked.  Sisig is for hard-core Filipino foodies.  Tradition dictates that this spicy and tangy concoction be made with chopped pig’s face (including the snout and ears, the meat to cartilage ratio being real close to 50/50).  The Manila Machine softens it up a bit by using pork cheeks, which are wonderfully tender and succulent.  It’s pretty amazing as is, but crumbled chicharrones on top kick it up a couple notches.  Tried “The Original Manila Dip”, which is shredded Chicken Adobo and caramelized onions on pandesal (a traditional Filipino dinner roll, one of the greatest breads on the planet), served with adobo sauce for dipping.  Quite good, but not enough of a standout to warrant ordering again.  The Beef Tapa Slider on the other hand will be visiting my digestive system many times over, should the good Lord tarry His coming.  It’s calamansi (think lime) marinated beef (with a touch of sweetness), with achara slaw (have no idea what that is; all I know is that it was crisp and tangy, the perfect counter-point to the tender meat) and sriracha mayo.  Absolutely amazing!

The Manila Machine is a bit spendy for smallish portions, but this is a gourmet food truck, not a turo-turo in a “Little Manila” district.  You won’t find their unique offerings at Jollibee or Red Ribbon … or anywhere, really.  Well, until the copy-cats jump onto the scene.  I dare them to be half as good.

Chicken Adobo and Sisig.

The islander spin on sliders: chicken adobo and caramelized onions on the left, beef tapa and achara slaw on the right.

The Manila Machine on Urbanspoon