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My fellow citizens, have you been enjoying the Seattle street food revolution even half as much as me? Are we not truly living in glorious times, where airstream trailers and colossal iron pigs can travel freely from one neighborhood to the next, bestowing their culinary riches to the masses? Well citizens, one of the newest kids on the curb is also undoubtedly one of the best – I speak of the Hawaiian-Korean fusion stylings of Marination Mobile. Hawaiian. Korean.
Now Seattle isn’t particularly renowned for either it’s Hawaiian or Korean cuisine, but I’m just going to say straight out that Marination totally nails it. The brainchild of Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison (and clearly inspired by the insanely popular Kogi Korean BBQ in Los Angeles), the navy blue, custom-built taco truck looks like a police riot van as reimagined by Xzibit. One side flips up to reveal a built-in sound system which bumps big beats while you stand in the surprisingly fast-moving line. There’s a self-service cooler installed on one side with those awesome Hawaiian Sun juices perfect for spiking with your Rum of choice (Guava Nectar is the best). The tip jar is labeled “Converse Fund”. I can support that.
I have to admit that even after multiple stays in Hawaii, I’ve somehow managed to go my entire life without ever eating SPAM. No longer. The Aloha sliders are served on soft Hawaiian sweet rolls, piled with a tangy slaw made from cilantro, carrots and cabbage, and stuffed with a thick slab of grilled SPAM. The proverbial mystery meat was surprisingly tasty – soft and salty and lightly dressed with a sweet ginger barbeque sauce. Nice and bright (although I would personally ratchet up the heat a touch with some Sriracha, thoughtfully provided counter-side).
I was also excited to try the kimchi quesadilla with kalua pork – the kimchi is unique, but used so sparingly that it’s almost completely lost in an oversauced pink mess of spicy aioli. On the other hand, the shredded kalua pork is beautifully smoky and chewy with a slow burn courtesy of some thinly sliced jalapeños. The soft flour tortilla is grilled to a nice crispy char, and the cheese is thick and strong. Marination does a remarkably good job of recreating the deep flavor of traditional kalua pork without having to cook a pig underground for 24 hours. So good, that I think it better to appreciate solo on a slider (when the SPAM is unavailable – seriously, try the SPAM).
Also better to enjoy the kimchi on its own in a rice bowl topped with a fried egg, lots of bright green shaved scallions and toasted sesame seeds. The kimchi is crunchy and tangy and the heat builds slowly, but nothing over the top. Perfectly executed, and packed with big slices of sweet onion and toasted, pickled cabbage. The rice is nice and moist and tastes like soy and chilies and smoke. Plus, I think we can all agree, everything tastes better with an egg on top. FACT. It’s a very satisfying dish, and probably my favorite thing on the menu.
Tacos are $2 a pop, wrapped in two corn tortillas and covered with that tangy, signature slaw and a more restrained application of the pink sauce. Kalbi beef is chewy and sweet and tastes like classic Korean barbeque – soy sauce, sesame oil, a touch of honey, a ton of garlic. Ginger miso chicken is creamy and smoky and positively brilliant. There’s even marinated, grilled tofu for the vegetarians. The tortillas are rather dry and lifeless compared to somewhere like Rancho Bravo, but a side of sliced jalapeños and a wedge of lime are thoughtfully provided to kick up the flavor.
Marination is truly an exciting addition to the burgeoning mobile kitchen scene here in town. They’ve got a pretty regular weekly schedule now, but they’ll send out Twitter updates if anything changes. I’m looking forward to eventually tracking down some of that elusive SPAM musubi I keep hearing about…
After months of anticipation, the great Iron Pig God has finally descended upon the itinerant denizens of the Blade. I speak of Maximus Minimus, wheeled merchant of righteous pulled pork. No doubt inspired by the runaway success of Skillet’s upscale mobile cuisine, the fine folks at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese have gotten into the roach coach business. A massive bus converted into a rolling porcine kitchen, Maximus Minimus can be found at the Southeast corner of 2nd and Pike most days from 11:00AM until they sell out (count on it). It’s hard to miss. Look for a long line and a gigantic silver pig bus.
Your choice of eats are entirely binary in nature, a simplicity that I find refreshing. You can either order a pulled pork sandwich, or a veggie version. You can order that spicy (maximus) or sweet (minimus). You can get a side of chips or slaw. A glass of ginger lemonade or “hibiscus nectar”. Cheese, or not. That’s it.
The Maximus version of the pulled pork sandwich has a bit of a kick to it – some heat, but nothing too outrageous. You can order “extra hurt” if you like, an option I will probably avail myself of in the future. The meat is vinegary and smoky and a little on the dry side, but still tender and flavorful. The heavy bun holds up nicely, but is otherwise unremarkable (simple whole wheat bread). The Minimus version is tremendously sweet and tastes like honey and barbeque sauce. The sandwiches in general are dense and meaty, with a couple of sprigs of cilantro added for good measure. I prefer the additional shredded Beecher’s cheese sprinkled on top; it gets nice and melty and provides a mellow, salty complement to the sweetness of the pork.
On an early visit, I found a side of potato and beet chips to be way overcooked, virtually burned, but they still managed to intrigue with a unique spice rub (is that seriously Herbes de Provence?? EDIT: Nope! Per hungrygrrl in Comments: “the spice rub is Kurt Dammeier’s own creation, lots of fennel”). A mélange of fried green beans, red peppers and jalapenos were also thrown into the mix. The slaw was much better – bright and fresh and made of sliced cabbage and fennel and chunks of crisp apple and huge sprigs of parsley. It had a light, sweet dressing.
The ginger lemonade packs a tangy wallop and is just about perfect for the mindblowing Spring weather we’ve been having lately. The Seattle street food revolution has begun! Much respect due Josh Henderson for leading the way. Next up: Marination…
Continuing with our cheaper eats around Seattle theme from last week, we now pay a visit to one of the many fine taco trucks which grace our fair city. These precious mobile kitchens provide an invaluable service to any citizen who originally hails from a land south of the Siskiyous but has since expatriated to the Great Northwest (*guilty*). The taste of home, or at least a closer approximation than anything you will ever, ever, EVER find at Azteca (for the love of all that is good, stay away). Specifically, let us pay a visit to the beloved Rancho Bravo Tacos truck, which can be found stationed in the Winchell’s Donuts parking lot on 45th in Wallingford (on the corner of Thackeray, just down from Dick’s). It’s actually more of a shiny, silver trailer than a truck. Just look for the canopy and the picnic table and the freaky Bullwinkle mascot.
And let’s get this out of the way first: Rancho Bravo is not Skillet. Nothing is Skillet. Skillet is the godhead. But this city has an astonishing lack of street food vendors, so we have a duty to spread the love around as much as possible. And of course, TWO TACOS FOR $2 PEOPLE. The tacos are served in warm, soft, double-layered corn tortillas with lovely bright purple pickled radish, diced white onions, a touch of lime and a surprising assortment of meats to choose from. These range from the usual carne asada or basic pollo to tongue or tripe (if you’re feeling particularly brave). The fish tacos are undoubtedly my favorite though, and some of the best around period. The taste of the smoky, grilled tilapia conjures happy memories of barbeques on the beach in Mexico.
And that’s the primary thing that Rancho Bravo has going for it, unique and genuine flavors. Honestly, I can’t even figure out half of what’s going on in the vibrant array of homemade hot sauces on offer. The bright orange sauce has a deep smoky flavor, the mustard-colored sauce has a thick consistency and a slow, steady burn. My favorite is the bright green cilantro-based sauce, which is fresh and herbal and wonderful on those fish tacos.
But the main event at Rancho Bravo is the burritos. For $4.25, the Rancho burrito is stuffed with either black or pinto beans, rice, diced tomato and onions, cilantro, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Can I just say, hooray for black beans? For 50 cents more, you can upgrade to the Bravo, which has sour cream and grilled onions. I actually find simpler to be better in this case, especially when you’re dealing with incredibly rich and complex flavors like the pulled pork carnitas or the mole chicken (which is easily the best thing on the menu). This is probably an appropriate time to mention that despite repeated attempts to talk myself into liking the al pastor at Rancho Bravo, I always wind up being disappointed. It’s just too bland and greasy. Al pastor is truly an endangered species in Seattle, and so I will take this opportunity to give another shout-out to La Carta de Oaxaca (spicy pork is spicy).
Rancho Bravo also serves gigantic torta sandwiches in hoagie rolls, and they have rice and bean bowls and quesadillas and homemade horchata. The tamales are also made from scratch and sell out quickly and often (although they can be special ordered in large batches). More importantly, Rancho Bravo recently opened a permanent drop-in kitchen in the old KFC on Capitol Hill across from Oddfellows on 10th Ave. They just draped a banner over the front window and called it Open. It’s utterly surreal, but perfect for a late night bite after the bars close (open until 2:30 AM on weekends)! Additionally, owner Freddy Rivas and everybody in his crew are welcoming and kind and multilingual.
Once upon a time, I thought the burrito was the perfect food. Rancho Bravo reminds me why.
Okay, this is the last time I’ll mention Skillet, I swear. But I really wanted to share their latest missive — skillet now has an on-line ordering service! Looks like you have to get your order in before 9:30 am on the day of pickup, but still, you get to completely bypass the line and recover ~45 minutes of your lunch break.
Additionally, they will be at the F5 building on Elliott again this Friday… so if you work in lower Queen Anne, you should definitely stop by and check it out.
If you’re not part of the Skillet Nation yet, what’s your excuse? During the past year, the gang in the silver Airstream trailer have battled the inevitable mobile kitchen hiccups and persevered against the keystone cops at the King County Health Department. They have honed their skills driving from point A to point B, perfected their menu and mastered their calendar. Completely dedicated to the cause: ”impeccably executed and seasonably relevant bistro style food”… on wheels, for the masses. Hey proletariat! — happy fucking birthday!
Although I’m probably the only one who misses the Ballard location, Fremont isn’t that much further (most thursdays here, you’re welcome). Otherwise, if you’re quick, you can probably catch them at their other semi-regular haunts in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and SODO.
If it’s up, eat a lemongrass Pork Sammy with ginger aioli and cilantro cabbage slaw. Better yet: the 12 hour chile roasted pork tostada with black beans and radishes. (I’m inclined to say something ridiculously profane about the unholy deliciousness of this particular dish, but will refrain until I get a better sense of the audience for this blog).
The burger is also a fan favorite. “Kobe stye”, with bacon jam. That bacon jam may very well be the catalyst for the opening of a take-out window downtown… but you know,… developing…
Like so many other radical culinary undertakings in this town, Skillet strikes me as a kitchen based on love and not pretense. Seriously, they’ll roll a tarp over your head if it’s raining and you’re waiting. That’s love.