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Palm Beach County’s food truck rallies offer a moveable feast, giving diners the chance to travel via taste buds. All you need to pack is your appetite and your favorite pair of stretchy pants.
As a freelance writer, I’ve been given a number of intriguing assignments. I’ve gone behind the scenes with monorail engineers at Walt Disney World. I’ve been locked in an escape room and challenged to find my way out. But roaming a local Food Truck Invasion event for the best dishes-on-wheels out there? Put that at the top of the list of reasons why I love my job.
There’s not enough stretch in any pair of pants to accommodate samples from all of the 20 trucks that gather in a circle-the-wagons fashion each Thursday at Wellington Amphitheater. In all, I visited five trucks, and (spoiler alert) though I savored the items I ate, the people behind the food proved to be as exceptional and complex as the dishes they serve up. My advice? Get to know them at an upcoming rally, and don’t miss their fantastic food.
Truck Stop #1:
Michael Kritikos is the OG of the food truck scene. (That’s “Original Greek” to you.) He launched his distinctive palatinate blue truck three years ago, offering elevated Greek fare. But his connection to street food goes back generations. “My family had successful carts in New York and Cleveland,” Kritikos explains. “I learned the business during summers on the street.”
Even as a boy, what struck Kritikos was seeing his customers’ reactions. “With street food, it’s not like you’re back in a kitchen,” he says. “You’re able to create these bonds with the people you serve.”
Still, Kritikos’ parents dreamed of a different life for their son. “They wanted me to go to a university and get a desk job, and I did that. But I just wasn’t happy,” he says. Then, a life-threatening medical situation forced an epiphany. After recovering from surgery to remove a tumor from his spine, Kritikos told himself: “Life’s too short. Time to get back to what you love.”
What Kritikos loves is great food and the community it creates. “When I give my heart and soul to my food, it’s nice to turn around and share that with friends.”
What I ate:
Spanakopita: Spinach and feta pastry, $8.
“I’ve got spanakopita coming out of the oven at 5:20,” Kritikos tells me. I’ve never been a huge spinach pie fan, but Kritikos is so enthusiastic that I humor him. What he hands me looks like a large pretzel. “That shape is called strifti,” Kritikos says proudly. “Very traditional.” I tear a piece off, and the phyllo comes away with a flaky crumble. Inside, there’s a buttery verdant filling, a perfectly puréed marriage of feta and spinach. Order one right out of the oven, and share it with a friend.
Lamb gyro: Traditional hand-stacked, spit-roasted lamb, topped with locally grown tomatoes, onions and house-made tzatziki sauce, wrapped in a freshly grilled pita, $10.
I’m normally a chicken gyro kind of girl. But Kritikos has sold me on trying the lamb, and I figure I’ll do as the Greeks do. Except that Kritikos tells me that real Greeks don’t eat lamb gyros. “Lamb costs too much money for people to eat in their takeaway sandwiches,” Kritikos says. “It’s saved for special occasions.” The gyro he serves me is so good it would be welcome at any special occasion I can imagine. It’s perfect from pita to filling, with a pleasing char that imparts a zesty crunch with each bite, all topped with a tangy tzatziki that is his mother’s recipe. Kritikos hand stacks and roasts high-quality lamb filets—none of that lamb loaf sold at most gyro joints. “I take the gyro to a different level,” Kritikos says. “There’s nothing processed here.”
Truck Stop #2:
Benjamin Borer and Catalina Estela have worked at some of South Florida’s most storied hotels and restaurants—he as an executive chef, and she as a sommelier. But after a whirlwind courtship, they decided to chuck their fancy careers and forge a new future together, spending their wedding fund to purchase a food truck in April 2016.
Estela is a vegetarian, and Borer is an omnivore. “Before we owned our truck, we would go to food truck events, and I was always stuck with french fries,” Estela recalls. “So I told Ben, ‘When we have our food truck, we will offer at least one warm vegetarian option—something that’s actually filling.’”
Borer and Estela put their emphasis on seasonality, even at the expense of offering a steady menu. “We have our signature sandwiches, but we like to play around with what’s fresh in the markets, too,” Estela says. “We create sandwiches with flavor explosions revolving around that concept.”
What I ate:
The Veggie State of Mind sandwich: Roasted broccoli, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, peppers, onions and basil lemon aioli, served on a toasted roll, $10. (I added the signature honey garlic hot sauce, available in take-home bottles, $6.)
“This sandwich evolves seasonally,” says Borer as he hands me a paper-wrapped sandwich. “Soon we’ll replace the butternut squash with zucchini.” I’ve never been tempted by vegetarianism. But with veggies like these, I could consider making the switch. The sandwich is a warm convergence of flavor notes: the nutty caramelized Brussels sprouts, the mellow roasted sweet peppers and the tangy tomatoes marrying perfectly with the earthy mushrooms. (Add a drizzle of the honey garlic hot sauce for a flavorful kick that balances sweet, savory and spicy.)
Fresh Strawberry Lemonade, $4.
The right ratio of simple ingredients (“just strawberries, fresh lemon juice, filtered water and cane sugar,” Estela says), produce a lemonade that is refreshing and clean, not cloying or overly tart. Like its sandwich offerings, Virgo Bomb’s flavored lemonades change with the season, including infusions like lavender, blackberry and watermelon.
Truck Stop #3:
Matthew Somsy’s Curbside Gourmet rolled into West Palm Beach in 2010, offering customers farm fresh, locally sourced meals. “We bridge the gap between fine dining and street food,” Somsy says, explaining his truck’s reputation for using ethical ingredients like grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, locally caught seafood and Florida-grown produce.
As the son of immigrants from Thailand and Laos, food meant comfort in Somsy’s family. “We didn’t always have much money,” he explains. “But food tied us together in terms of community and culture. That’s why I love to do what I do.”
Even when Somsy worked full time as an informatics engineer in Boston, he moonlighted in restaurant kitchens on nights and weekends. But these days, food service is his main gig, and Somsy finds that a kitchen on wheels is the best way to showcase his skills. “Food trucks allow creative chefs without a lot of money to show off their unique flavors,” he says. The flavor combinations Somsy dreams (and dishes) up are both unexpected and delightful: comfort food with a twist. “We’ll take the flavors of Southeast Asia and mix in some Mexico,” he says, laughing. “And it all works.”
What I ate:
Buttermilk fried free-range chicken sandwich with balsamic mustard, served on a toasted roll with Bibb lettuce and sliced heirloom tomatoes, $10.
Sorry, Chik-Fil-A: I’m starting to think Somsy may be the real inventor of the chicken sandwich. That’s because his version has everything you could want (and nothing you don’t): Chicken that’s crispy outside and juicy inside. A bun that’s been perfectly toasted. Fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce and a sticky-but-satisfying secret sauce that’s the perfect blend of biting dijon mustard and tart balsamic vinegar. It’s no wonder that even on a menu as varied and interesting as Curbside Gourmet’s, this sandwich is one of the truck’s best sellers.
Hand-cut truffle fries, $4.
These shoestring fries are the real deal, balancing crispness and starch, and the unmistakable flavor of truffles, Parmesan, parsley and sea salt. Buy one order for yourself and one for a friend. Although the portion is generous, you won’t be willing to share more than a fry or two (and there definitely won’t be any leftover).
Truck Stop #4:
Taco Fresh’s chef Alex Esparza is an engineer by trade. But when he moved to Florida from northern Mexico five years ago, Esparza had trouble finding work. Acting on advice from the local Mexican consulate, Esparza decided to start his own business serving food from his homeland.
Esparza had always been a talented home cook, but he knew he’d need to up his game to make it as a professional. To educate himself, he took a job as a dishwasher at a local Cantina Laredo. Some might see that as a big step down for a man with a master’s degree, but not Esparza. “I just wanted to get in, to see how everything works in a professional kitchen,” he explains. Within two weeks, Esparza was promoted to line cook, and a month later he had become a key part of the chain’s nationwide training team. “After a while I had learned so much that I said to myself, ‘It’s time to own your own business,’” he says. “And surprise! Everything has been great. It’s my dream.”
Esparza is committed not only to freshness, but to authenticity. So don’t expect to find flour tortillas or ground beef tacos on his truck. “That’s just not authentic Mexican,” Esparza says proudly. “And it doesn’t taste good, either. People get mad when I tell them that. But I have to go with my concept and maintain my originality.”
What I ate:
Shrimp Taco “Camarón a Toda Madre”: Sautéed cilantro-lime shrimp with melted queso Chihuahua, cabbage and lime on a corn tortilla, $8.
“This is one of my best sellers,” Esparza says, as he places the plate on the counter. I can see (and taste) why from bite one: This taco is the whole package, from the warm handmade corn tortilla to the tart notes of lime juice combining with the pleasantly bitter cabbage, the creamy queso, the verdant cilantro and the sweet shrimp. “Like it?” Esparza asks. I’ve got a mouthful of shrimp taco going, so I can only nod my head to indicate my delight. “Good,” he says, pleased. “Next time, try my top seller: the Al Pastór.” An adobo pork taco topped with pineapple, onion, lime and cilantro? Yes, please.
Truck Stop #5:
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the Long Beach, New York, home of Russell and Jana D’Agostino, leaving them without heat or power for more than a month. Worse still, the couple had recently started a bakery, and although they had insurance, it didn’t cover the damage to the extra refrigerators and freezers that lined their living room.
As they planned their recovery, the D’Agostinos had an idea: a mobile bakery. “That way if there was ever another hurricane heading for our area, we could just drive away,” Jana D’Agostino explains. The vendor they chose to build their truck was Florida-based, so the D’Agostinos moved south for the season. In the meantime, they began baking again, booking so many local clients (including the International Polo Club) that by the time the truck was completed, the couple decided to stay put.
Sweet Cravings offers a sweet-tooth’s dream of dessert options, but gourmet cupcakes are its signature. “Everything we make is from scratch in small batches. We bake with love, so we only use top quality ingredients: the best chocolates and fillings, with no preservatives, ever,” Jana D’Agostino explains. “We want our cupcakes to not only look good, and to taste good, but to be good. You can really taste that difference.”
What I ate:
Peanut Butter Explosion cupcake, $5.
“I melt three different kinds of European chocolate to make that cake taste the way it does,” Russell D’Agostino tells me as he plucks a fancy looking cupcake from the refrigerated case built into the side of his bedazzled truck. I’ve got to admit: At this point in the night I’m stuffed and a little intimidated by the mess that a chocolate cupcake laced with gooey peanut butter sauce might make. Jana D’Agostino reads the worry on my face instantly: “It’s messy,” she says. “But it’s worth it.” She’s right: One bite and I am in desperate need of a napkin, but I couldn’t care less that none are in sight. The cake itself is so rich and complex that you’d willingly eat it without icing. Except that this icing is a sensation: fluffy and rich without that overly sugary sting. The peanut sauce hides a hint of sea salt that complements the icing’s balanced sweetness, making it the perfect cupcake—and the perfect finale to my evening’s culinary adventures.
If you haven’t given a local food truck rally a shot, you’re missing out. Here are eight of the most popular stops on the Palm Beach County circuit.
Abacoa Town Center
Where: 1200 Town Center Dr., Jupiter
When: Every second Friday, 5:30 p.m.
Lake Worth Cultural Plaza
Where: Cultural Plaza, 414 Lake Ave., Lake Worth
When: Every second Monday, 6 p.m.
Where: 55 SE Third Ave., Okeechobee
When: Every second Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center
Where: 4601 FL-710, Okeechobee
When: Every last Tuesday, 5 p.m.
Royal Palm Beach Commons Park
Where: 11600 Poinciana Blvd., Royal Palm Beach
When: Every last Friday, 5 p.m.
Sunset Cove Amphitheater
Where: 20405 Amphitheater Circle, Boca Raton
When: Every first and third Wednesday, 5 p.m.
Tequesta’s Constitution Park
Where: 399 Seabrook Road, Jupiter
When: Select Fridays, 5 p.m.
Where: 12100 Forest Hill Blvd., Wellington
When: Every Thursday, 5 p.m.