Santa Barbara is hardly the cutting edge of food trends, we gladly take the spillover several years down the line. Food trucks are one of those trends I’ve been waiting for. In my impatience, I’ve gone to LA to explore them (and failed, thank you over-capacity food truck fest), and to Portland (big big big big win!!). They’re such a great way for small businesses to get running and provide a wonderful diversity of food treats.
But it’s now starting. And while some trucks in SB have been building up the marketing before they’ve opened, this truck sneaked right up on people, kicking off their first day unknown to anyone in my circle.
Culture Shock was set up at the Wheelhouse downtown. It was their first day, they were happy, enthusiastic, and definitely learning things for their next day of operation. Like…to bring some chalk to make the menu! Or more business cards because they’d totally run out.
They’re a husband and wife team, making street food with Sri Lankan flavors. I know nothing more of their background, because they were busy reading the menu, taking orders, cooking and delivering. But here’s what we got.
One organic chicken curry plate, with rice, dal, shredded carrot salad, and spicy sweet mango chutney, for $8 (their website says $8.50, note), and a $5 chicken bratwurst (made by the owners’ friends) with mustard and curry wrapped in paratha roti. That’s the layered flaky style roti. Very filling and the roti dog was our favorite of the two although definitely more messy.
We also had a mango lassi, which was lovely and thick and refreshing on this hot day, but there’s no photo.
It looks like their schedule isn’t solid yet, but with food trucks in SB, it’s always changing anyway. The Wheelhouse, however, appears to be the Saturday stop for Culture Shock, which is awesome since the farmers market is just around the corner and people can probably learn some new things about Sri Lankan flavors.
When Chris and Anne heard we were izakaya fans, they insisted we sample the fare at Biwa. And we tried. The first time was the night the kitchen god was testing our mettle. It was raining, Anne was hangry after a long frustrating day, her umbrella broke, and the Biwa was totally full. But we were determined people and came back on our last night in Portland and we rewarded for our patience. While very little of the dining menu actually appeared to be izakaya food, it had late open hours, food was served on small plates and it was very good.
We started with pickles and drinks, to whet our appetites. The sake and shochu cocktail list was impressive and inventive, also tasty. I love asian booze, so my shochu tom collins was more enjoyable than a proper TC.
Small bites: shio-yaki saba – salt grilled mackerel and grated daikon. Then kara-age. That means friiiiiiied chicken.
The skewers are more typical of street food, and are a fabulous deal at this restaurant with hanger steak, pork belly, oyster mushrooms, chicken liver yakitori, all around $3/skewer.
We also had the bacon chahan (fried rice) and seaweed salad with lotus root (above). And korokke (curried pork and potato croquette), and something nobody remembers, but it was probably a kind of pancake (below).
Biwa added its own Portland twist by serving robust but tender lamb ribs. Again, not typical izakaya, but still delicious and we gobbled those down to the bone.
Price per head worked out to $40 before tip. Considering the group was its own definition of kimchi (i.e. well pickled), this was cheap eats and drinks. And thankfully, they have a cocktail using umeboshi, and can also offer a simple campari and soda. Cuz we needed the digestives after all that rich nosh.
Biwa (Central eastside, SE)
What trip to New York is complete without a forage for one of my favorite street foods, a hot dog. I may have just eaten a good portion of curry, but walking towards the subway there was Gray’s Papaya.
I’d walked by the place, or one of its many fruity imitators a number of times on my stay, but never stopped in. Finally, opportunity.
Gray’s Papaya has maintained a Recession Special for years, regardless of being in a recession or not. It was apt now, and a good deal – Two hot dogs and one tropical fruit drink for just a smidge over $5.00.
I ordered just a simple hot dog, with sauerkraut, and added mustard.
The man behind the counter asked if I was from Virginia. “No, Santa Barbara.”
“Santa Barbara!” he said. Then he looked at the man standing in the queue behind me. “Santa Barbara!” he said to him. The man looked surprised and said, “How did you know?”
What is up with that, Santa Barbarans all decided to be in New York that week. I didn’t know him, but he did explain to me he was really from Carpinteria. Yes, from an east coast perspective that is Santa Barbara.
My hot dog was good.