TUCSON, Ariz. — Seven food trucks from across the country descended upon Tucson over the weekend and despite temperatures reaching into the upper-90s, people were out in force to show support of Food Network’s cross-continent food competition, The Great Food Truck Race. Eight teams started on the west coast and will make their way across this great country with the hope of winning $50,000 and the opportunity to keep the fully-loaded food truck as their very own.
This years’ group of food truckers ran the gamut from bikini-clad surfers to Texas barbeque experts; bacon-aficionados from Cleveland to Middle Eastern authorities; a mother and son team with a new take on Mexican food to a New England truck offering American specialties and a comfort-food truck from New York manned by wives of active-duty military members.
As a Sunday twist, all teams were to offer their take on a Tucson classic—the Sonoran Dog. As a fan who is spoiled by the original at El Guero Canelo, I was leery of trying others’ take on an Old Pueblo classic, I did end up trying two different versions, more on that later.
I arrived at the Dairy Queen parking lot on Fourth Avenue and Sixth Streets shortly after noon on Sunday hoping to get the first taste off the Let There Be Bacon truck. The trio of Matt, John and Dylan from Cleveland, Ohio came to rock in Tucson and had, by far, the biggest presence on social media with the #BaconLove and #BaconArmy hashtags.
By 12:30, the crowd had reached a fever pitch and by 12:45, the hungry fans of the divine swine began chanting “We want bacon!”
Matt came out to address the crowd and explained the menu offering their chili-cheese bacon nachos, their Buckeye bacon pancakes and their “claim to fame,” the Mother Trucker Bacon Cheeseburger.
When I think of a bacon cheeseburger, I think of crispy strips of pork belly or fatback over a thick patty of beef with oozy cheese. The accompaniments to the burger are generally what sets it apart from the multitude of burgers and being a lover of all things green chile, I was overly excited to try this burger. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, there was a nice level of heat from the bacon-green chile jam and the burger was nicely seasoned. Overall, a tasty burger, but it could have had a more pronounced bacon flavor.
The Lone Star Chuck Wagon was manned by Lance, Rachel and Andrea and their flavors, along with their prices, were as big as Texas. The Tex-Mex barbeque truck out of Los Angeles was setup in Main Gate Square in front of the Auld Dubliner on University. Being so close to campus, the truck adopted names for their items that had a ‘U of A’ theme including the “Bear Down BBQ Snakebites” and the “Duel in the Desert Burrito.” I was met by the lovely Rachel and opted for the snakebites. I have always been a lover of food-on-a-stick, especially food that is messy.
This item continued my love for stick food as each toothpick had a chunk of chicken and jalapeno wrapped in bacon, grilled, and covered in their signature barbeque sauce. Lance, a native Texan has perfected a sauce that perfectly blends, sweet, spicy and smoky. Flavors of white wine, molasses, onion, garlic and pepper were detected and savored.
Next stop on the tour de food would involve going to the east side, midtown geographically, but the east side for me. Madres Mexican Meals was stationed outside of the Bashful Bandit at Speedway and Alvernon and serving classic Mexican dishes with a modern flair.
Being of Spanish descent with family from New Mexico and having lived in the southwest for most of my life, I was hoping that the “Mother’s recipes and the son’s dream” held promise.
I shied away from the huevos rancheros due to deep-seeded beliefs that no plate will be as good as the Albuquerque version with “christmas” chile over the top. I opted for the tostada de jaiba or crab ceviche tostada. It was light, refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable.
Heading back west to get my comfort food fix, I stopped at the Military Moms food truck at Campbell and Glenn, just outside the Brushfire B-B-Q location. When I drove up to their location, it seemed almost deserted, nobody milling about and there wasn’t even a menu posted outside the truck. I felt bad for the three wives of active duty military members based out of Fort Drum, New York, but it was hot and I hoped to meet up with them later.
I saw on twitter that the Beach Cruiser truck was going to be at Tap & Bottle on Sixth Avenue, just south of Sixth Street and as a beer lover, I knew this would be the perfect respite for this weary traveler on a hot day. Upon my arrival, I order a La Folie, a sour beer from the Lips of Faith line of New Belgium Brewing. The beer went down easily on the sweltering day and still no food truck, so I had another…and another.
After searching social media, I discovered that all the trucks would be heading down to the Tucson Folk Festival—perfect!
It was almost a carnival atmosphere with sign spinners and food truck hawkers vying for the almighty dollar. I went directly to the Military Moms truck on the end and comfort food was indeed on the menu. From the “Private Jelly” to the “Sergeant Cheezy.” the ladies took a creative spin on comfort food and the grilled cheese was indeed tasty with bacon and a spicy kick.
The Charlie Foxtrot looked amazing, but a sloppy joe meets nachos with a Louisiana kick didn’t sound like the optimal meal in the hot weather.
Setup next to the Moms, was the Gourmet Graduates. The trio from Providence, RI were making a big noise. The hawker was equipped with a plastic bullhorn and had his hair spray painted green to match the color of his truck. He was doing his best to drum up business and generate a buzz for the truck.
The four courses were college-themed from the sophomore breakfast nachos to the senioritis chicken roll up. For me, if you put a fried egg on top of anything, I’m sold. The breakfast nachos were corn tortilla chops topped with cheese, ground beef, pinto beans, peppers, salsa and the aforementioned fried egg. A decent plate of nachos and the fried egg added an interesting touch but I would venture to say that it’s a one-time-have-to-try-it item only.
After five food trucks and no sonoran dogs, I vowed to try a dog from the next two trucks. The Middle Feast truck offered their version of the Tucson treat with chopped tomatoes, raw and grilled onions, mustard and their special sauce. It was definitely a twist on the classic and was good, but not great.
The team of Tommy, Hilla and Arkadi hail from Los Angeles, Calif., and were offering traditional middle eastern fare including falafel and shakshuka. While most everybody knows what falafel is, I was intrigued by the shakshuka. Once again, an egg dish grabbing my attention.
The poached eggs were served in a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, onions, cumin and other spices. I will definitely have to try this in the future.
I finally caught up with the Beach Cruiser truck and the lovely surfer girl herself, Gretta Kruesi greeted me with a smile and offered up their version of the Sonoran Dog. While it was the biggest departure from the classic dog, it was also amazing in its own right.
A turkey dog wrapped in bacon with pinto beans and pineapple salsa would’ve won me over but adding the California touch of frosted fried avocado, flash-fried kale and a “special sauce” put this dog over the top.
Joining Kruesi are fellow surfers Shane and Nicole from the coastal town of Venice, Calif., dishing out Cali-style food and a beach atmosphere. Sunday had Gretta and Nicole enjoying the heat with a kiddie pool and bubbles—yes, bubbles.
All told, it was a fun time to meet up with all the food truck competitors and wish them well on their trip across the country. The next stop will be Austin, Texas and six of seven teams have posted either on their facebook or twitter about their excitement to move on, one hasn’t.
Read into that what you will but it is somewhat sad that this competition is based on marketing and making money and not based on taste and quality of the food.