Monday, May 30, 2011

The hidden gems of Penn's food trucks

Bird's eye view

When most kids are growing up their parents tell them they can be anything they set their minds to... astronaut, baseball player, fireman, possibly even a man whore (if they choose to dream so big and reach for the stars). My parents were different. When I was growing up, they actually sequentially shot down my dreams one by one... shark biologist, snake wrangler, professional bass fisherman, and my favorite - professional eater. There was one additional occupation they said I wasn't allowed to pursue that was a bit weird. It was finance. You might be wondering why Asian parents would want to stop their son from pursuing something as lucrative as banking? They said I was too good with computers, so when combined with the fact that I was a greedy little asshole, they somehow came to the conclusion that I would launder money. Flawless logic. What's the point of this little side story explaining why I am not pursuing a career of finance? Well, long story short... they were (partially) right. I am a greedy motherfucker. That shit applies to all facets of life, especially food.

Again, what exactly does this have to do with food trucks at Penn? Let me explain - I've written about Kim's before. They're my go to food truck 1) because I'm Chinese and I like Chinese food 2) their stuff is cheap as hell and 3) they get your order done within 10 minutes regardless of the size of the crowd present. Awesome truck is awesome right? Wrong. Halfway through the year, they arbitrarily increased pricing across their entire menu. Grandfather chicken that used to be $4 was now $4.50... mapo tofu that was $3.50 was now an astronomical $4.25! WHAT IS THIS SHIT? You probably think I'm some sort of asshat for getting pissed about 50 cent price hikes. Well guess what? I'm cheap, this kind of stuff isn't kosher with me. What was I to do? Give into their price gouging?! No. Gotta look for the hidden gems on the menu.

Chili chicken (Kim's Oriental)

A few months ago, I examined the subtle differences between grandfather chicken and General Tso's chicken. My conclusion was that there was none. I want to make a corollary to my theory of Chinese food truck fried chicken: chili chicken is the exact same thing as grandfather chicken and General Tso's chicken, but with a single chili pepper broken into it. This might seem like an insignificant observation to the casual visitor, but to a food truck connoisseur, like myself, you'll notice an interesting tidbit with regards to pricing. Grandfather chicken costs $4.50, but chili chicken costs $4. That, my friends, is where fortunes are made. I'm saving 50 cents per transaction. Obsessive? Maybe. Insignificant? Probably, but I feel like I've won.

Oriental beef (牛腩飯)

Then there's the "Oriental Beef" (牛腩飯) on their menu. It's mostly ordered by the Asian kids, because they know what's up. Actually, I rarely ever hear this being ordered in English. It also costs $5. A full 25% more than the chili chicken. Why? Because it's entirely sensual. The crown jewel of their menu. Basically they take beef that's chock full of tendon, stew it for a hella long time with carrots and mushrooms, and serve it with broccoli and cabbage over rice. I realize that probably sounds like it smells and tastes awful, but it doesn't. I swear (although I also find the pungency of stinky tofu to be quite arousing, so take that for what it's worth). Added bonus? Because they have to prep it well in advance, it's one of the few dishes that gets done immediately. Literally zero wait time. You don't have to take my word for it, but if you go too late in the day, it's usually sold out. All those Chinese people can't be wrong. Or maybe we all just like eating things that smell funny.

Steak burrito

But wait! I also eat other things aside from Chinese food. Like burritos. Probably the best burritos I've had in my life. I wrote about Don Memo's torta and tacos before, but not their burrito. Know why? Because I don't want people fucking up the price structure and adding to the already kind of ridiculous wait. Another truck that's guilty of raising prices mid-year, their burrito pricing has held steady at $7. What you get for $7 is totally a steal from a value standpoint. Their burritos are about 8" in length, which doesn't sound that impressive, but - like Gary Oak - you can't ignore its girth, which sits at 3" in diameter. Weighing in at well over half a pound (yes I broke out a digital scale for this shit), it's a simple combination of grilled meat, seasoned rice, black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, onions, and of course... unknown white sauce. I don't often spend $7 on a meal, but when I do... I prefer Tacos Don Memo's burrito.

As for why I've waited until now to make this post? Since I only have a month left (and all those grubby undergrads are finally gone from campus), I feel a bit better about sharing these things. I've never been very good at the whole econ side of things, but like I said - in my mind, increased demand means increased likelihood of raised prices. Increased demand also means longer wait times. I don't want to deal with that nonsense. "Time is money" they say. I don't have time to waste waiting for food and I surely don't want to be paying more for it.


Sherm said...

If the take-out box is at a 15% angle it's Grandfather Chicken, and if it's at a 45% angle it's Chili Chicken.

But, in all seriousness: that Burrito looks ridiculously good, a stoner's dream come true.

Shirley said...

All this time I trusted your judgement and now I come to find that you like stinky tofu?!!!! What was I thinking??!!!! :.O I was just near Penn's campus the other day, where are these trucks???

Nicholas said...

Sherm - apparently the tilt of my camera can swing the price of chicken 50 cents. FANTASTIC. That burrito is easily the best I've ever had. Full disclosure - I'm not a burrito eating fiend, so that's not that many, but still... not bad.

Shirley - you mean you don't like stinky tofu!? BUT IT'S SO GOOD ONCE YOU ACTUALLY BITE IT. The trucks are mostly on 38th... or next to the gym between 37th and 38th near Walnut?

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