Our nationwide road trip recipe cookbook will be out late 2014.
Winner, Saveur's Best Culinary Travel Blog.

New York Part I | The Road Trip

We’re on a cross-country road trip to take pics for our upcoming cookbook!

New York City!!! After 2,226 miles and twelve days on the road, we arrived at the final destination of this whirlwind road trip. Well, sort of. Collectively terrified of driving in New York, we bid our white minivan a fond farewell in Newark, NJ and started what would become a five-day love affair with public transportation (the New York subway system is one of the most fascinating and entertaining places on earth).

I don’t know if I can even begin to do NYC justice. Nothing makes me more aware of my measly supply of adjectives than trying to capture New York city in words. The buildings, the culture, the people people people, it was a constant stream of stimuli we were happy to be swept away by. It’s a city that lives up to its own vibrant cultural mythology.

Our first day, we hit the ground running and headed to Brooklyn to meet Neil Syham of Lumpia Shack. Neil has a stand at the Winter Smorgasburg, an indoor flea and food market that’s a hipster forager’s paradise. He served up fragrant Filipino cuisine such as freshly fried pork belly lumpias and an incredible adobo dish studded with squid. Afterward we hit up Dennis Kum of Big D’s Grub Truck at his commissary. While frying up jalapeño corn cakes and some seriously addictive Maker’s Mark fried chicken, Dennis told us hair-raising tales of the food truck turf wars in New York. 

Next was Joe Glaser, a former plumber of 28 years. He and his wife fed us, delicate, cream-filled Italian pastries from their Godfather-esque truck La Bella Torte leave the gun, take the cannoli”) as he reminisced about his time on TLC’s Next Great Baker. We ended the day in the home kitchen of Rajeev Yerneni and Retu Singla of Parantha Alley. Rajeev, Retu, and their charmster of a son went out of their way to make us feel at right at home, plying us with great stories and cold beer. We loved sitting around their table chatting, drinking chai, and eating paranthas filled with sinus-clearing flavors.

Highlight: This trip has been a crash course on ramen for me. Real ramen floating in a silky broth and garnished with toppings such as seaweed, green onion, pork, and a soft-boiled egg. Phil and Kim are huge David Chang fans and avid readers of his Momofuku cookbook. There’s no way they could be in the same city as the Momofuku restaurant without getting a bowlful of his ramen. We met up with Phil’s long-time friend Jon and feasted on pillowy pork buns and smoky, rich ramen. We followed it up the next night with a visit to the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop with some more friends, Annie and Chris, to try out Ivan’s unique, rye flour-based noodles. Perfection. I can never go back to Cup o’ Noodles again.

Philadelphia | The Road Trip

We’re on a cross-country road trip to take pics for our upcoming cookbook!

We were barely in Philadelphia ten minutes before we headed out on a hunt for an authentic Philly cheesesteak. You can make a cheesesteak anywhere, it’s a simple formula of chopped steak, onions, and neon-orange Cheez Whiz on a roll, but it’s only a true Philly cheesesteak if it’s served up on bread made with Philadelphian water (“wood-ah” is how they pronounce it). After consulting with a few native Philadelphians it came down to two places: Geno’s Steaks or Pat’s King of Steaks. So we picked both. We knew they were more touristy places, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity anyways.

The verdict? After ordering a “Philly wit’ whiz” at each place (they were conveniently located across the street from each other), we went with Pat’s. While it has less neon lights and doesn’t feature as many photos of celebrities as Geno’s, we preferred their chopped steak over Geno’s sliced meat. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with this combination of ingredients; especially when there’s Cheez Whiz involved.

The next day started off perfectly at Hubbub Coffee’s brick-and-mortar. Drew Crockett started off in a food truck, but his gourmet coffee and espresso gained enough popularity to earn him a storefront. And of course major props that he uses Stumptown beans. Sidenote: Phil and Kim are total coffee aficionados. They traveled with a bag of Stumptown coffee beans that they had me specifically bring from Portland, a hand burr grinder, and an Aeropress. So when they say Drew makes a mean cappuccino, you’d better believe it.

Jeanne Chang and Vince Tseng of the whimsically adorable Lil’ Pop Shop let us sample their mind-boggling variety of pops, even trying out brand-spanking new flavors like beets and honey. Kate Gallagher, who comes up with new flavors, is a true mastermind, putting her well-thumbed Flavor Bible to good use. Julie Crist at The Tot Cart continued the theme of childhood favorites by dressing up classic tater tots with mouthwatering toppings such as beer-laced nacho cheese. The smell alone drew hungry customers in droves. By this point, it was so cold in Philly, we had to buy dozens of hand warmers to keep Kim and Phil’s hands warm or else they couldn’t click their shutters.

Kiki Arinita and Chris Vacca gave us a taste of Hawaii with some Loco Moco Mazemen and Daifuku Mochi from Poi Dog Philly. Their incorporation of cheesesteak flavors in their lumpia dish was brilliant. Jin Jang of KAMI showed us what happens when bold Korean ingredients meet classic Philly with her own interpretation of a cheesesteak using Korean spicy pork. Sensing a trend here? Amazingly, both Poi Dog Philly and KAMI serve out of a cart that is only 4’x8’. Our trip was rounded out with Michael Sultan of Taco Mondo displaying some impressively high-end cuisine. His Brisket Barbacoa Empanada was buttery, flaky, and to die for. We also had just enough time to visit his other truck, Street Food Philly, run by his partner Carolyn Nguyen and try their can’t-miss Pork Belly Banh Mi!

Just one city left! Stay tuned for our five-day New York city extravaganza!

Washington D.C. | The Road Trip

We’re on a cross-country road trip to take pics for our upcoming cookbook!

In the New Orleans post, I mentioned the cold followed us. By Washington D.C., it was stalking us. I mean like a boyfriend burning your name on your front lawn, stalking us. We had an entire day set aside for sightseeing in D.C., but Mother Nature kept us hunkered down in North Carolina for an extra day. Once the weather warmed up enough for travel, the highway was littered with cars who had spun out on the ice the night before.

By the time we reached our nation’s capital, we had just enough daylight to brave the metro and the teeth-aching cold to marvel at the well-manicured lawns of the White House. Night fell as we shivered in the hushed majesty of the Lincoln Memorial. Afterward we scalded ourselves back to normality with rich, silky ramen and steamed pork buns at Toki Underground.

Chef Manuel Alfaro of El Fuego shoveled snow from the sidewalk the following day and introduced us to authentic Peruvian cuisine, including what was possibly our favorite dish of the trip: fresh ceviche. Afterward, Kim and I immediately voiced our desire for an alternate world in which Manny was our grandfather (he was that nice and personable). Mikala Brennan of Hula Girl followed up with SPAM Musubi and Spicy Ahi Poke off her charming Beach Boy-esqe food truck. (By the way, you know you’re in the Hawaiian food business when you have a special SPAM slicer.) We’ve had a craving for both these dishes ever since.

Thank you Manuel and Mikala for braving the weather just for us!  We wish we had more time to indulge in your warm hospitality. Next up: Philadelphia, the city of brother love.

Raleigh/Durham | The Road Trip

We’re on a cross-country road trip to take pics for our upcoming cookbook!

You guys. Raleigh and Durham quite literally brought out the welcome wagon for us. With six food trucks packed into one day, this was one of the busiest cities on our schedule. So imagine our surprise when hearing the food truck owners had banded together and decided to drive to us! Instead of navigating and parking in an unfamiliar city, food trucks pulled into the parking lot of the Durham’s Department of Human Services every hour like clockwork, ready to cook, chat, and smile for our cameras. And, without fail, every single food truck owner lavished praise on at least one, if not all, of the other chefs we were about to meet. It was an incredibly touching example of solidarity we haven’t seen before or since on this trip, not just amongst food truck owners, but with the city itself. You know a community has got it together when the Department of Human Services (an entity that, in other cities, isn’t a resource so much as a dispenser of red tape and arbitrary rules) lends their parking lot for a food truck gathering. Very impressive, Raleigh and Durham!

A huge thank you to the food trucks who rearranged their day to come out and meet us:

Barone Meatball Company: Stephen Dewey brought his entire family out (even his mom!) to show off his moist, flavor-intense gourmet meatballs. And who says you need meat for a good meatball? His Black Bean and Corn Balls held their own alongside his more traditional offerings.

American Meltdown: We heard Paul and Alycia Inserra referred to by several other owners as the nicest people in the business. We have to agree. These former New Yorkers warmed us up with friendly conversation and some incredible grilled cheese sandwiches, like the Beer n’ Bacon Melt.

CJ’s Street Food: Mark Thomas credits the Mission St. Cookbook and David Chang’s Momofuku Cookbook for his playful, versatile approach to Asian cooking. “You know what, they took a chance,” he says. “If they’re playing with their food, I can play with mine.” Judging by the way he was immediately trading food with other chefs the moment he arrived, his risk paid off.

Porchetta: Nicholas Crosson and Matthew Hayden know their way around a pork shoulder. And they should, they go through at least four a shift. Crusted in rosemary, these beautifully tender cuts of meat make for some juicy, delicious sandwiches. You can’t miss their truck. The artwork is as stunning as their food.

Café Prost: A special thanks to Stephan Bayer for giving us hands-on experience in rolling and twisting our very own pretzels. It gave us a new appreciation for the hundreds he goes through in a day. There’s nothing like a hand-rolled, fresh-baked pretzel, trust us.

Deli-icious: The first thing we noticed stepping into Deli-icous with Susan Tower and Ty Parker was the smell of fresh vegetables. Which is kind of Susan’s calling card. Everything that goes into her dishes is fresh and vibrant. She rightfully calls her Watermelon Gazpacho a “garden in your mouth.”

Pie Pushers: Due to timing, Mike and Becky Hacker got an entire day to themselves. We ended up meeting in their serene, wooded backyard right before a winter storm swooped in. The first thing we noticed upon entering their trailer: the gigantic pizza oven. The oven may clock their trailer in at 8,000 lbs, but it makes a beautiful pizza with a crispy, yet fluffy, crust.

It was such a treat meeting everyone! We ended up staying in North Carolina an extra day due to icy roads and general winter mayhem, but we were still sorry to leave. Especially when hospitable folks like Derek and Claudia Toomes are letting us camp out in their home. Thank you Derek and Claudia for the homemade breakfasts, the ready cocktails, and your wonderful company. Next up: the Nation’s Capital!

Atlanta+Charlotte | The Road Trip

We’re on a cross-country road trip to take pics for our upcoming cookbook!

Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina were both one-hit wonders with a food cart apiece. We got ambitious and crammed three cities, two carts, and ten hours of driving in one day. We were in Atlanta just long enough to sleep and meet Brett and Terrell at his Mix’D UP kitchen. Whatever experiences were lacking in our Atlanta visit, Brett more than made up for with his rebel chef/rockstar stories of food truck police chases and general mayhem in his pursuit of making Atlanta a more food truck-friendly city. Brett knows how to entertain as skillfully as he knows how to make an incredible burger, like his Lamb Burger with fresh made Tatziki

After saying goodbye to Brett we hit the road for Charlotte, NC where we met Brian at his Herban Legend food truck. As he served us a phenomenal pork belly and pineapple adobo and a hearty black bean burger, he talked about his own struggles dealing with a city still warming to the idea of food trucks. Brian’s been instrumental in starting up events such as Food Truck Friday in the hopes of highlighting the positive economic impact and these mobile kitchens bring to the community.

Other highlights:

  • On the way to Atlanta we decided to stop for some true Southern fried chicken. Martin’s Restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama was about as Deep South as it got. It’s the type of restaurant families would have Sunday dinner in every week for thirty years. And judging by the curious looks we attracted, they don’t get a whole lot of out-of-towners. Taking pics with our phones probably didn’t help. (I was dying to hear someone’s drawl, “You ain’t from around here are you?” But, alas, that dream will have to go unrealized.) The fried chicken was unbelievable. Piping hot, crunchy, and well-seasoned. It came with heaps of Southern-style sides: biscuits, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, creamed corn, etc. It was perfect.
  • Herban Legend was parked next to a dog bar celebrating Mardi Growl (harhar). We’ve never seen so many of the canine species gathered in one space, from 250 lb mastiffs to tiny little terriers. Dog watching and locally-brewed draft beers go surprisingly well together.

We’re not done with you yet, North Carolina! Next up: Raleigh/Durham