Giving New Meaning to ’Eater Nation
Southern California’s gourmet food truck scene includes at least six UCI alumni entrepreneursBy Roy Rivenburg
It’s by no means a culinary school, but the University of California, Irvine seems to have a knack for producing talented chefs and restaurateurs. At least half a dozen Anteater alumni now ply the highways of Southern California in gourmet food trucks.
Dishing up everything from Belgian waffles to sirloin steak, the wheeled bistros have attracted throngs of fans, as well as appearances on national food shows. Some of the trucks also operate brick-and-mortar establishments.
Earlier this year, UCI hosted six of the roving restaurants during homecoming festivities:
Barcelona on the Go
Spain meets Latin America aboard this mobile kitchen. A pioneer in Orange County’s luxe food truck scene, BOTG has won accolades from KABC-TV, The Orange County Register and OC Weekly – and is popular with the lunch crowd at Cal State Fullerton.
Alumni connection: Jennifer Norton ’00, a dance major turned chef who was hired to cook on the truck and wound up marrying the owner. The couple now also owns Spudrunners, a potato-centric food wagon.
Signature dish: Sliced top sirloin on fries with chimichurri sauce
The Burnt Truck
Gourmet sliders are this rig’s raison d’etre. Founded by a trio of childhood friends, two of whom worked at top Orange County restaurants, this traveling eatery has been featured on the Cooking Channel, in the Los Angeles Times and by other media outlets. Last year, The Burnt Truck joined forces with another Anteater-owned vehicle, Dogzilla, to open a sit-down diner in Irvine called Burntzilla.
Alumni connection: Minh Pham ’03, a former banker who majored in international studies
Best-selling items: Fried chicken slider, cheeseburger slider
Hot dogs with an Asian twist are the specialty here. Operating from a Godzilla-green truck sporting a city skyline silhouette, this nomadic cafe has been featured on KCBS-TV, the Cooking Channel and Buzzfeed.
Alumni connection: Martin Tse ’01, an international studies grad who worked in finance but turned his cubicle into a mini-kitchen equipped with a spice drawer, toaster ovens and a waffle iron. “I would cook bacon at my desk and declare unofficial national food holidays based on what was in my pantry,” he recalls.
Most popular item: Dogzilla dog (a beef frank slathered with caramelized onions, avocado, bacon bits, and Japanese sauces and seasonings)
Vietnamese, Mexican and Thai flavors merge on this truck’s menu. Media appearances have included The New York Times, the Food Network, A&E and NBC’s “Food Fighters.” Dos Chinos also has a storefront in Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market.
Alumni connection: Hop Phan ’08, an English major and former nail salon manager whose Vietnamese immigrant father started a chain of pho restaurants in the 1980s. Dos Chinos was born in 2010, after Phan’s car was totaled by a drunk driver and he used the insurance settlement to rent a food truck.
Most popular dish: Stoner papas (shoestring fries doused with carne asada, roast pork belly, chorizo fried rice, a fried egg, salsa verde, onions and cilantro)
Fancy falafel and hummus dominate this truck’s all-vegetarian lineup. A relative newcomer to Orange County’s mobile food universe, Falasophy has won attention from OC Weekly, Orange Coast magazine, The Orange County Register and The Desert Sun.
Alumni connection: Beirut-born Rashad Moumneh, MBA ’04. After working for Taco Bell and a Chicago-based tea cafe chain, Moumneh launched his “falafel chariot” in 2014.
Top sellers: Banh mi falafel pita sandwich and spicy garlic fries
Waffles de Liege
Belgian waffles served with Fosselman’s ice cream and assorted toppings headline this dessert truck. Waffles de Liege also has a shop in Old Town Pasadena.
Alumni connection: George Wu ’09, a biological sciences major who planned to be a doctor before detouring into the waffle business with a friend. Originally from Shanghai, Wu currently directs the business from Arizona, where he’s studying medicine.
Most popular items: Ice cream waffle special and speculoos special (Speculoos is a gingerbread-flavored spread from Belgium that some are heralding as “the new Nutella.”)