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The Central Coast may be known for wineries, agriculture, fine dining and farmer’s markets, but the burgeoning industry of food trucks takes all of these components and makes them mobile. Students may be aware of Curbside Grill, a mobile restaurant on campus, but there are also many other food truck options available in the surrounding city.
San Luis Obispo is awakening to the benefits of participating in an active food truck scene; however, it is done in a much different way than in big cities across the United States.
Jessie Rivas, owner of the Pairing Knife, realizes that food trucks in San Luis Obispo are sustained by event-based catering, rather than only simple, daily lunch routes.
“Wherever there is an event is where I need to be,” Rivas said. “In San Francisco, I could park on a street corner and get 500 people walking by in a lunch hour. That doesn’t happen here. But I can get them at a winery or brewery event, at a festival, at a home show, etc.”
The anonymity of a big city might lead to more food trucks competing for attention and dollars, but it also can mean an inferior menu.
“Here, you cannot put out a subpar product and think that you are going to survive,” Rivas said. “It is a small town mentality — word is going to get around that you are not good and you aren’t going to make it. The ones that are here, they set the bar and are doing it at a high level.”
The following is a sampler of some the food trucks you might run into in San Luis Obispo:
Open since: Summer 2013
Type of food: “I am wine- and food-friendly,” Rivas said. “I cook with a lot of wine and beer, which lends itself to a lot of pairings. They really appreciate that I take the time not just to be there but also to be conscious of what their product is.”
Focus: Quality food and menu variety that changes with the seasons.
“You come to an event and get a menu of eight to 10 things,” Rivas said. “You could see me at another event in a month and over half of those items change. It is a constantly evolving and changing menu.”
Most popular menu item: Thai pulled pork taco with red curry sauce, inspired by a San Franciscan curry house.
Thoughts on the competition: “We all lend ourselves to each other,” he said. “If I run out of bread, Haute Skillet is there to give me a couple of loaves of bread. If I am overbooked on a weekend, KunFusion is there to help me out. We kind of feed off of each other.”
Open since: April 2011
Type of food: Asian fusion
“When you are in culinary school, you go through modules,” KunFusion owner Lori Nunes said. “One might be American food, one is Asian, one is Indian. I really enjoyed the Asian mod, I understood all the flavor profiles and just wrote in my notes one day that if I ever opened an Asian restaurant one day I would call it KunFusion.”
Most popular menu item: Hand-cut sweet potato fries
“They actually start off as hand-cut yams,” Nunes said. “A lot of people are amazed. I see other gourmet food trucks that have a bag of Smart & Final frozen fries that they are dolling up and calling gourmet or whatever.”
Focus: The only Asian-influenced food truck in San Luis Obispo. Caters to the vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan crowds.
Myth dispelled: “People don’t realize that a two-hour lunch run is an eight- to 10-hour workday for me,” Nunes said. “Between getting down to the truck in the morning, getting all my sauces and salad dressings ready, marinating all the meat myself. Nobody told me how to do this, I figured everything out about it myself.”
Thoughts on the competition: “I watch these other trucks in L.A. and they go to a studio for two hours and they probably serve 200 to 300 people,” she said. “We have to go to several businesses a day; however, there are only a limited amount and we are all going to the same ones.”
Open since: August 2013
Type of food: California vineyard cuisine
“It is kind of your typical menu with a gourmet twist,” Gusto on the Go co-owner Erin Mazzei said. “So we have a burger that is infused with pesto with fresh-made mozzarella, bruschetta topping, that kind of stuff. We use all fresh ingredients. We are kind of focusing on where people want us, but also partnering with the wineries in town and the county.”
Most popular menu item: Kalua pulled-pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce and meat smoked for eight hours.
Focus: A husband-and-wife team that strives to be personable, relatable and an atmosphere that feels like customers are just visiting their house for lunch.
Thoughts on the competition: “I think that we need good exposure, just getting the community to be aware that there are food trucks here,” Mazzei said. “You don’t see them driving around here. I think it would be great if all of us could get together and make a presence for the food trucks, but that has yet to happen.”
Elly’s Sweet Tooth
Open since: April 2013
Type of food: Desserts and iced beverages
Most popular menu item: Chocolate ganache cupcakes dipped in salted caramel and topped with a pretzel.
Unique fact: “Our trailer we wanted to stay retro, a little more unique looking,” owner Emily Marks said. “We worry about the exterior of our trailer more so than a food truck does. We have more maintenance than some of the other food trucks because it is older — it is a 1972 truck. There was a lot more work retrofitting it.”
Social media aspect: “We use Facebook mostly to tell people where we are going to be at because it is quick and easy, and a lot of people check Facebook all the time,” Marks said.