In a town where the dining options are often aimed at the expense-account crowd, the rise of Washington, D.C. food trucks offers an array of intriguing options that will expand your palate without shrinking your wallet.
The Best Washingon, D.C. Food Trucks
Some Washington, D.C. food trucks enjoy enough success that they eventually trade in the truck for an actual bricks-and-mortar location. Here are a few of the trucks that are currently on their way there.
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Korean BBQ Taco Box
The Florida transplant Korean BBQ Taco Box serves up what are essentially Korean-style bento boxes: rice boxes and taco boxes filled with Korean fried chicken, beef bulgogi, spicy pork, or teriyaki chicken, plus a side of salad. The wizards behind Korean BBQ Taco Box have their meat marinades totally dialed in, and customers rave about the carrot-ginger salad dressing. If that’s not enough, the truck also dishes out spicy chicken wings and fried cheese rolls.
Borinquen Lunch Box
Puerto Rican food can be a little hard to find in D.C., but Borinquen Lunch Box helps fill the gap. Unique among Washington, D.C. food trucks, the outfit offers sandwiches (including Cubanos), several hearty soups, and a rotating offering of daily specials—including Puerto Rican classics like arroz con gandulez (pigeon peas and rice) and pernil (slow-roasted pork shoulder, sometimes stuffed with garlic and mashed plantains), along with alcapurrias (beef-stuffed plantain fritters) and mini empanadas.
Launched in 2012, Spanish maestro Jose Andres’ Pepe has perhaps the most impressive pedigree of all Washington, D.C. food trucks, specializing in sandwiches from his home country, all on fresh-baked bread. Pepe’s standbys include the classic jamon serrano y queso manchego (ham and cheese); butifarra with pork, roasted peppers, and alioli; fried chicken; and the Spanish-style roasted vegetables known as escalivada. Pulled pork sandwiches also occasionally make an appearance; accompaniments like ham and chicken croquetas and patatas bravas, the fiery potato side, are regular fixtures on the menu.
Pho, the Vietnamese beef broth and noodle soup, might not seem like the most obvious thing to ladle out at the window of a food truck, but a couple of enterprising outfits are proving otherwise. Probably the best known is Pho Junkies, whose truck is decorated with a zombie apocalypse vibe (“Better than Brains!”). The Junkies offer all the meat options you’d expect at a non-vehicular pho joint, including steak, brisket, fatty brisket, flank, skirt flank tendon, trip, and meatball. Pho Junkies also serves spring, summer, and shrimp rolls on the side.
Red Hook Lobster Pound
Red Hook Lobster Pound odds a touch of New England class to the Washington, D.C. food truck scene, with a wicked range of offerings. Its signature, of course, is the lobster roll, done up either Maine style (with homemade lemon mayonnaise) or Connecticut style (hot and buttery). If lobster rolls aren’t your jam, the truck also dishes up wild Maine shrimp rolls, lobster mac and cheese, and New England clam chowder. Desserts and drinks include homemade whoopee pies and Maine root soda.
Himalayan Soul Foods
If you’ve never had the chance to taste the wonders of the Tibetan momo, Himalayan Soul Foods is the truck to seek. Filled with ground chicken or pork that’s seasoned with onions, ginger and soy sauce—and best topped with the fiery condiment called sepen—the delectable steamed dumplings have transformative powers. The truck also sells shyafale, a fried meat pie with momo stuffing. If you’d rather skip the meat altogether, Himalayan Soul Foods also offers vegetarian momos, lentil burgers, and bean soup.
Another Asian favorite, the beguilingly named Pho Wheels serves up its namesake dish to “pho-natics” across the D.C. metro area. It’s not just about noodle soup, though: The truck also cranks out beautifully put-together banh mi—the inexplicably awesome Vietnamese meat, cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrot, and daikon sandwiches served on crusty French bread—and Vietnamese tacos, wrapped up in Malaysian flatbread. To wash it all down, Pho Wheels obligingly sells Viet iced coffee and Thai tea.
Dhabalicious slings a mouthwatering mashup of Indian truck-stop dhaba food and barbecue, including chicken, lamb, pork, and brisket. The truck’s dhaba tacos wrap meat up with a choice of korma, tikka masala, or vindaloo curry, and come with traditional sides like coconut curry mustard slaw, ghobi (quick-fried cauliflower), cucumber yogurt, and chola (chickpea curry), or with not-so-traditional sides like masala mac and cheese. Dhabalicious also offers biryani bowls and meat-stuffed dhaba buns.
Tacos El Chilango
Mexicans who live in D.C. love to gripe about the lack of truly good Mexican food in town—but they don’t complain about Tacos El Chilango. This is the real deal, offering exactly the kind of tacos you’d find on the street in Mexico City, Durango, or Mexicali: carne asada, al pastor, pollo asado, lengua, chorizo, and mixto. There is no vegetarian option and there are no sides, but there’s a decent selection of Jarritos sodas to help quench your thirst.
Dishing up Asian steamed buns stuffed with heritage pork, duck confit and portabella mushrooms, the People’s Bao has an unapologetically straightforward menu for a Washington, D.C. food truck. Steamed buns are the name of the game here, but if you absolutely need a little something extra, the duck bone broth, a powerfully invigorating potion fortified with garlic and ginger, could just give you super powers.
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—Original reporting by Matt Jenkins