Dining out: Fast means good out of this Chow Truck
For many of us, "on-the-go" isn't just a lifestyle, it also refers to our way of consuming food. With fast food and 30-minute meals, whether it's cooking or eating, we err on the side of quick.
I could bemoan such tendencies. But when I find myself multitasking to absurd levels at my desk with all manner of gadgetry and planning ahead for meals, I sympathize with those who prefer the express way.
However, what I can't avoid bemoaning is the usual quality of said fast-dining fixes. Usually it's cheap. Not just in the sense of our budgets, but in overall value of the raw ingredients and how much we truly enjoy them. Usually, these fast meals are concessions. Belly-fillers to sustain us to the next task, the next meeting or next appointment until we can sit down to a moment's peace and quiet and figure out a proper meal for ourselves.
Which is why I can't understand why there aren't more options like Chow Haute Asian Cuisine On-The-Go! (AKA Chow Truck). In this case, it isn't just the diner who's on-the-go. The restaurant itself is on wheels. Proprietor SuAn Chow and chef Roseanne Ruiz are thinking outside the box by putting a big yellow and red auto box (appointed with a small but wonderfully efficient kitchen) on wheels and traversing the city in search of a willing landlord who will let them set up shop for a few hours during lunch and dinner.
The result goes beyond catering trucks and their mind-blowing selection of hamburgers. At Chow, the food is fast, and bold in flavor. From a handful of meat options you essentially have a matrix of menu possibilities ranging from sliders, to tacos to salads, not to mention the specials and soups in between. It's fast. It's affordable (nothing over $10). And most importantly, it's really good.
First, you gotta find the truck. Chow-savvy fans keep track by being part of an e-mail list that gets bulletins from "boss lady" SuAn Chow (a force of restaurant nature and the reason why we have Charlie Chow in SLC) or by following @chowtruck on Twitter. There are a few consistent locations, but it's always best to double check.
The Chow Truck is out in full force for lunch and dinner are when the Chow Truck, offering a respite during the work week. And it's a treat on a weekend, especially if you happen to catch them for a late-night bite of coconut lemongrass chicken, which I love as a taco ($2.50). The flavors are pure tom kha ga , the beloved, gentle aromatic Thai coconut soup with contrasting textures and bites of an Asian cabbage slaw. Sunday is when Chow rests before hitting the road again.
The menu is straightforward. Choose from the above-mentioned chicken or spicy beef with cilantro chile pesto or pineapple ginger pork or (for our vegetarian friends) the panko-crusted tofu. You can get them as a taco swaddled in two tender corn tortillas or in a small, soft roll for a slider (both at $2.50). Both come topped with that crunchy Asian slaw that actually serves a purpose in its vinegary bite and fresh crunch. Like the chicken, each has its own merits. I was particularly surprised with the pork, which I feared would be syrupy sweet, but was incredibly tender and flavorful, spiked with the natural sweetness of the fresh chunks of pineapple alone. The spicy beef is a great alternative for carne asada taco lovers.
You stand in line and order from the window. The line can be long at times, but it's still faster than most sit-down establishments. Most likely, you'll see Ms. Chow taking your order and passing it on to Ruiz. Below the high frame, there's an embankment of ice filled with drinks, treats and snacks. If you look to the left of the ordering window, you can see the bin of brightly colored root chips ($2.50) fried to potato chip-crispness, and dusted with Asian spices such as star anise, cinnamon and other aromatic mysteries.
If you happen to order the calamari ($5.75), you'll see it being freshly dusted with the dry mixture of flour and spices. Note that word, dusting, as theirs is no egg dip and no breading; just a light romp in the seasoned starch before it's plunged into the hot oil. Just for fun, Ruiz adds a handful of fresh cilantro leaves and thinly sliced lemon to the flash frying. She then tumbles everything into one of the paper cartons, piping hot and steaming when Chow hands it to you from the window.
This is one of my favorite dishes on the menu, and it's one of the best calamari dishes I have eaten in the Utah. To be sure, there are days when it could be crisper, but it always tastes tender, which is vital to something that's as relatively bland as this beloved cephalopod. But the addition of the hot cilantro and lemon slices are brilliant visual and flavor counterpoints, making a serving for one seem like a proper meal in of itself. If you require more treatment, you can always opt for it as a slider, taco or salad.
One parting bit of advice: Eat the calamari straight away, standing in front of the truck. Fried calamari is fast food in the truest sense, requiring little cooking and even less time to enjoy at its prime.
This type of dish waits for no one, even the most seasoned fast-food junkie commuting back to the office.
What's thought to be the state's first gourmet food truck lives up to its name. Fans track its varying locations from e-mail blasts or Twitter updates (@chowtruck) and line up during lunch and dinner for tender (not sweet) ginger pineapple pork, spicy beef, coconut lemongrass chicken and panko-crusted tofu as a slider, a taco or salad. Everything is under $10. Don't miss: tender fried calamari with flash fried cilantro, lemon and a chipotle dipping sauce, while are some of the best tastes in the valley.
Location » Check the Web site or follow @chowtruck on Twitter for locations
Online » chowtruck.com
Hours » Vary, but generally Monday to Saturday lunch and dinner
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » None
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Credit cards » No