It’s hard for me to keep quiet about my unhealthy food obsession (or is it obsession with unhealthy food?) at work. So when coworkers talk about weekend plans and where to eat, my ears can’t help but perk up. Talks usually lead to favorite places and invariably I mention East Side King. After building lots of excitement (and months of trying to coordinate schedules), the time had finally come for some of my coworkers and I to go on an East Side King trailer crawl!
- ESK at The Grackle
- ESK at The Liberty
- ESK at Shangri-La
- Coolhaus + Fried and True
We all met at the Grackle with the plan to order a few shareable plates before moving onto the next trailer. As Ev and I walked from the car to meet the group, who else do we see crossing the street but Paul Qui*! We met Jordan, Tyler, and Christina in front of the truck to confirm our plan: order a bunch of sharable plates, eat everything, walk to the next truck, repeat.
*You know, winner of Top Chef, former executive chef at Uchiko, and culinary master and co-owner of the East Side King empire.
We spent a few minutes in front of the window trying to figure out who would buy what. We finally agreed upon and ordered four dishes — three mainstays and a weekly special. From the regular menu we got the Tongue Sandwich, Pork Ribs, and Broccoli Pops, and from the specials we got Fried Mushrooms.
The tongue sandwich** had the lowest expectations and turned out to be both my and Ev’s favorite. The meat was tender, the bread perfectly toasted, and the horseradish flavor (not mentioned) sealed the deal for me. The pork ribs made a strong case though. I wasn’t sure how grilled ribs from a truck would do, but these fell off the bone, had huge flavor, and really meaty. The broccoli had a good charred flavor under the sweet chili miso sauce, but not really anything worth writing
a blog post home about. The mushrooms were also great and I’d love to see them as a permanent fixture on the menu. Perfectly fried (meaning delicious while not being too greasy), I didn’t think they even needed the kimchi gravy on the side.
**I’ll refrain from jokes like “I usually don’t like to taste things that taste me back”, but we’re more mature than that.
2. Tongue Sandwich $7
Katsu fried beef tongue, kimchee, kewpie mayo, served with japanese potato salad
4. Pork Ribs $11
1 lb. tare fish-caramel glazed pork ribs, served with Japanese potato salad and house made pickles
9. Broccoli Pops $4
Grilled broccoli glazed with sweet chili miso
Fried Mushrooms $5
fried mushrooms, kimchi gravy
The Grackle exceeded my high expectations and set the bar very high for the rest of the night! Onward to…
The decision as to what to get was much easier at The Liberty. We ordered the four quintessential dishes, regardless of location, that set East Side King apart from, well, everyone. On deck were Thai Chicken Kara-age, Poor Qui Buns, Beet Home Fries, and Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad. Each one on its own could be the best menu item at any other food truck (or restaurant for that matter), so to find them all in succession on the same menu is a little mindblowing.
I don’t have much to say… Tyler was astounded by the pork belly buns, I kept going back for the Thai Chicken, and the beets were devoured. The Brussels sprouts, which are sometimes drowning in sauce, were expertly executed and promptly inhaled.
1. Thai Chicken Karaage $8
Deep-fried chicken thigh, sweet-spicy sauce, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño
2. Poor Qui’s Buns (2) $7
Roasted pork belly in steamed buns, hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchi, green onion
3. Beet Home Fries $7
Deep-fried roasted beets, kewpie mayo, schichimi togarashi, green onion
4. Fried Brussels Sprout Salad $7
Fried Brussels sprouts, sweet-spicy sauce, shredded cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño
Another outstanding showing from The Liberty. The high expectations were now at astronomic levels for our next stop at…
Some of the group was slowing down. We even took a pitstop on the way to Shangri-La to give ourselves some digestion time and grab some food for Christina, who wasn’t in an ESK mood.
With a recently changed menu (which is too bad, because I loved several old menu items), we got three things
to try. The ESK Grilled Cheese sandwich, which honestly sounded like it belonged on a French bistro menu, just felt… lazy. I don’t know how to describe it other than it fell flat on flavor and just looked weak. Ok, so bad start. The Pork Melt (which one would assume has cheese melted over pork) can only be described as a poor man’s Poor Qui’s Buns from The Liberty. The Hawaiian roll, which is usually a can’t-miss, dwarfed the disappointing pork belly and the lack of cheese just left us wondering. Last up was the Mustard Green Fried Rice. An alternate name, and perhaps more appropriate, would be “Way Too Much Burnt Garlic Rice”. We each took two bites and tossed the rest. Sadly inedible.
3. ESK Grilled Cheese Sandwich $5
Brie cheese in Hawaiian roll, green apple, kimchee, nori
4. Pork Melt $6
Pork belly in Hawaiian roll, mochi, green apple, green onion, yakisoba sauce, kewpie mayo
5. Mustard Green Fried Rice $5
Jasmine rice, mustard green, Chinese sausage, ginger, garlic, green onion, Sambal badjak, beni shoga
If you couldn’t tell, we were hugely disappointed with Shangri-La. As it turns out, my friend Jeff went only a week or two before our visit and had a similar experience. I will say, after reaching out to East Side King to offer feedback, they were gracious enough to send me some gift cards (one to The Grackle and one to their Hole in the Wall location). We’ll be putting those to use soon for sure, but future visits to Shangri-La may take some convincing. Not a great way to wrap up the East Side King Crawl. Hopefully dessert could get the bad (garlic) taste out of our mouths.
For dessert –yes, there’s always room for dessert– we had to do something that would live up to the magnitude of an East Side King Crawl. Perhaps a hefty Coolhaus ice cream sandwich. Or maybe a Fried and True basket of deep fried Oreos. Or maybe… no… YES! A deep fried Coolhaus ice cream sandwich!
Step one was to buy an ice cream sandwich. Again, in the name of “Go Big or Go Home” (aka “just being in Texas”), I didn’t get just any plain vanilla on red velvet. I ordered up a double scoop of Guiness Chip and Sea Salt Caramel packed between two chocolate chunk pretzel cookies. I ran my sandwich the 15 feet from Coolhaus over to Fried and True to get the royal treatment. She took
I know, some of you are asking, “but doesn’t the ice cream melt”? The answer is a resounding YES. It came out in one hulking softball-sized block. The batter, in typical Fried and True form, was expertly fried and held everything inside its protective bubble. But anyone who’s had a Coolhaus sammie knows the ice cream melts pretty quickly even when it isn’t subjected to extremely hot oil.
So how was it? Epic. The hot-cold sensation . However, things deteriorated quickly and a fork soon became necessary. And I’m not proud, but ultimately it led to simply funneling the melted ice cream from the paper boat directly into my mouth. Was it worth it? Probably not. Was it awesome? Yes.
p>Aside for some big hiccups at Shangri-La the evening was an overwhelming success! I can’t say for sure what my favorite part was, though the Grackle’s tongue sandwich and the Liberty’s Poor Qui’s Buns are likely the top two. If you’re looking for fun times AND love eating delicious food, make this crawl a top priority! Next on this group’s agenda: East Side King @ Hole in the Wall followed by Cow Tipping Creamery!