Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pechanga Food Truck Festival - A review

What a day!

Yesterday was the first time any food truck festival had made an appearance at Pechanga Resort and Casino.  It was quite a sight to behold.  There were over forty trucks to choose from.  Picky eaters were definitely not disappointed.  Traditional American dominated the grounds - with burgers, dogs and fried eats filling in everything in between everyone else.  From what we observed, prices averaged around $10 per person.

Execution of the event was well received, though, as the day went on, crowds became unbearable due to the 90 plus degree heat and increasing attendance.  Staff was virtually nonexistent throughout the festival but were heavily manning the entryway.   I had expected a larger presence to keep everyone moving along to prevent major congestion.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and we hope to see it again next year.  Bravo!

Now - on to the food!

9:30 AM

We arrived fairly early.  My partners in crime, Josh, Bobby, and Melissa, were all eager to join the mass of people that we were certain would be flocking to the event.  However - there were some technical difficulties for two of my three amigos.  Josh and I were on site over half an hour before the gates were opened to VIP ticket holders.  We were the first in line, and all we got were these crumby wrist bands!
All joking aside, we paid good money for early entry and a more than pleasant seating arrangement.  Seeing that it was going to be a scorching hot day, paying a little extra for comfort was well worth it.  The staff provided us with two voting vouchers that everyone would use to pick their favorite truck.  The winning favorite would receive a nice little trophy.  Neat!

10 AM

The gates are now open and we're ready to go in!  We were very fortunate to be at the front of the line, because it grew to a very ludicrous size.  It only got worse as the day went on.

By this time, Melissa had managed to make her way down to the event, after having left Bobby who was fiddling with some things at home.  No worries, he made it about an hour later!  Whilst we waited for him, we walked the lot and scoped out the trucks and the VIP only area.  The extra money we paid not only gave us early entry and a shaded sitting area - we were treated to free water, soda, candy and tangerines!  Nice.

10:15 AM

After checking out all the sights, we visited our first truck.  It was a bit disconcerting that the majority of the trucks that had arrived early were still closed after VIPs were let in, likely due to heavy preparation for the long 9 hour day in store for them.  Only a select few were open - and Pearson's Farm was one of them.

I had a chance to meet the owner and operator of this "trailer", Clinton Pearson.  A very nice gentlemen.  He and his Louisiana born wife have been in the business for the last four years, touring the country and visiting jazz festivals as well as other mass food truck festivals like this one.  They had just opened their trailer and we were onsite to be the first customers of the day.  We happily ordered an order of "gator and taters" and another order of crawfish tails.
At first glance, these appear like a normal basket of chicken strips and french fries, correct?  Well, I can tell you - it certainly wasn't.  I excitedly took my first bite of Gator Bites and was instantly transported to the deep south.  It was fantastic!  The batter was very light, full of flavor and piping hot.  These were literally handed over the second they came out of the fryer. Josh put it best as the gator tasting like a cross between calamari and chicken.  The texture was bouncy, not tough, but toothsome.  The flavor itself was very lean, not gamey whatsoever and full bodied.  It was great.  I don't think salt or pepper hit the bites after the fry - I'm sure the batter had some because it did have a little kick.  The fries that were served up on side were Cajun fries.  Very spicy.  They had a great bite - equally fresh and very delicious.  Along with our Gator Bites and fries, I ordered an additional entree, some Crawfish Tails!
As expected, they tasted like crawfish!  Perfectly seasoned, cooked to perfection.  These offered a very pleasant taste.  Doused in Louisiana Hot Sauce, they tasted like little briny fireballs.  Not too salty.  Very, very good.  Again, served up with Cajun fries.

10:45 AM

Melissa had gone off on her own and returned with a Veggie Wrap from San Diego's Finest Food Truck.  I thought the name was a bit ostentatious, but, whatever.
It wasn't bad.  The tortilla wasn't homemade, tasted prepackaged, which isn't a bad thing, however, when you're name is San Diego's Finest and San Diego having some world class Torterillas... you can at least get a hookup from one of them, no?  Anyway, the filling tasted like an Orzo Pasta Salad, with kalamata olives, onion, cucumbers, peas, bells and what I think was some kind of squash.  It wasn't too bad, but, definitely not the finest in San Diego.

11:00 AM

This is becoming quite a read, so I'll try and wrap this up as quickly as possible.  I'll ditch the time format as well.

We checked out the Lobsta Truck.  At this time, the park was filled with VIPs only - but the gates were now letting non VIPs through.  The festival quickly began to fill.

This was one of the longest lines throughout the day.  We waited in line and the food for a collective twenty minutes; that's not bad.  Melissa ordered the Lobster Roll.  I am a bit saddened by the fact that I thought my phone snapped a shot of the roll, only later to realize it had in fact, not done so.  Ugh.  I only have a shot of the final bite, but it should sum it up nicely.
An incredibly flavorful roll, baked to perfection, held almost six to eight lumps of lobster of this size.  Slathered in butter, it was very creamy, rich and loaded with lobster bliss.  Hat's off to LA Lobsta Truck!

After finishing up the Lobster, we hit two more spots.  Bacon Mania and MeSoHungry!

Josh picked up a Jack Back Sammie - a devilishly good and thick sandwich using egg bread crusted with Cheddar cheese, filled with fluffy scrambled eggs, hickory smoked bacon and more Cheddar, all melted to savory gooeyness.

I made my way over to MeSoHungry - something I've been waiting to try since they were announced as participants.  I waited in a line of about five minutes, to my surprise; and greeted by Chef Cory Ewing.  With fifteen years of experience, he is classically trained from Le Cordon Bleu and has served in some of the finest kitchens like McCormicks and The Four Seasons Hotel.  He is all about keeping it simple, with a strong belief in "less is more."  I wholeheartedly agree.
This is The Duke.  Served on Cheese Bread, my Angus Beef with string onions, sweet BBQ sauce, coleslaw, Apple-wood smoked bacon was $9 and very good.  Everything melded together very nicely, and all the flavors stood well on their own.  Now, I didn't ask, and I should have, but I imagine all their burgers were being cooked med. well to well done due to the crowds and the challenge it would have been to prepare each burger to order.  I am a firm believer that hamburgers should not exceed medium.  Anything more, and it's game over for that little patty.  Aside from the beef being overcooked, it was still very enjoyable.

Bobby finally showed up, nearly an hour and a half after the gates had opened to VIPs, and joined in on the feast of burger and sammy.  We all agreed that both of these places were fantastic in the customer service experience and the food.

After taking a small break - we headed to our final destination - Mad Maui BBQ, hailing from our very own Oceanside.  This place was packed by noon.  Collectively, we waited almost thirty minutes for the food.  We ordered a brisket sandwich, and the wait was well worth it.

Sadly, there is no picture of the sandwich.  It smelled way too good to stop and snap a few.  We hurried back to our table and began eating it immediately.  The sauce soaked the bun and permeated the meat so quickly.  "Absolute heaven" is the only way to describe the first bite.  Moist, tender and downright sloppy.  The brisket was forked string thing and piled high on a soft potato bun.  The sauce was super sweet and rich.  A very good mop sauce.  It wasn't thick or thin, but finely balanced between the two - my kind of party.  It was all gone in seconds.  

After consuming our tasty meal, we decided to call it quits.  By this time, the festival had become a mad house.  It was 91 degrees, crowded, and lines were now reaching upwards of one hour, not including the wait after ordering.
The VIP only section was filled up (the empty chairs were reserved by the guests sitting at the table - and just beyond the tent was the droves of people standing shoulder to shoulder.  We slowly exited and bid farewell to the festival.  We were all in a lethargic state and stumbled our way to the cars.

In closing, the whole day was great.  The chefs were wonderful, the food was fantastic and well executed, even with massive crowds.  Though, an interesting point raised by Josh - and I guess this applies to any restaurant, really - there is a direct correlation between quantity of guests and quality of food.  As guest attendance rises, food quality lessens.  The obvious reason - demand goes through the roof, time to fulfill order decreases, mistakes are made and food is rushed out.  However, this theory wasn't evident at all of the trucks.  The food we received was spot on and very well done.  That's not to say it wasn't happening elsewhere.

It was a fun day had by all - and we'd like to thank Pechanga for managing the show and keeping the peace throughout the day!  Thank you!

If you'd like to know more about the Food Truck Festival, its participants and how you can find out where the next stop is for some of your favorite mobile eateries - visit some of the sites below!

Btw!  We would have voted for Mad Maui had we not left in such a hurry!  You guys rock!


  1. Sounds like a great time and awesome food!

  2. It certainly was! I can't wait for another one to roll on through!