Fantastic food is not limited to large fully stocked kitchens in buildings with permanent fixtures, decor and a swanky bar off to the side. Some of the best food you’ve never had might be set up in a parking lot around the corner from the office.
While food trucks aren’t new to the American food culture, they’re gaining a lot of attention lately. There are lots of options and a lot of opportunity here in Southwest Louisiana, not only for truck operators, but for consumers as well.
The food truck industry opens doors for anyone who wants to present what they have to offer and bring it to people without being tied to a single location. They are, by definition, mobile kitchens. Some are single businesses, while others are an extension of a restaurant or catering business. But they all have one thing in common: They have to execute their operation in a much smaller workspace than a typical brick-and-mortar building.
You can find food trucks just about everywhere in Southwest Louisiana, with the exception of Cameron Parish — they can’t seem to pull themselves together long enough to lift their 20-year ban on qualified operators. Their loss.
With Lake Charles’ multitude of outdoor festivities, concert series and Crying Eagle Brewery with their monthly food truck night, you’ll find an assortment of food being offered from trucks.
I’m going to highlight three different versions, each with their own dynamics and background.
One of the first trucks to blast into the local scene was Hi-Licious Street Kitchen powered by an extremely genuine, talented and creative woman, Haili Li.
Having moved to the United States only 13 years ago, she relied on everything she learned about cooking in her native home in China to create for herself, and now for area diners, the foods she grew up with. She offers traditional Asian comfort foods, not the watered-down versions we often see from chefs trying to create what Americans think Chinese food should be.
Finding various jobs along the way, sometimes having to relocate to another state, Haili was finally able to make it all come together, purchase a food truck, use her cooking talents and present her food to us.
Her dishes aren’t limited to Chinese cuisine. She creates authentic dishes from all Asian cultures: Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Philippine … it’s Asian food in its perfect form, as genuine as anyone could expect.
Everything Haili offers is made from scratch using the freshest of ingredients, with zero MSG. There are no canned goods, bottled or packaged ingredients. It’s all hers, and hers alone, individually executed to perfection. Her menu items flow with her creativity. The specials change, often based on what’s available to her, showcasing what’s seasonally fresh.
Her Pad Thai is one of my favorites. It’s to die for — rich, fresh, flavorful, exciting and quite filling. Other favorites include spicy ramen soup with shrimp, spring rolls, won ton soup … and the list goes on. I recommend taking a peek at her menu.
Haili has regular set-up sites rotated throughout the week in Lake Charles, Moss Bluff, Sulphur and Iowa. For the latest locations and updates, follow her on Facebook at Hi-Licious Street Kitchen. I promise you won’t regret it.
And when you go by, be sure to congratulate Haili on becoming a U.S. citizen.
Freestyle Munchies owner Don Gillet is no stranger to creating amazing dishes and cuisine that are among the best of the best. Gillet is a successful chef and restauranteur, having left a trail of culinary landmarks and accomplishments up and down the east coast from New England to Florida.
The Gillett family has their fair share of culinary talent, though some family members have hung up their chef’s coats in favor of classrooms and calculators.
Don wasn’t happy with the isolation of being in the kitchen and launched his truck business as a way of being interactive with the public. Behold — Freestyle Munchies.
Don takes the best in quality meats, cheeses and ingredients, and dishes out flavorful, “eyes rolling in the back of your head, I can’t get enough of this” food.
The Freestyle menu varies. One week it might feature pork belly tacos, on another it might offer a chicken caprese sandwich or a sriracha shrimp salad. But Gillett always serves some of his biggest hits, like my go-to, the Munchie Melt.
This massive burger is comprised of a half-pound short rib and beef patty, grilled onions and mushrooms, bacon jam, jalapeño mayo, melty Swiss and American cheeses, all grilled on thick sourdough, and served with a side of fries. Just writing about this has me doing a search of his locations this week. This is good food, it’s fast and it’s extremely popular. You can follow Don’s locations, menu and updates on Facebook at Freestyle Munchies.
Jammin’ Jelly’s Hot Sauce
The final truck in this piece is one of the ones whose arrival I most anticipate. Here, you have a couple of guys that contribute from their own fields to bring it all together.
Jelly, formally known as Ivo, began creating his own custom hot sauces some time back. All are unique blends of fruits and peppers that bring the best flavors together in a bottle. All of the sauces are cleverly named; all are an homage to Louisiana Cajun heritage — there’s the Mamou Mangeaux, Cajun Brees or the Creole Cucumber, to name a few.
The sauces are launched and they’re hitting the streets. Jelly is setting up booths and getting his brand out there through outdoor vendor events, the internet and word of mouth. So, how to increase that exposure? Create an outlet that shows the sauces used with foods, in real time.
Enter Charlie, a talented chef and musician. Together, they create the foods that enhance the flavors of the sauces.
With the menu still in trials, they wanted to get the feedback from the people. How did they do this?
They started dropping food teasers online and garnering a lot of interest. What really caught my attention was the smoked brisket mac and cheese wrap drizzled with one of their sauces. Even though the truck isn’t ready to roll, the guys aren’t sitting idle. They decided to create a Facebook blast post, basically telling all the followers “We have these sandwiches available, order what you want, and we will personally deliver to you in Lake Charles.”
Although there was a slight hiccup and a delay, the launch appears to be successful. I ordered the Calcasieu Cubano. It features the boys’ own roasted shredded pork, pineapple sweetened thick-cut black forest ham with Cuban spices, a habanero/jalapeño mustard, chipotle raspberry sauce, Swiss cheese and a spicy yet sweet tangy pickle, all press-toasted.
The meats, as well as the overall heft and flavor of the sandwich, were great. I chose this sandwich for the habajala mustard, which was a little subtle for me, but with a little tweaking, it will have that pronounced flair. I do believe they’re onto something and are going to make a lot of people happy.
These are exciting times for foodies and the people that put it out there for us to enjoy.