(South Lake Union)
620 Terry Ave N, 349-6433
Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm.
There is something about a kitchen truck that is so cosmically right, so American, so… nifty (as my friend Lara said). It is the covered wagon of the food world, the first to pioneer the parking lots of unlovely neighborhoods before gentrification sets in and more permanent eating spots can set down roots. If the location doesn't work, the cook truck can just trundle on to the next location.
Up until now, our mobile eating opportunities have largely been confined to hot dog stands, ice cream trucks, and tacos--all perfectly welcome in Seattle's streets and parking lots, but I'm forever stumping for more varieties of mobile food units. Imagine how happy I was that Kaosamai Thai opened its own crisp little blue and white truck, which, for the foreseeable future, is parked in a dismal parking lot on the southern end of Lake Union (the target of Paul Allen's development dreams). Kaosamai is one of the better Thai restaurants in the city, largely because it keeps both grease and sugar, two frequent Thai-food crutches, to a minimum (you probably know it--it's the toxically coral-colored house as you round the bend on 36th Street in Fremont). The little truck doesn't look like much, but I hope it's a sign of a new mobility of food here in the city.
Last week, Lara pulled into the lot, parked her station wagon next to mine and hopped out enthusiastically. She's an architectural photographer and normally documents more permanent edifices than this, but the truck reminded here of her college days in Philadelphia, when a fleet of food trucks--Greek, Mexican, Chinese, vegetarian, and one particularly fine Thai truck--would surround the campus and sell cheap food to hungry students. She agreed with me that there is something particularly fun about a rolling restaurant. "Maybe," she said, "it's the whole vagabond, gypsy thing."
After the truck's cook delivered us a stack of Styrofoam boxes, we lunged across traffic-spewing Valley Street, hoping that Gus' bright red stroller would slow down the oncoming cars (who knew how easy I'd find it to put my son in mortal danger). We got to the docks at the old naval station there, and plunked down for a picnic--something I recommend to anyone who doesn't feel like eating on the asphalt in front of the truck. Gus went to sleep on my lap and I did my best to avoid dropping noodles on his head as I ate.
The menu on the Thai truck is short and sweet, and the food, at least for now, is impressively cheap. (Kaosamai's website suggested prices might change with the solstice). Take the $6 lunch special that includes a modest pile of pad thai, a ladleful of green curry, rice, and three petite egg rolls (bite-sized egg rolls like this are, I think, best at maximizing crunch and minimizing scalding). The green curry--always my favorite in the Thai rainbow of sauces--tasted like fresh-shucked coconut, not the gluey coconut cream that underpins so many curries. We also ordered some prawn salad rolls, all lettuce and mint and shrimp, ideal for mussing up with a smudge of almost chocolaty (but really beany) hoi sin sauce. It's that freshness in the truck's food that kept on impressing me: I expected it to deliver steam-table fare rather than fresh-cooked food, but the veggies--celery, peppers, carrots, onions, zucchini, and mini corncobs--stayed crisp in stir-fries like the basily Pad Bai Kaprao ($5) and the gingery chicken ($5). In the veggie dishes, the truck used fried tofu, which I like for its slightly sweet and chewy skin. Ba Mee Hang isn't quite a soup, as it is described on the menu, rather a high nest of slightly woodsy tasting egg noodles with cilantro, spinach, and green onions sitting in a puddle of sweetish broth. Of all the dishes, only the pad thai ($5, and in the combo) was a little nondescript--low on tamarind tang and dried vegetable funk, but still agreeable.
Lara and I couldn't have had a more pleasant lunch, surrounded by the bright glow of our rainless winter sun, the sparkle of the water, and the occasional drone of a seaplane. If all goes well with this brave little Thai truck, I hope to see more like it, popping up in underused lots around town, and making the city into one grand cafeteria.