With summer in full swing and vending regulations still nowhere in sight — despite a (weak) pledge by Mayor Vincent C. Gray to send them to the D.C. Council by “this spring” — food trucks are not waiting to see what the city has in store for them. New ones seem to roll out every week.
Case in point: Two new trucks have entered the food fray in the District (and probably more that I haven’t tried or heard about yet). The Aahhs on Wheels, a kind of soul food truck (now with turkey burgers!), debuted June 15, while Phonation, a rolling pho and banh mi parlor, just hit the streets Monday.
Both have connections to either a truck or a restaurant that you might recognize.
The Aahhs is run by Jeffrey Jones, Quinton Brooks and Tammy Freeman, each related to Oji Abbott, chef and owner of the U Street institution, Oohhs & Aahhs. Abbott’s former partner, India Wilson, is also involved in the truck. All of them, Abbott notes, have worked at the U Street restaurant, so they are well grounded in the chef’s approach to cooking.
But, Abbott adds, they are “doing different stuff” from he does at Oohhs & Aahhs. He just gave them permission to riff off his restaurant’s name.
“I allowed them to do that,” Abbott says about borrowing The Aahhs handle. “I knew that it would be a lot more difficult to do a startup without any name recognition.”
Based on my first (and so far only) meal at The Aahhs, the truck might need some remedial education in Abbott’s kitchen. My fried catfish was overcooked and drenched in salt. What’s more, the dish took seemingly forever to prepare, as a group of customers huddled under a nearby tree on Franklin Square, hoping to survive the merciless heat last week. The seasoned crinkle-cut fries, however, hit the spot.
The other newbie on the streets is Phonation, jointly operated by Rachel D’Ruan and her aunt-adoptive mother Ann Doan, who created the short menu for the pho-and-banh mi truck. You might remember D’Ruan as the operator behind the short-lived Phonomenon truck, which went down in flames last summer in spectacular fashion. D’Ruan can’t talk about the old business and really doesn’t want me to associate it with the new one — perhaps afraid it will taint its new truck smell.
She shouldn’t worry. Phonation serves a deeply aromatic pho stuffed with rice noodles, chopped cilantro, scallions and slices of well-cooked beef. Even better, D’Ruan and Doan no longer cut up their noodles, so you can enjoy the full-on experience of slurping those long strands and flicking little drops of broth in every direction, the adult equivalent of kids splashing in the pool.
Earlier this year, before the truck even launched, I had the chance to preview some of Phonation’s menu. I found myself tickled with Doan’s kitschy creation — the rice-heavy banh mi burrito, which re-creates some of the flavors of the Vietnamese sandwich, just without the satisfying crunch of the French roll. It’s a fusion dish that doesn’t embarrass its French-Vietnamese roots, nor smack of a cheap Chipotle knock-off.
Phonation will be a regular stop for me, no question about it.