Lemongrass food truck in Arlington
By Rina Rapuano
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012
Three things can give food-truck vendors an edge: a highly visible truck, effective Twitter feeds and, of course, really good food. Even though Lemongrass just opened in December and its owners, husband-and-wife team Andy and Uyen Nguyen of Centreville, have no background in food service, their truck is already an overachiever on all three fronts.
The bright-green vehicle is painted with white bubbles and a colorful, anime-like logo featuring two little girls - one holding bubble tea and the other a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich - modeled after the owners' children.
As for Twitter, the truck is refreshingly good at communicating where it will be, when it will arrive, when it's leaving and what's next on the schedule. When it comes to the food, it tastes as good as it smells.
Uyen, 32, and Andy, 36, were government contractors before launching the truck, which serves food inspired by their Vietnamese heritage.
"These were just our personal favorites growing up," Uyen says of the short menu of chicken or pork available on banh mi ($7.50), vermicelli noodles ($8), tacos ($7.50 for three) or salad ($8). "We came up with the idea because a lot of Asian people work in Northern Virginia and can't always go to Falls Church for a sandwich."
The large, addictive banh mi differs from the traditional version in that it uses either grilled chicken or slow-roasted pork rubbed with Asian spices instead of the pork cold cuts that Uyen says can be off-putting to Western palates. It also includes a Sriracha mayonnaise with a welcome zip. But, as in the real deal, the baguette is bought daily from a Vietnamese bakery in Falls Church, and the Nguyens make the sweet-pickle mix - carrots and daikon radish sprinkled with fresh cilantro sprigs - that characterizes the sandwich.
We tried the luscious chicken - marinated in lemon grass, sesame oil, garlic and shallot - in a taco, a sort of banh mi on a flour tortilla. It's a surprisingly great twist on the sandwich. Most of the same ingredients also are available on vermicelli or a salad, except for the mayo, which is replaced by a sweet, funky lemon grass dressing. But the pork that accompanied the noodles had a ropy texture that the banh mi pork didn't have.
The brewed Thai bubble tea ($4), studded with pearls of black tapioca, is a sweet, milky way to wash it all down. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan, but Uyen says she wanted to serve it just because she likes it.
And after trying Lemongrass's food, we're happy to defer to her good taste.