The rules could have a chilling effect, and it may have already started to set in. The Washington City Paper reported last week that Basil Thyme, the District’s premier pasta truck, has called it quits, saying the mobile-vending business is unsustainable in the current environment. Will others follow?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but now is the time to visit some food trucks: just as the weather is warming and before the regulatory storm front rolls in. Three suggestions:
Manuel Alfaro has an outsider’s adoration of Peruvian cooking, not unlike Elizabeth David’s post-war fascination with Mediterranean cuisine or, closer to home, Jose Andres’s love affair with American gastronomy. Alfaro, born in Puerto Rico, also has skills: He was trained at a cooking school in Spain. But with a wife who hails from northern Peru, he says the South American country “has become my second Motherland.”
You can sense his affection in conversation, but more important, you can taste — and see and smell — the expertise of a classically trained chef. The menu was created in collaboration with Alfaro’s nephew Omar Rodriguez Valladares — who works at a restaurant in Trujillo, Peru — but the Puerto Rican is the one cooking.
Alfaro’s savvy shows up in details large and small. It could be the added cabbage crunch atop his good-and-gloopy El Fuego burger (you best suggest a temperature or the Black Angus patty comes cooked a food-safe medium-well). Or it could be the perfectly formed, restaurant-grade mound of rice with his Peruvian-Chinese plate, lomo saltado, an honorable take on the beef stir-fry dish, complete with hot and crisp fries. The trick here is to find your desired heat treatment; house-made (truck-made?) sauces come in three degrees, the hottest being a combination of habanero, jalapeno and three native Peruvian peppers. A little of that Level 3 sauce, a forkful of rice and a strip or two of marinated top sirloin? Mwah!
But El Fuego’s curbside showstopper is the pan con chicharron, a roasted pork sandwich paired with fried sweet potato slices, a Peruvian onion relish and the truck’s signature sauce prepared from aji Amarillo peppers. Served on a toasted roll, the combination argues for nothing less than a place among the city’s top sandwiches.