“We’ve gone from a very luxurious society to the essentials in, like, a week,” chef and restaurateur Edward Lee told me recently. “It just makes me fearful of what happens in another week or in another two weeks.”
We don’t know what life will look like in another week or two — who among us predicted this current mess? — but for now, we still have food trucks. Remember them? A decade ago, they were the darlings of Washington. For operators, they lowered the barrier to entry to the restaurant world. For customers, they provided a craft-focused, multicultural alternative to the chains and sandwich shops that, for years, had a monopoly on the downtown office lunch.
But the food truck life is brutal, filled with long hours and wildly fluctuating sales that are more dependent on fair weather than Major League Baseball. The years have taken their toll on the food truck community; many good ones have died, but many also remain, even as this virus increasingly captures our breath and holds us hostage in our homes. So far, food trucks can still operate on the streets, no doubt because they inherently require us to eat elsewhere. Social distancing is basically built into their business plans.
With that said, I still have serious misgivings suggesting that you should visit a food truck. This may be the ethical question of the coronavirus era for places still selling food and the writers/Yelpers/PR professionals/influencers who recommend them: Are we putting people at risk? Not just customers, who must keep their distance at all times from others, but also employees, who might take public transportation to work and then toil side by side with fellow workers, potentially exposing themselves to the virus anywhere along the way.
Yet, as chef José Andrés, who has dealt with more crises than 99 percent of us, said recently, “People have to eat.” To which I would add: People have to work and survive, too, and not everyone has a job where they can work from home. By now, we all know to follow the recommended protocols: regular hand-washing for 20 seconds, maintaining a six-foot barrier between you and others and staying home if you are sick. Please keep these rules topmost in your mind as you consider visiting the following trucks, each of which looks to be following best sanitation practices on their side of the counter. (Check out each truck’s Twitter account for locations.)
Cracked Eggery, @crackedeggery
Started by three veterans of the Georgetown Events company, Cracked Eggery first hit the streets on Dec. 31, which gave the owners only a few carefree weeks before the coronavirus creeped into public consciousness. “What luck we have,” deadpans co-founder Ross Brickelmaier. The truck (they also have a bricks-and-mortar shop in the works, once restaurants are allowed to seat patrons again) is the owners’ sole source of income. So they’re charging ahead with a tidy menu of sandwiches served on challah buns so bronzed and shiny they look like they’ve spent a week on the beach.
The ingredient that ties these sandwiches together (save for the twin-patty burger, a delicious handful all its own) is the egg, either scrambled or fried. The masterpiece is the Inigo Montoya, a rich chorizo-and-fried egg combo cut, at least in theory, by a lemon aioli, which does everything in its power to convince us the sandwich is lighter than it actually is. Hunger pangs, prepare to die! (Sorry, really.)
Cracked also serves Compass Coffee, either drip or nitro cold brew, should you hit the truck for breakfast. In the afternoon, you can pair the sandwiches with tots, these thick coins of fried potatoes, which can be paired with Cracked’s ketchup from True Made Foods in Alexandria, a low-sugar condiment that’s darker and more complex than your typical bottle of Heinz.
The Corn Factory, @thecornfactory
On a drizzly afternoon outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, owner Farida Abou Draa was the only person aboard her truck, and I was the only customer. Business has been slow since the outbreak, she told me, and she’s had to scale back her menu. She had been trashing too much food lately, given that virtually everything on the truck must be prepared fresh daily. These days, she must wear every hat: prep cook, short-order cook, cashier, cleaning crew. As we chatted, she was wearing a Superman T-shirt, which seemed about right.
A native of Venezuela, Abou Draa specializes in two staples from her homeland: arepas and cachapas. Her arepas are crispy corn shells, soft in the middle, each stuffed with your choice of shredded meats and/or mozzarella, all of which can be (and should be) dressed with Abou Draa’s avocado-based guasacaca sauce, a sharp green monster of a condiment. Her griddled cachapas are lighter, sweeter and messier, barely able to contain the fillings. No matter what you order, you’ll be met with a massive, two-handed bite, its generosity unbound by food-cost conventions or coronavirus-related cutbacks.
Dirty South Deli, @Dirtysouthdeli
A relative old-timer on D.C. streets, the Dirty South Deli truck still trades on its small collection of sandwiches, which draw on traditions far wider than the American South. The founders of the truck are long gone, replaced several years ago by Eduardo Bocock and Jason Tipton, the same pair behind White Apron Specialty Sandwiches, which operated a shop in Penn Quarter until it closed in 2018.
Bocock and Tipton are old pros (they made their bones customizing food trucks), and they haven’t messed with the success of Dirty South Deli. You can grab a Mr. Chips (chopped pork, jalapeños, Manchego, cilantro and citrus mayo on brioche bun), a Chimichurri Bang Bang (a Peruvian roast chicken sandwich on, ahem, a baguette) and a Veggie 3000 (turmeric cauliflower, feta, pickled onions, arugula and citrus-thyme aioli on ciabatta), all of which are poundable. You can even get a Mr. Chips meal kit to make at home, which is just the kind of virus-related convenience we need.
Hardy’s BBQ, @Hardys_BBQ
Standing over his portable smoker outside the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market in Bethesda, co-owner Corries Hardy may be a few decades removed from his playing days at the University of Miami, but he still looks like he could crush a quarterback. He definitely produces crushable barbecue from his truck, which he operates with wife, Roxie. She’s the gloved one who hands out takeaway containers, which you hold as Hardy tongs your smoked meats into them. Very sanitary.
They had only chicken and ribs available on my recent visit. The half chicken, browned and irresistible, had retained its moisture even after a prolonged cook over smoldering coals. The ribs were even better: smoky, slightly spicy and slathered with Hardy’s mustard sauce, these bones stand up to anyone’s in the greater Washington area. The only problem I had with the ribs: I couldn’t lick my fingers clean.