Getting A TASTE Of Great Lunch Wagon Food

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - November 03, 2010
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Leroy Guo’s lunch wagon TASTE is parked on S. Beretania Street

Whenever I travel, my favorite eating experiences largely come from the streets.

You can buy sticks of barbecued meats in Morocco, banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) in Saigon and slices of merguez sausage in Marrakesh. You can even buy bowls of porridge (oatmeal) in Scotland.

When I first came to Hawaii, I looked long and hard, but there was no street food to be found. Then I discovered the lunch wagon - not the first place you think of when you’re looking for cutting-edge culinary trends, until perhaps, today. If you’ve looked inside a lunch wagon recently, there’s a whole new food culture bursting out of those double burners.

Lunch wagons are reinventing themselves, some serving gourmet versions of plate lunches, others offering Indian food, and all around the island you can find pizza, hot dogs, steak and shrimp being served in a casual, cheap and cheerful way.

I’m hoping that we’re on the edge of a whole new dining culture.

Leroy Guo hopes so, too. A Korean street vendor in Los Angeles inspired his street food/lunch wagon concept. Leroy thought he’d tweak the concept to see how it works in Honolulu.

So far, so good.

TASTE (an acronym for “tasty Asian-style taco eatery”) is located at 2012 S. Beretania St., and with plenty of parking in the lot on which it sits, it’s easy to pull off busy Beretania and take a few minutes to enjoy some of his quite delicious street food.

I had the mahimahi with ginger and green onion sauce, drizzled with a little miso dressing that packed some punch. For a snack (three bites and it was gone), it was filled with flavor. The mahimahi was moist, the flesh still piping hot in a soft, fresh corn tortilla.

One of the most popular choices from the TASTE wagon is proving to be the rib eye. Marinated in a rich, sweet sauce, one bite of this is enough to give you an idea of the sweet and soft meat - and make you wish for a slightly larger portion. For just $2.75 it’s a fair portion of meat, which carries a good mixture of flavor and texture. The coleslaw and soft, fresh tortillas (made in and imported from L.A.) add bite and balance to the fillings.

Leroy says he wants to bring Hawaii flavors to the street, and he’s starting with a range of sauces that include wasabi, aioli and hoisin, as well as wasabi mayo and wafu. There’s a really good, homemade char siu that comes with a shoyu/aioli hoisin vinaigrette - the char siu is so good he could probably have a specialty section for just that one local favorite.

For a tiny lunch wagon on a busy street, I found TASTE to be a welcome and fun diversion from a busy, stressful day. Stay and eat your taco while it’s hot if you can - the warm taco and fillings are definitely best eaten right off the grill. There are half a dozen tables and chairs beside the wagon, chosen, I presume, for their ability to fold up and store inside the wagon at the end of the day rather than for comfort, but they work as a place to sit while you chow down. And let’s not forget - it is a parking lot.

As the growing number of specialty street wagons, hot dog carts and gourmet plate lunch places grow, I hope we see more and more creative culinary ventures like TASTE.

Happy eating!

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