“Eat Like at King. Party like a Rockstar” boast the Great American Foodie Fest. Have you been watching the Food Network, Cooking Channel or Travel Channel and craving the regional foods that you just can’t get at home? Do you like live music and carnival rides? Would you just like to wander a large selection of food trucks that don’t usually come to your neck of the woods? Then you might be ready for the Great American Foodie Fest which happens in San Diego, Phoenix and twice a year in Vegas. In fact, they have won “Best of Vegas” three years running, and just got voted Top 15 Food Festivals in the U.S. by two different sources:
These accolades inspired Jenn and I to want to check it out.
Fun in the Qualcomm parking lot
I am not a huge fan of the venue in the Qualcomm stadium parking lot. There isn’t any natural shade, water or sanitation and is just far enough away from the ocean to start getting hot. There are several other venues in town that are oceanfront that might have been nicer but there would have been a downside like beach traffic, no adjacent free parking, and probably higher ticket prices than $10 (12 at the door). Conveniently, there is also an immediately adjacent metro station so that has to count for something. The stadium does do a great job of keeping events coming to this venue. On the day we went, there was also a used car sale on one corner of the lot and amateur car racing on the other. They even had the original date for the Foodie Fest in August double booked. I can imagine that even if the Chargers get a new home the hustlers at the stadium will find a way to make ends meet.
Face Time with the President
We started our Foodie Fest by meeting Noel Casimiro, President and Managing Partner for the Great American Food Fest. He was passionate about his project and deeply wished he could have shown us the Festival as he planned it in August. His vision is to put together a collection of food trucks that people have seen on TV that aren’t available in the local market and let foodies actually try the food they have been hearing about. He gestured to some open spaces in the food truck line and said how many of his trucks weren’t available because of his scramble to put on a July show. In past years, he had vendors coming from all over America. One came in from Maine to sell their single sourced, farm to market lobster rolls. He also brought the first White Castles to Las Vegas as part of the Fest. There was a six-hour line which convinced the company to open a store. He said there were larger acts for the stage and bigger rides for the carnival. We’re looking forward to next year when we could see the Fest in its full glory.
Beer Gardens and Food Trucks
Food trucks have three great advantages to traditional restaurants. One, they have a low barrier to entry so hustling entrepreneurs can put their culinary vision out to market. Two, they are small and stackable so you can construct a meal from many separate vendors by just walking 10’ over. Finally, they are all on wheels and can travel to places like San Diego or Pheonix to bring their food to the people. There was a large selection of food available from deep fried, bacon wrapped Twinkies to gourmet sausage to Japanese comfort food. There were just a few local San Diego favorites represented like Flavors of East Africa, a strong representation from the Vegas area (home base for the Fest) and quite a few trucks that proudly boasted of their celebrity status. We made three laps before we finally picked our dinner(s), then sat down to eat in the beer tent and listen to the band playing deep 80’s hip-hop we haven’t heard since high school.
We saw their beautiful truck loaded with accolades and decided to stop in. It was a tough decision, but we went with the Dragon Trio because it contained a little bit of everything in a fresh, spicy and tasty package. When we checked their site, we learned “Dragon Grille specializes in Modern Asian Fusion, awarded the Best New Food Truck in 2013 by Las Vegas Weekly Magazine and Named the Best Food Truck of Las Vegas in 2015 by the Review Journal. The Dragon has become an attraction to the Las Vegas community and even for out of state foodies. Featured on A&E sister channel fyi, Dragon Grille debuted as one of the trucks for the reality show ” Late Night Chef Fight ” with Laila Ali and celebrity Chef Vic Vegas as the hosts. Also featured in the LA Times and the local Review Journal newspaper.” This is exactly what we were hoping for on our first at bat, celebrity food truck with national reviews.
Our friends Scott and Kathy, from Lucha Libre, joined us for this event. Scott wanted some Jumbalaya so we stopped by Pearsons. I saw they offered alligator so it seemed adventurous enough to be interesting. I ordered the Cajon Shrimp Combo with fries and hushpuppies, Or rather should I say – hushpuppy. Yup, only one was on the plate. The shrimp was smallish in size and portions with mild cajun seasoning and fairly vanilla fries. Not bad but not a foodie meal and certainly not worth $16. Scott’s jambalaya was meh too but the shrimp po boy was solid top to bottom. Perhaps the barriers to entry were lower for local trucks or Noel had to make some last minute editions, but what ever the case was this truck wasn’t doing it for us. The nice thing about events like this is if you get a bad draw you can just go on eating. There are lot’s of other places to try.
We debated our last meal and settled on trying dessert. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a debate. Earlier as we circled the food trucks we couldn’t help notice the elaborately decorated truck, that looked like it served up some deliciousness. We decided to stop by Bang Bang for their caramel trifle… so good. We also had a cherry poppin’ boba drink, which was both surprising and definitely poppin’. The boba literally popped in your mouth when it hit your tongue. It was refreshing and very entertaining. I see a pattern in the trucks we visited. There was one truck from each of the markets that the Foodie Fests visits (Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix). Perhaps the venues and the vendor relations are coupled. Perhaps the national trucks couldn’t make the date change. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Either way, Bang Bang was a decent truck and caramel trifle is always good. The winner for the day in prestige and palette was still the Dragon Grille.
The take home bag
We don’t really watch the Food Channel but we do like to find adventures in ordinary things. The Foodie Fest was just that for us. We could explore the world of food from a very personal perspective. The hustle of the individual truck owners and event coordinators was front and center bringing us flavors from around the country (and East Africa too). All of this was brought to our door in San Diego by the Great American Foodie Fest. Not a bad day for the door price + food. I would definitely consider going to the Fest if it’s in your city, and I am certainly looking forward to the Fest in its full glory next year. Until then, I hope all those hustlers keep busy on their hamster balls to make my food world go round.