Portola Valley's new venue for 'street food'

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By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

The evening of March 22 in Portola Valley saw an upward bump in the number of popular places to eat, and the town may never be quite the same.

The status quo returned later that night, but a Thursday evening routine had begun, one that is expected to continues until some time in August.

People now gather in the parking lot of Christ Episcopal Church at 815 Portola Road between 5 and 7 p.m. to line up in front of food trucks for street food, or what passes for it on the Peninsula. The church is hosting the event to build community awareness, members told the Almanac.

"I think the food truck is Northern California's equivalent of street food," said Jill Horn, the chief operating officer of Mobile Gourmet, an umbrella company that arranges for the varied offerings from some 28 food trucks. Ms. Horn, who happens to live in Portola Valley, co-founded the company with Lorring Jones of Pleasanton.

While these trucks may sell tacos, they do not announce their arrival with La Cucaracha playing from a loudspeaker. A 2012 Michelin star shines over Sanguchon, a truck associated with the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Montara.

The Sanguchon truck visited Portola Valley on April 5 and eventually ran out of $8 pulled pork sandwiches, one of which went to this reporter who, while eating it, paused to look around for angels and other indications of a heavenly venue.

Sanguchon will return, but probably not right away, Ms. Horn said. "We kind of juggle what we think the people would like," she said. "We always have something that will appeal to the kids in addition to something that the adults can't normally get."

The kids meal that night: pizza from a wood-fired portable oven, at $12.

Participation has grown from Mobile Gourmet's first days at the Hiller Aviation museum in San Carlos, where a noon routine continues. The ball really got rolling with the arrival of Vietnamese sandwiches by NomNom, a regular on the reality TV show Great American Food Truck Race, Ms. Horn said.

"It boosted our attendance there and encouraged other trucks to work with us," she said. "Lots of trucks are now calling us."

She and her partner vet would-be participants in the obvious way: They try their food. If they like it, the truck is invited to the Hiller Aviation event, and if that works out, they graduate to places like Portola Valley and the 3rd Door restaurant in Palo Alto, Ms. Horn said.

Is cleanliness a factor? "It actually is really important," Ms. Horn said. "We're close with the different health departments. The health inspectors are really thorough."

And imagination in the menu, where does that rank? "It's really important" to have food that can't be easily found in a restaurant, she said.

Part of the charm is the novelty. "People like to be outside and they like the tables and chairs and they like umbrellas and they like it to be a good atmosphere," she said.

The run on pulled pork sandwiches is a growing pain, an indication that they're still working on how many people to expect, Ms. Horn said. "In general, they don't run out," she added.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Has anybody asked the long time local restaurant and cafe owners what they think about this? You know, the ones who have committed their time and money to a faclity, and hired employees, and are part of the community, as opposed to the "hit and run" opportunists that sell out of a parking lot? Just wondering.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Think of it this way, Wondering: PV residents can eat like the rest of us in the valley, w/out driving the distance.

But what does the church mean by wanting to build "community awareness." Awareness of what? PV? The people around them? The community in which they live? The fact that they're better off than the majority of the world, but lack "street food"?

It all sounds rather pretentious.

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