MAIN STREET — After a brief zoning misstep, the Santa Monica Food Truck Lot has returned — this time in the parking lot of the California Heritage Museum. The event, which takes place every Tuesday (barring torrential rain), boasts a rotating lineup of gourmet food trucks from the area.
The current trend of gourmet food trucks sweeping the country originated in Los Angeles with the now-mythic Kogi BBQ. Much has changed, though, since the days of the hungry masses prowling the Southland searching for Korean BBQ tacos, led only by a tweet. Food trucks are now an established part of the California cultural landscape.
The food trucks at the Food Truck Lot were well-attended last Tuesday night, a feat considering the chill. The crowd picked up as the night went on, as people milled about perusing the different truck offerings. The atmosphere was jovial as people asked advice of strangers, making sure that they were making the most informed decisions. In attendance were seven trucks: Mighty Boba, Komodo, The Feast Truck, Lake St. Creamery, India Jones, Lobstatruck and Chef Che.
The clear winner of the night was the Lobstatruck. By the end of the night, they had a line that was so coiled as to make it difficult to find the end (I accidentally skipped the line twice). The main attraction was the lobster roll, which can be ordered with either butter or mayo. I ordered it with mayo, but I have it on good authority that the roll with butter was also fantastic: the perfect balance of richness and sweetness. Another big winner was Chef Che, an Argentine food truck. They were serving up some of the staples of Argentine cooking, such as steak marinated with chimichurri (a cilantro-based marinade) and chori pan, which is a Chorizo sandwich. Chef Che added their own flare, though, by including some interesting sides such as chimichurri fries — a novelty as far as I know.
The Santa Monica Food Truck Lot shares a parking lot with the Victorian and their basement bar, The Basement Victorian. The Victorian provides seating and beverages of all sorts to diners. The symbiosis works, providing a dining experience to rival other nearby bar/food truck venues such as the Brig and Verdugo.
The Basement Tavern at the Victorian, another relative newcomer to area, serves up drinks in its low-key, “speakeasy” atmosphere adorned with low leather couched, velvet stools and antique furnishings.
On the one hand, it has dark wood paneling and snazzy specialty cocktails and on the other it is dominated by large flat screen TVs, a Rock Band setup and board games like Operation. The bar is clearly still getting its footing and only time will tell if the mix of speakeasy exclusivity and beach bar egalitarianism can coexist in the same spot. Of course, this is Southern California, so maybe the Mad Men and frat boys can reach an accord.
Still, the Basement Tavern is a promising addition to Main Street and Tuesdays are great days to experience it without the crush of a Friday or Saturday night. The underground bar provides a charming place to get a drink before or after hitting the Food Truck Lot. Besides the normal bar fare, they also boast a unique specialty drink menu, topped by Dahlia’s Elixir and the Bathtub Gin.
Dalhia’s Elixir is sweetened with agave nectar and lime juice and topped with a raspberry, but the bourbon base provides a complexity that keeps the sweetness from being overpowering. The Bathtub Gin is the true prize, though. The drink features gin, citrus, cucumber and muddled jalapeño. The sample I had was balanced perfectly so that the bite of the jalapeño shone through at the end, but always tempered by the cooling cucumber. That said, dark wood, leather and velvet still drive me to order bourbon.
Besides their own merits, the Basement Tavern and Santa Monica Food Truck Lot both promise to serve an important function on Main Street: to draw people onto the beautiful grounds of the California Heritage Museum. It seems appropriate that the California Heritage Museum would oversee a gourmet food truck lot and a bar whose concept is “casual elegance.” I can’t think of anything else as quintessentially Californian.
For more information on the Food Truck Lot, follow it on Twitter at “smfoodtrucklot.”