Eating Out: Fresno's food truck scene continues to evolve

The Fresno BeeMay 19, 2014 

Co-owner Kristin Stewart waits on a customer at the Dusty Buns food truck in a 2010 file photo.

MARK CROSSE — THE FRESNO BEE

Fresno food trucks have tasty news to share: Dusty Buns has a second food truck operating in San Francisco and two more trucks are opening restaurants locally.

If it seems like I write about food trucks a lot, it's because it's true. There's always something going on with local food trucks and carts. The food truck scene here is constantly evolving — sometimes following in the footsteps of cities with even-more-thriving food cultures, such as Portland and San Francisco — and sometimes taking its own path. It's exciting to imagine what's in Fresno's food truck future.

In the meantime, let's talk about what's in store for Dusty Buns, one of Fresno's most popular food trucks and a driving force behind the movement. Dusty Buns has added a second truck they've dubbed Bistro Bus 2.0 that will be parked at the SoMa StrEat Food Park in San Francisco. (SoMa is a reference to the neighborhood south of Market Street.)

The park is a permanent space devoted to food trucks and open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. More than 10 trucks rotate in and out of the space.

Dustin — everybody calls him Dusty these days, I'm told — and Kristin Stewart have ties to San Francisco: They went to chef school there and tapped into the experience of San Francisco food trucks to inspire the Fresno food truck scene.

But you can still get an organic burger at the original bistro bus and the restaurant in Fresno — they aren't going anywhere. Fresno is the reason the business could grow to this point, he says.

Stewart gets really excited when talking about the second truck and the space it will be in.

"We're going to be one of the very few trucks in the city to have a permanent location," he says. "I would love to do that in Fresno."

Could Fresno ever have a permanent food truck park that was open for lunch and dinner every day?

The one Dusty Buns is a part of has covered and heated seating, free Wi-Fi and is pet friendly. There's comedy and trivia nights and TVs for big games. Diners can reserve outdoor tables or a renovated school bus with tables.

Bend, Ore., has The Lot, a "pod" where five food trucks surround a pavilion with long tables. A small building serves local craft beer and has real restrooms. There's live music and a tabletop propane fireplace that keeps diners warm on chilly nights.

Fresno has plenty of space for such a pod — especially compared with San Francisco — and it has plenty of trailblazers, Stewart notes.

The Fresno scene started with a truck parking on Tower District streets and ticking off permanent restaurants who thought the trucks were unfair competition. From there food trucks moved to organize regular events, like the Thursday lunchtime Cart Hop on Fulton Mall that hosts a group of food trucks.

And then it was a mini version of the permanent food truck pods, when Gazebo Gardens Nursery started hosting food trucks on Saturday nights last year. Multiple food vendors, a little bar selling craft beer near the flower pots and live music pulled in so many people that the business recently made Friday nights a regular food truck night, too.

And the Bella Frutta parking lot at Shepherd and Willow avenues is home to several food trucks, from roughly 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekends, though there is no beer or live music.

Food truck restaurants

The food truck scene is branching out in other ways, too. Benaddiction, the breakfast and lunch truck with rock 'n' roll themed sandwiches, plans to open a restaurant this summer.

The little, 1,000-square-foot restaurant will open in July at Marks and Bullard avenues in the same shopping center as Ovidio's Italian Restaurant.

In some ways, Benaddiction is following in the footsteps of Dusty Buns, which opened a restaurant near Fresno High mostly because it needed the kitchen space to prepare food for the truck.

A bigger kitchen will help Benaddiction sell more food from its truck, and it's a better financial deal than parking at a commissary during off hours, says owner James Caples.

But perhaps most important for customers, there will be a place to get a "2 Legit 2 Quit" pulled pork sandwich without having to track down the truck and its changeable schedule. Caples says he cringes when he hears a customer say they showed up at an event just for his food, but he wasn't there.

The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will serve the truck menu, including the eggs Benedict sandwiches, but also actual eggs Benedict, pancakes and waffles on plates.

Downtown tamales

Casa de Tamales is a part of the food truck scene with its trailer and food booth — and will soon have a restaurant on Fulton Mall.

The deal isn't finalized yet, so there are not a lot of details to share. The owners found they did a ton of business on Fulton Mall for Cart Hop and when they were at the Market on Kern Street Farmers Market. It was enough to warrant a permanent location, Jose Aguilar says.

When it opens, it will sell tamales — the traditional ones and the modern ones like vegan spinach and artichoke tamales — and food from Absolutely Tapas. That's the tapas they've rolled out in recent months, including their fish tacos that are always the first to sell out.

Everything will continue to be gluten free, even the bread for the tortas. They plan to a get a liquor license to serve beer and wine, too.

They'll still keep their restaurant on West Shaw Avenue.

And since Jose's wife and recipe inventor Liz Sanchez always is doing something, the company also is working toward selling its tamales at stores. They're developing packages of frozen tamales packages and hot tamales that can be sold at store delis.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on www.fresnobeehive.com.

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