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Thursday, September 30,2010

Good eats in the streets

By Clay Fong

Popularized by such operations as L.A.’s Kogi, kitchens on wheels have finally hit the streets of Boulder. Far removed from the catering trucks of old, these outfits eschew stale plastic-wrapped sandwiches in favor of ethnic street food and comfort classics. Streat Chefs, the creation of Top Chef victor Hosea Rosenberg, is a local example that has already built a loyal following among local office park denizens.

While it’s helpful to use Streat Chef ’s website (or Twitter or Facebook) to pin down this operation’s ever-changing location, you’ll certainly recognize it when you see it. It’s the shiny, if not full-bore iconic, Airstream trailer towed by a large displacement pickup with all the folks crowded around it. This is a clean, modern operation, although ambience is dependent on whatever parking lot it has settled into. Consigliere Keith and I spent a recent lunch at its usual Monday spot on Pearl East Circle, and we wound up eating on a shady and well-manicured lawn.

The menu is constantly changing, but typical offerings include seasonal salads, soup (gumbo was on tap during our visit), chile rellenos and Thai noodles. There’s also an emphasis on fries, tater tots and mac and cheese, making for a bill of fare evenly split between retro-American and more exotic offerings. In short, there’s something for both cautious and adventurous eaters here.

Keith’s first course was the $5 salad du jour.

Delicately balancing strawberry, apple, walnuts and goat cheese over a bed of fresh greens, this course appeared and tasted impeccably fresh. Many chefs have a heavy hand with goat cheese; in this instance the chevre was sprinkled sparingly to good effect. It contributed a hint of tang, but not to the detriment of the sweet ripe fruit and delicate greens.

Equally pleasing was a $4 grilled cheese sand wich.

In some ways, a true test of a restaurant is not how it fares with exotic over-the-top dishes, but rather how it makes the simple memorable. The trailer kitchen succeeded on this score, as we agreed this was the best grilled cheese sandwich we’ve ever had. The lightly toasted bread was golden, crisp and buttery. On the inside, the blend of cheeses was at once familiar but richer and more sophisticated than what Mom might have made. Relishing his choice, Keith proclaimed, “There’s a lot to be said for comfort food.”

I’d feel like a chump for paying more than three bucks for a pork Franco- Vietnamese banh mi. But I’d gladly pay $6 for another one made by Streat Chefs. Also available with chicken, this sandwich comes on a baguette roll lined with a smattering of veggies, including carrot and daikon. The toothsome bread was a textural improvement over the usual ho-hum white that usually comes with this sandwich, and the subtly spiced pig was tender and loaded with flavor.

The only flaw was that the sandwich carried a lime condiment flavor that was welcome at first, but overstayed its welcome over time. Nevertheless, this is the best banh mi I’ve had locally.

Additionally, I can’t remember being at a restaurant, moveable or otherwise, where each dish has been prepared to such a consistently high standard. This accolade applied to everything we savored, including a refreshingly thirst-quenching $2 cherry limeade and the delightful $2 Kelly Bar, laden with toffee and cranberry.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner The Airstream

The iconic Airstream trailer is to recreational vehicles what Harley-Davidson is to motorcycles. The trademark streamlined shape flowed from the pen of Hawley Bowlus, an aircraft designer. Bowlus played a significant role in the design of the Spirit of St. Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh on his solo transatlantic crossing. Besides having a profile and shiny appearance reminiscent of aircraft, the trailers also played another key role in aviation history: Apparently fearing that returning moon explorers might bring back a virus that would turn everyone into flesh-eating zombies, NASA officials put astronauts up in the trailers, dubbed mobile quarantine units.

Streat Chefs Various locations in and around Boulder 303-444-2433 www.streatchefs.com

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