Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
I’M TRUCKIN’: Even if you love UGA, you probably recognize that it doesn’t tend to pursue hot trends. It’s big, it’s old, and one of the three pillars of its arch stands for moderation. That makes it all the more surprising that it now has its very own food truck, Taqueria 1785, which can be found from one end of campus to the other, serving up a small but tasty menu.
“A taco truck?” you say, readying your Marco Gutierrez/Donald Trump jokes. Yup. A taco truck. It’s not as classic in what it offers as some of the ones on the outskirts of Atlanta, but Athens isn’t exactly so awash in food trucks that it can afford to get snooty about complex concepts like authenticity. The real question is: Is it good? And the answer is: Hell yeah. Not only is it pretty good considered in the light of a food truck run by a university food-services operation, but it is pretty good compared to food trucks generally and pretty good compared to tacos generally.
The pork cecina tacos with avocado-tomatillo salsa, sliced radishes, raw onion and cilantro are straight out of Rick Bayless’ book, and although they’re a mess to eat, they’re worth getting a red line of meat juice down your arm. The “North of the Border” beef and bean taco is Americana—chili powder in the beef and beans, shredded cheddar, lettuce, onions—which means it tastes like a lot of people’s childhoods. A fish taco (seared, not fried, cod with a cumin-lime slaw, queso fresco and a lemon-caper aioli) is light and bright and not greasy, but only available on Fridays.
Also, the vegetarian options are not an afterthought. Rather than slapping some sad mix of grilled vegetables, barely salted, into a taco and calling it a day, the folks in charge created an excellent version of barbacoa that uses shredded hearts of palm to mimic the texture of slow-cooked beef, pairing them with the cumin-lime slaw and a citrus-garlic aioli. There’s also a quesadilla that combines roasted cauliflower with roasted Anaheim chiles, mozzarella and provolone. All kinds of crispy bits of this and that hang out of the edges, and you don’t feel like you’re missing a thing for there being no meat.
The quesadillas are big and come with your choice of salsa for $8. The tacos are much smaller, and also $8, but you get two plus a side, which ends up being a decent meal, although perhaps not if you have a big appetite. If you really need chips and salsa, it’s one of the three sides, although why not get the cup of sofrito rice and beans or the salsa-infused macaroni and cheese, which is remarkably successful? If you can handle them, you can also order funnel-cake fries, which are freshly fried strips of funnel cake, drizzled with either caramel or chocolate sauce. The menu is, on the whole, unafraid of big flavors, as you can guess from reading the list of sauces, salsas, slaws, etc., all of which assert themselves pleasantly.
Being a well-backed operation, the truck runs smoothly, with one window for ordering and another for pick-up, a tailgate tent for shade, some high-boy tables occasionally, plenty of napkins, a neat little credit card swiper built right into the side and two pull-out trays of cold beverages, from Coke to pineapple Jarritos, a sangria-flavored soft drink and an apple soda.
The truck has a Twitter account on which it publicizes its location and hours (mostly but not exclusively lunchtime, Monday through Friday), usually well enough in advance for planning. It takes Paw Points and Bulldog Bucks as well as credit cards and cash.
HIDDEN DELIGHTS: Winder isn’t exactly known as a gourmet destination, but it does have a notable Hmong population, a fact you might recall if you wander into Pho & Deli (53 Monroe Hwy., 678-900-1619), a small restaurant attached to a Valero gas station, and discover that it is not, in fact, a Vietnamese restaurant. Oh, sure, it has pho, the classic beef-broth-based noodle soup that is a foundational element of Vietnamese cuisine, plus banh mi sandwiches, both of which are totally good, but it also has other things.
The Hmong sausage, served with sticky rice, is chunky and mild, pork-based and fragrant of garlic and green onions. Long, sticky rolls made of glutinous rice are stuffed with ground lean pork, cooked with mushrooms, and served with a thin, mild dipping sauce. If you order the green papaya salad (tam maak hoong) for take-out, you may at first not understand what appears to be a knotted plastic bag of brownish goop, but have faith and dig in. You’ll find something spicy, fresh and complexly delicious in a way that keeps you coming back to figure it out.
Pho & Deli is open for lunch and dinner every day, retails low-country boils ready to go, has a cooler full of interesting soft drinks and some tables. It’s been open for about a year and a half and takes credit cards.