Freestyle: North Shore food truck tour
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s easy to revel in winter on Oahu’s North Shore, with excitement generated by big-wave contests and the people-watching parade supplied by an international array of surfers and thrill-seeking tourists. But have you considered the food scene?
The North Shore’s not boring, but if you’re just passing through, you might think the food is. With a few exceptions, this stretch of the island is dominated by joints designed to get sightseers and wave-riders in and out fast.
And then there are the food trucks.
You’re thinking, “Oh yeah, garlic shrimp!”
Yeaaaah … no. For sure, you can get shrimp here, there and everywhere, but the crustacean has become commonplace.
Look more closely, grasshopper, and you will be rewarded with an array of choices that will elevate your diet, worth a North Shore visit all on their own.
It took some searching to find standout offerings among the forest of food trucks. This tour offers up the most intriguing stops we discovered in three weekends spent cruising between Haleiwa and Kahuku.
Even after days of eating along the beaches, though, we didn’t sample everything. Take this as a set of suggestions, do your own research, and see what you like best.
66-470 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 238-7206
It’s the golden hour on a Sunday afternoon in Haleiwa, and the final streaks of evanescent sunlight are landing on the converted Volkswagen bus housing Délice Crepes.
An attractive European couple leans into the window of the wagon, exchanging small talk in French and smiling as they compliment owner Jonathan Pajot for their crepes.
It’s a magazine-worthy scene — the couple’s bearing, while casual, has a confident elegance and lends an air of sophistication to the spotless truck’s site.
“What’s good?” I asked.
In response, Pajot asked, “Would you like a ‘Special Franky?’” He’s just made one for his European patrons; it’s a turkey crepe with cheese and added spinach, organic, of course. When delivered, it’s light and delicious.
The wagon looks tiny from the outside, but given its efficient design and raised roof, Pajot can stand inside. His truck is conspicuously shipshape.
Pajot says business booms during the surf season, but he’s popular year-round.
While he’s not a trained chef, Pajot said he comes by his love of crepes naturally, having grown up in Brittany, the French region where crepes originated.
Crepes are both savory ($5 and up) and sweet ($6 to $7) here, with vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus decadent choices that include chocolate and fruit.
VJ’S NORTH SHORE DOGS & BURGERS
66-470 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 729-2689
Justin Javier, the owner of VJ’s, is an energetic idealist committed to the idea of humanely raised and slaughtered beef, which he imports from Molokai. His butcher shop, VJ’s Butcher Block, is right next door, at the mauka end of Haleiwa town, and Javier said he started the burger stand to serve the kind of meat he wanted to find in town — wild-caught or pasture-fed and cage-free.
Bottom line: VJ’s food on a bun is intensely flavored, juicy and delicious.
These may well be the best burgers ($8 to $12) on Oahu; with the umami of the grass-fed beef at its core, they rise well above the average fast-food dish, served from an attractive truck re-imagined as a surf-shack.
Choices include a Molokai venison burger, aka Bambi Burger; the BuddhaHead, made with Molokai beef and topped with Tillamook cheddar and Portuguese sausage; and a Pele Burger, incorporating organic jalapeno, served on an organic taro bun. Organic lemonade ($4) is available on the side.
Near Sunset Beach, (808) 551-7273
The sign drawing you to this spot says, “Eat Local, Eat Clean, Eat Like a Champion,” and the implied attraction is that this food truck will help you power up for some heavy-duty surf or beach action.
This truck’s specialty is fueling athletes, either before or after a surf session or workout. The location will have you feeling like you’re part of the scene; it’s across Sunset Beach near the Chevron gas station, with parking, tent-covered seating and battery-powered lanterns to allow for dining after dark.
Food here is largely organic, with an emphasis on vitamin- and nutrient-rich ingredients. You can get a Renergy wrap here made with gluten-free tapioca flour, filled with scrambled eggs, kale, avocado and almond butter; a quinoa salad bolstered with kale, carrots and ginger; or a steak plate ($12) made with grass-fed Big Island beef and brown rice.
A pre-training smoothie ($7.50) included sweet potato, maca (aka Peruvian ginseng), almond milk and chia seeds. The post-training version ($7.50) is a protein drink derived from vegetarian sources, with chocolate and cacao powder.
The food’s not fast. It’s made intentionally, by servers who themselves have a healthy glow. Best to visit when you have a runner’s high or the equivalent,
mellow out and enjoy the scenery.
NORTH SHORE TACOS
66-230 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 293-4440
This truck sits at the center of a grouping of pop-up vendors in a lot with outdoor seating. It’s adjacent to the brightly colored Hula Dog truck (“As seen on the Travel Channel & Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’”) and a stand for coconuts.
The taco truck ($4.75 and up for a single taco; $8.55 and up for plates), an offshoot of owner Joseph Fullmer’s brick-and-mortar place in Hauula, is a standout for its side orders, desserts and dressings, which add sweetness and spice, and the to-go plates are worthy of table seating.
The fish is fresh, the guacamole loaded with avocado chunks, and the salsa is authentic, bright and hot. Try the Tres Leches (“three milks”) cake ($4.75) for a rich, supremely satisfying treat.
While the Pineapple Tiki ($9) may appear to be unabashedly touristy, this fresh, whipped pineapple drink, poured back in its original fruit shell and served with a straw, is sweet, tangy and refreshing.
AUNTY’S LITTLE GREEN HUT
56-505 Kamehameha Highway
This vegetarian food truck isn’t about to go anywhere; it’s practically planted in the soft Kahuku dirt, like the taro, mixed greens and lilikoi that owner Ali‘itasi (she goes by just one name) grows around her spot.
A stop here may lead you into a passionate conversation with Ali‘itasi about the value of good food. She’s a natural-foods advocate, kombucha brewer and fifth-generation Oahu resident.
“We want people to see that you can eat this healthy and still have it taste good,” she said.
The spot, run by Ali‘itasi and her daughter, is funky and peaceful, with tall plants and low taro creating a sheltered green space off to the side of the food-truck lot anchored by Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.
You won’t get loaded down with lots of oily fried food here; everything is fresh, filling, healthy, organic and non-GMO.
Try the Mediterranean wrap ($8), with hummus, eggplant, feta and Greek yogurt, or a Southwest wrap with black bean chili, salsa and cheddar cheese. And don’t sidestep the drinks, especially a delicious Tahitian Dream ($4), made with iced Kona coffee, hazelnut, chocolate and coconut milk.
Follow Ali’itasi’s operation on Facebook for the latest.
UNCLE WOODY’S BBQ CORN
56-505 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 551-7716
This stop is more for a snack than a meal, but the stand is colorful and amusing, and the corn ($4) is delicious.
Located in the food-truck park anchored by Giovanni’s, Woody’s provides a tasty treat that’s not over-indulgent. And while spicy Baja-style corn will get your adrenaline flowing, nothing beats the island-style version — lightly charred, with butter, sea salt and a hint of garlic. Just do it.
Across Foodland Pupukea, 59-720 Kamehameha Highway
Owner Ozzy Gonzalez, who set up his Peruvian food truck at Three Tables some two months ago, offers all kinds of grilled food (plates start at $12 for Papa a la Huancaina — Peruvian potatoes in a spicy cream sauce). But there’s one big reason to seek him out — his ceviche ($18), gloriously bright, fresh and tasty.
It’s a revelation, with fresh lime (and it can only be lime, Gonzalez emphasized), and essential Aji Amarillo chili peppers, imported from Peru, along with bits of red onion, cilantro, ginger and garlic. The dish is embellished with corn from the Andes, common in Peruvian dishes.
It’s imported dried, then popped in a pan before serving.
Gonzalez, who’s lived in Hawaii for 18 years, said he worked as an aircraft mechanic for many years but found himself craving a life that would allow him to “see the sun.” His love for Peruvian cuisine came from his mother’s cooking.
You’ll find the La Concha truck in place Fridays through Tuesdays.
“Here it’s amazing — the view, and to meet with people. It’s a good life, a healthy life too,” said Gonzalez, smiling. “And what better to eat at the beach than ceviche?”
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‚Äôs weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.