Off the Grid, El Cerrito CA
For a city of less than 30,000 inhabitants, El Cerrito’s Off the Grid on Wednesdays is surprisingly as packed as if it were held in Oakland. Good food brings people together, so when multiple food trucks with imaginative flavors converge, the crowds will follow. Tonight we sampled from six trucks we had not tried before, and all that we tried was well worth the lines.
We had heard about The Melt for quite a while, and we finally found it here. The Thanksgiving menu description immediately drew us in, with cheddar cheese, carved turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on sourdough. Even though the sandwich came from a grilled cheese truck, it was not so cheesy as to overpower the other ingredients. Just a touch of cranberry sauce was the ideal amount to offset the herbs and salt on the sourdough. It works to pair with the turkey, and it is common knowledge that fruit goes with cheese, so cranberry, while sparse on this sandwich, was a necessary ingredient to complete the meal. The stuffing had similar flavors to the herbed bread, but provided an alternative texture to contrast the grilled sourdough. This tasty sandwich came with a serving of sweet corn tortilla soup, which is one of many vegetarian items The Melt offers. Simple and sweet with substantial texture, the soup was enhanced with a bit of turmeric for flavor as well as color.
Seoul on Wheels showed lots of variety on its menu, and the Seoul fries encompassed a little bit of everything. Crinkle cut fries were perfectly salted, forming a bed under spicy pork, rich and creamy mayonnaise, mildly spicy gochujang chili sauce, cilantro, and melted jack and cheddar cheeses. The pork had a great mouthfeel to match its flavorful chili glaze with garlic notes. A nice large handful of melted jack and cheddar tied the dish together, buffering the uncomplicated fries and the extravagant pork. If you’re a fry lover, Zach highly recommends that you give these a try.
An the Go is part of the An Family Restaurants group, serving a combo of their famous garlic noodles with choice of a skewer. We picked lemongrass chicken, which was sweet and tangy with hints of a flavor akin to teriyaki. The tender noodles were cooked perfectly for the intention of this plate – the delightful garlic made us want to eat and keep eating, but we had to reign ourselves in and save room for other dishes.
Twister Mexican Grill “With a Twist” has one very obvious twist – the shape and style of the burrito. We ordered the Twister Burrito Cone, which had the simplest fillings of the menu, so that we could see what the cone was all about. Despite the incredible freshness of the faintly spicy black beans and tangy pico de gallo… even though the chicken was moist and cut into wonderfully manageable pieces… considering the hidden goldmine of jack cheese (white gold, that is)… and in the face of bold cilantro rice, it was definitely the cone that stole the show. Like a crispy, flaky, and crunchy taco shell, it’s a very unconventional way to eat a burrito yet we understand the popularity.
Tacos typically aren’t associated with Vietnamese food, but Blue Saigon makes the concept work. The three tacos all had the same white corn tortilla that was grilled nicely, but with three different fillings and their own condiments. The chicken (left) was not too spicy but rather flavorful, the fish (center) was flaky with a crisp breading, and the pork (right) was tender and smoky, enriched by a spicy sauce.
Lexie’s was on hand to dole out desserts made with their local, handmade, organic frozen custard. Still reeling from our bacon dinner party and all its extravagance, we wanted to try the maple walnut bacon sundae to compare. Smooth maple frozen custard was garnished with toasted walnuts, bacon bits, chunks of waffle cone, and whipped cream. The texture of the custard was like soft serve but creamier. The waffle cone was crispy but almost melted in your mouth. Deep sweet maple flavor naturally goes with walnuts, and the smoky salty bacon added the right amount of savory to bring the third harmony to the perfect fifth of maple and walnut.
Standing in line and ordering through a counter or a window does not mean you’re getting fast food. The cost and time reflect gourmet eats, and the opportunity to feast on such variety is a privilege. The ambiance with lights, music, and seating is courtesy of Off the Grid’s efforts, providing a venue for the trucks to congregate and please the masses.