In San Diego, we’ve been experiencing food truck envy. Yes, we have a fleet of great taco trucks in and around the region. My favorite is Mariscos German. But, how about other foods, other ethnicities? Where is the "Kobi BBQ" -- an L.A. hit -- in San Diego?
Well, along comes Todd Ichinaga, who in February, with partners Matthew Gorton and Rich Morris, launched mobile eatery Tabe BBQ. Tabe (pronounced tah-bay)—a shortening of the Japanese word taberu or “to eat,”—is a fusion of Mexican and Asian cuisine. As in familiar Mexican dishes with a winning spin of Asian flavors.
Ichinaga comes to San Diego from L.A., where after a career in pharmaceuticals, he dove into the culinary world, first studying hospitality and restaurant management at the California School of Culinary Arts and then working at the restaurant of the five-star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was all well and good to cook for L.A.’s elite, but Ichinaga wanted to start his own place and that brought him down to San Diego, where he and his partners launched the Tabe BBQ taco truck, which he prefers to call “mobile cuisine” or “street fusion.
“My whole intention is to create food made from scratch in the mobile kitchen using traditional recipes but bold, layered flavors that complement tacos,” he explained.
In fact, Tabe’s food is nothing like your corner taco stand. The flavors are fresh and distinctive, from the Spicy Pork taco to the BBQ Beef and BBQ Chicken tacos. The pork is marinated for 24 hours in a traditional Korean spicy marinade and then grilled. A flour tortilla envelopes the meat, topped with julienned romaine lettuce, fukujin zuke, and one of Ichinaga’s salsa, which includes papaya, tomatillo, pineapple, and toasted seaweed. Be sure to grab a bunch of napkins. This is juicy, kind of sloppy eating, but oh so delicious!
The fish taco is a delight to bite into. Beer battered and then fried, the fish is then topped with romaine, Ichinaga’s Maui Sweet Onion Salsa (onions, roma tomatoes, jalapeños, and ponzu sauce), and a cream sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream, pineapple, and whole-grain mustard. The salsa also tops the BBQ chicken taco, which has a tangy homemade teriyaki glaze.
I was tickled by the French fries, too. Slender and crispy, it's topped by Ichinaga’s five-spice seasoning. All it needed was a squeeze from the bottle of spicy aioli that sits next to other bottles of Roja Salsa (roasted tomatoes and tomatillos with sesame oil), and Sambal, a Thai garlic chili paste.
Each of the tacos can be ordered as burritos. And, Ichinaga is now working on creating a line of salads. He described the dressing he’s already created as a riff on Chinese chicken salad dressing, using an orange juice reduction and adding Sriracha, soy sauce, canola oil, and peanut butter.
I also love that as customers of Specialty Produce, the partners are using many local ingredients. You can taste the freshness. Plus, with all those fresh fruits and vegetables in these tacos, you won't have the usual 2 p.m. logginess that often comes after a fatty, carb-loaded food truck experience.
Currently, the partners have the one truck, which you can find at different locations on different days. Tuesdays, for instance, you can dine with them at Towne Center Dr. in UTC. Fridays they're in an office park in Sorrento Valley. You can look up locations on the website or follow them on Twitter to learn where they’ll be on a given day or time. And, they’re hoping to attach themselves to local farmers markets, including the UCSD market, where Ichinaga says many Asian students have requested their presence.
They hope to bring in more trucks to cover more geography and, no surprise, establish a permanent restaurant. After all, it’s admittedly hard for a guy who trained at a premiere white table cloth restaurant to be satisfied with mobile cuisine alone.
But for now Ichinaga is having fun developing new sauces and dishes and literally seeing where the truck takes him. “I want to bring gourmet food to the streets of San Diego,” he said.