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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Grill 'em All

  Grill Em All  
  Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times  

X-treme dining on Tuesday at Grill 'em All in Highland Park.

I took a break from blogging the other evening, and on the spur of the moment thought I would check in with the food truck craze that has swept Los Angeles.

I’ll warn you now that my opinions on local food are unconventional (ask me my thoughts on Jonathan Gold sometime). I’m no snob, but whenever I pass the Original Pantry and see a long line I wonder, “Are those people crazy?” And I think In-N-Out Burger is probably the most overrated place in town.

Part of the appeal of this rolling cuisine is the hunt for the truck, using clues from Twitter and the Web, and my luck has not been terribly good. I once wasted my entire dinner hour waiting in Little Tokyo (in the rain) for the Nom Nom Truck on the recommendation of my newsroom neighbors  Alana Semuels and Roger Vincent and ever since I have been calling it the “No Show Truck.”

People who don’t live in Los Angeles or who haven’t had the food truck experience might wonder why anybody is making a fuss. But these are not the familiar white vans that roll up to a construction site -- their horns blasting “La Cucaracha” -- with a menu of chips, soda and shrink-wrapped sandwiches that taste like sawdust.  

Like everything else that is a sensation in Los Angeles, this is an extreme interpretation of the subject.

  May 3, 2011, Behemoth  
  Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times  

Like the Behemoth from Grill ’em All.

To be honest, after the No Show Truck non-encounter, I pretty much gave up on idea.  I often pass half a dozen roach coaches on the way home from work, parked along Figueroa in Highland Park or Mission Road in Lincoln Heights – but those are two neighborhoods where I won’t be stopping late at night unless my car throws a rod. 

Then several months ago, I heard about Grill 'em All from one of the baristas at the local Starbucks. It had the magic ingredients: Award-winning food that is mysteriously elusive, darting from neighborhood to neighborhood. Several weeks later, I tracked Grill 'em All to a food truck festival in Rosemead, but the line was ridiculously long. No burger is worth that kind of wait, I decided.

In the meantime, I sampled Asian food from a truck that often parks a few blocks from the Daily Mirror HQ. Neither the food, nor the name of the truck, was memorable and left me questioning once again whether there’s any there there.

Then on Tuesday, for no reason at all, I checked Grill 'em All’s website and discovered it was going to be “near York and Figueroa” in Highland Park. So I drove over, and after exploring the area (“near” covers a lot of ground)  I was about to give up when I saw a popup food truck convention a block off York hidden next to strip mall.

  May 3, 2011, Grill Em All  
  Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times  

This time, there was a long line for the Lobsta Truckand almost no waiting for Grill 'em All.

It’s obvious from the  Heavy Metal van and the menu that Grill 'em All is dining taken to the extreme. There’s the Molly Hatchet (seared fennel sausage gravy, bacon, maple), the Blue Cheer (bleu cheese, cranberry gastrique, Munchos) and the Waste 'em All (green chilies, pepper jack, beer soaked onion).

Figuring that this would be my one and only time with Grill 'em All, I ordered the Behemoth, which is a burger between two grilled-cheese sandwiches, with bacon and other unhealthful stuff throw in. I had been urged to try the h-100s (hand-rolled  tator tots with cheese) but they didn’t have any, so I got the fries with garlic dip.

I dragged the Behemoth home, took a picture and ate it. Yes, the whole thing, though I didn’t finish the fries.

And how was the Behemoth? Was it fabulous? Not really. I don’t pretend to be a gourmand or a food expert, but I’d rate it only OK. I have certainly had better burgers and I have had worse.  But I’m not sure that the food truck craze is as much about dining as it is about the  ephemeral experience of tracking down a truck and getting something exotic. I’m glad I did it once to find out what it’s all about, but honestly, I would never do it again. It's kind of like having a deep-fried Twinkie at the County Fair.

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Comments (5)

Let's have a food fight. In-N-Out burgers are the center of the El Lay universe, as we know it. But you have to know where to get 'em. There's a small literally in-and-out (no dining room, just a couple of picnic tables outside) in Baldwin Park. The ingredients are even more fresh than at most of the I-N-O joints due to the fact that the corporate headquarters are right around the corner and the company's vice presidents eat there a lot. Keeps 'em honest. There's a pretty fair one in Gilroy, too, at least 'twas when it was new. I think it was their 99th outlet. Then there's the old place across from the Santa Anita drive-in movie theater but both may be closed down by now. I brake for In-N-Out.

I've eaten at the Grilled Cheese Truck and one of the others down in the Mid-Wilshire area. It's like a spur of the moment thing to go find it, which can be exciting and different. The food was good, but not the best I've had.

The Behemoth sounds even greasier than my favorite sandwich at Sherman's Deli in Palm Springs and Desert: lean pastrami or corned beef between two latkes.

i'd still rather have a Douglas charbroiled burger any day.

Why in the wide world of sports would you try to compare burg to burg?
every operator is making the food how they think they like it so you can try something new. it isn't so you have something to new to compare to.
from the fat content to the type of equipment it's cooked on all food is different.
i bet i can cook a mean burger but it's not about that. just go out try the burgers from GEA or In 'n out or macdonalds... and enjoy them for what they are... different.
stop trying to turn food into something it isn't supposed to be, that's the chefs job. yours is to enjoy it or just say well not my cup of tea but hey i bet someone will like it. the more people review the more everything gets mixed.
enjoy food whatever it may be. and if the lines to long, go back when it isn't.
make educated decisions. that's what your brain is for last i recall.
-peace and love.


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