Lila Mathia runs a watertight vessel, or in her case, a 25ft food truck. Her mobile business, Lila’s Streetside Eats, is currently parked, as it often is, outside the Parliament Brewing Company in Rohnert Park. She has less than an hour to finish baking her hand pies, warming up the pulled pork for the nachos, and making sure the hot Reuben pastrami dip is nice and gooey. Hungry beer drinkers are already knocking on truck windows asking when the food will be ready.
“We open at one,” she said cheerfully but firmly, closing the window and getting back to work.
Inside the gleaming stainless steel kitchen, Mathia and her son, Jake, dance gracefully as they each attend their posts in preparation for the onslaught. The generator kicks in, the ovens are on and the pilot lights are on. It’s very hot, and there’s always the potential that things could, well, literally explode if something goes wrong.
All that, and a line of impatience is already forming outside. Welcome to the life of food trucks. The faint of heart need not apply.
Mathia is part of a new wave of mobile food businesses driven by the pandemic. Their social distancing-friendly format and comforting, calorie-dense menus have been a welcome respite from long days at home over the past two years. And now that many are exploring the world again, their flexible, mobile offerings are in even greater demand.
“It’s been a great symbiotic relationship for all of us,” says Adam Bosch, co-owner of Parliament. A rotating lineup of trucks, including Lila’s Streetside Eats, Tacos San Juan and War Pigs BBQ, set up outside his small brewery. “We sell more beer because there is food. They sell more food because there is beer,” says Bosch. “We didn’t just want the same food trucks, but a rotating lineup on different days so customers could try different types of food.”
While farmers markets and breweries have always been welcoming places to stop, trucks have also been welcomed to several new food parks across the county, like Mitote Food Park in Roseland, Bacchus Landing tasting room collective in Healdsburg and The Block. in Petaluma. There are also booming markets like The Yard in Petaluma and SoCo After Hours in Santa Rosa. Businesses like Lila’s Streetside Eats are now booked out months in advance with a range of rotating requests. “We already have weddings in 2023,” said Mathias, who launched his truck in 2019.
Trucks and tents are a more economically feasible path to a brick and mortar for many food entrepreneurs. Pop-up tents like JES Plant-Based, a vegan food company, are the first step.
“I’ve always dreamed of my food truck or brick and mortar for my vegan comfort food. It allows people who can’t afford a restaurant to get exposure and bring their stuff to people,” says Jes Lyons as he prepares smoked mushroom sliders with pickled onions and cream of cashew nuts on soft buns. Her business is less than a year old, but a combination of social media posts and vegan fans looking for an alternative to tacos and meat burgers is growing her following.
Across the county, a new generation of Mexican food truck owners are following in the footsteps of traditional taco trucks by whipping up Instagram-worthy dishes with fresh, authentic ingredients that appeal to a growing audience.
Mitote Food Park caters primarily to Hispanic business owners and helped launch Charro Negro in 2020. Run by Rodrigo Mendoza, a former Willi’s Seafood chef, the truck serves ocean-to-table fare like aguachiles (a juicy ceviche made with raw shrimp marinated in lime), fish tacos and fried seafood.
“It’s what you would eat on the beaches of Mexico,” says Mendoza. The concept is for “barrio” food that connects the Roseland neighborhood to the Pacific Ocean. Long queues form in front of the truck on hot days, with the crisp, clean flavors of Charro Negro seafood dishes providing a cool respite under the communal Mitote tent.
This summer, rising gas and commodity prices are compressing homeowners’ financial margins. “It’s ridiculous. Not only does meat cost, but things like mayonnaise and butter. As the cost of food goes up, I’m disappointed because I want to serve decent food with a cold beer. But I can adapt my menu,” says Lila Mathia. Desserts can be less expensive to make and they’re often top sellers, like Mathia’s Chocolate Brown Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches.
Although the job is hardly easy, with three to four days of preparation in a commercial kitchen before spending hot and scorching days in a truck serving food and a long time ago she almost blew herself up after accidentally left a propane tank on, Mathia says she wouldn’t. t trade it for the world.
“I wanted to go after a dream,” says Mathia. “It was really hard, but I love it. I become a mad scientist with food and make people happy.
Find the food trucks
By far the best way to follow Sonoma’s mobile food truck scene is on Instagram. New @socofoodtrucks The page offers daily updates in one place.
Other ways to track:
• The block: theblockpetaluma.com/trucks
• Mitote Food Park: facebook.com/mitotefoodpark
• SoCo Food Trucks on Facebook: bit.ly/3ypU779
• Bacchus landing: facebook.com/bacchuslanding
The rundown of everything you need to know about Sonoma’s food truck scene
Adobes N’ More: Filipino food you won’t soon forget. Lumpia, adobo fries, bacon-wrapped crab, adobowl with chicken or pulled pork, rice and lumpia. adobos-n-more. square.site.
Bayou on the bay: Chef Bradley Wildridge is all about Cajun fusion cuisine, with donuts, curry jambalaya, crawfish meat pies and Muffuletta sandwiches. Instagram: @bayou.onthebay
Black piglet: Zazu’s former owners, John Stewart and Duskie Estes, serve up amazing BLTs, salumi, salads and Rodeo Jax, their famous bacon and caramel popcorn. facebook.com/zazublackpiglet
Buns only: Jose Cazares’ food truck is a marriage of burgers, hot dogs and tacos. The perfectly cooked bacon cheeseburgers are some of the most satisfying we’ve encountered and the ‘dirty fries’ with sweet pork al pastor, guacamole etc. Instagram: @bunsonlysr
Southern Style Camachos Barbecue: Their motto is big, bold, smoky goodness, and their tender meats are cooked over low, slow heat for 12 hours or more. Ribs are a favorite. facebook.com/CamachosSouthernStyleBBQ
Chad Soup Shack: Exceptional soups, but Chef Chad also makes rib and crab sandwiches and whatever is market fresh. facebook.com/Chadssoupshack/
El Charro Negro: Home to the ocean’s best tacos and tostadas at the Sonoma County Table. Fingers in the nose. No question. Aguachiles, a juicy ceviche made with raw shrimp marinated in lime, are a specialty. Instagram: @charronegrofood
At El Roy: This family-run Mexican restaurant empire offers some of the best Mexican food. They are usually posted in front of the Elenita truck in Roseland or Petaluma. elroysxpressmex.com
Galvan Restaurant: Birria tacos are finger licking good. Instagram: @galvanseatery
Saint Mole of Chile: This new food truck mixes Roma dishes with tacos and delicious American dishes. Don’t miss the “Gypsy” street dog with bacon, chili mole and magic mayo, as well as pulled brisket fries and ribs. www.holychilemole.com
The Indian village eats: A Flamin’ Hot Cheetos burger with stuffed macaroni and cheese inside is just one of the Indian and Mexican menu items. Instagram: @indianvillageeats
Joy of Jam Bungalow: South Asian-inspired cuisine from talented chef Jamilah Nixon-Mathis. Curries, satay, banh mi and other fabulous creations. Instagram: @jamsjoybungalow
Herbal Jess: From sweets and savory “pulled” mushroom sandwiches, to macaroni and “cheez”, you won’t miss any of the meat- and dairy-free delicacies. jes-plantbased.com
Lila’s Streetside Eats Eclectic: Eclectic pub food offering salads, chili and savory beer rolls. And desserts to die for. Instagram: @lilasstreetsideeats
Lucha Sabine: Oaxacan street food with a focus on mushrooms and amazing tlayuda (Mexican pizza) alongside more traditional dishes. Instagram: @luchasabina
Asian streetside grill: The best of both worlds: teriyaki chicken bowls and shrimp spring rolls, plus Philly cheese steaks and garlic wings. Instagram: @streetsideasiangrill
Sushi Shobu: It was a revelation the first time we ate a sushi burrito. Run by a former sushi chef, it’s a model of sustainable, ocean-friendly Japanese cuisine. Here you will find its sushi burritos, homemade miso soup and other freshly prepared dishes. Instagram: @shoubufoodtruck
Barbecue of war pigs: Not just a great barbecue, but a competition level barbecue. The sausages slam. Instagram: @warpigsbbq