A Welcome Truck Yard in a Food-truck Wasteland
With your backside sinking into the crosshatched nylon of a well-loved lawn chair, a cold beer in your fist and perhaps a few crumpled napkins piled into a grease-stained paper tray at your feet, it might be hard to imagine Dallas was ever hard on food trucks. Jason Boso's Truck Yard, which opened in September, seems like a gravel-paved food-truck utopia, but there was a time when serving up kimchi fries from a mobile kitchen required as much legal acumen as it did culinary dexterity and driving skills.
For decades, the term "food truck" described a mobile apparatus that tossed sandwiches out the window at construction sites around the city for 30 minutes at a time. The rules for these food trucks worked fine for years, but when trucks with larger aspirations hit the Dallas streets, propelled by the success of similar operations in Austin, Portland, L.A. and beyond, they hit enough regulatory potholes to bend a few rims.
The new food trucks needed foot traffic to thrive, but they couldn't park in prime locations like the Arts District. When they did find a spot, they could only stay put for an hour, and asphalt that was deemed legitimate one day was illegal the next. Or was it? The confusion was often cleared up through an operator's ability to secure expensive temporary permits. Trucks had to adhere to strict guidelines for their kitchen designs and ingredients like fish and seafood were banned. The rules limited revenue, which limited more trucks and the ability of owners to get creative.
Dallas remains heavily regulated compared to other major cities, but some progress has been made over the past few years. Kitchen and ingredient restrictions have been relaxed, and while the growth is small, the number of trucks operating in the area has increased. Klyde Warren Park and the Arts District are now regular gathering places for food trucks and their fans. And now the Truck Yard has given customers the incentive to hang out and graze at multiple trucks for hours, a place to take a load off, survey the food options and suck down copious amounts of beer.
"We make the majority of our money off the beer," Boso says of his restaurant, beer garden, truck lot and sandwich shop, all situated in a fantasy junkyard kingdom off Greenville Avenue. After Trader Joe's pushed him out of his first choice for a location, Boso signed a lease for a crumbling radiator shop across the street, complete with an overgrown lot filled with weeds and rusting metal. Even his new landlord said Boso was crazy to try to convert the space to a restaurant. But now the weeds are gone and junk serves as the backdrop for one of the busiest outdoor bars in East Dallas.
Old tires turned into planters join old tires stacked into outdoor walls and old tires outfitted with miniature light-bulb-filled soda bottles hanging from the rafters like deranged light fixtures. The fences are lined with hubcaps, and beds of old pickups have been converted to outdoors seating booths. United by a common patina of grit and rust, the Truck Yard conjures a sort of hipster Sanford and Son, and it's appealing to everyone.
Come early on a Saturday and it's a family affair, but despite the strollers it manages to avoid the madness of a Pixie Stix-fueled romper room. Maybe it's the youthful drinkers folded into the mix, or maybe it's the bikers dressed in full leather and enjoying the fall weather just a bit more than you. There's a set of helmet-haired grannies looking at garden plans while smoking cigarettes, and there are puppies everywhere, nibbling at leftovers and drinking from big plastic buckets of water, assuring you that yes, it is very good to be a dog.
It's good to be a human here, too. Where else can you hang out in a treehouse and drink bottled cocktails till you nearly fall out of said tree? The elevated bar feels like a giant front porch in the sky, and a staircase lets those of us who are built out of doughnuts still enjoy the view — no rope ladder or secret password required.
The food truck owners aren't complaining, either. Caroline Perini and her partner, Miley Homes, sell golf-ball-sized hamburgers from a sky-blue food truck called Easy Slider. Perini loves Boso's scheduling system, which lets her plan visits weeks in advance, and she appreciates that trash services and electricity are included in the modest fee she pays to park. She gets access to hundreds of customers who have their hunger amplified by alcohol, and she never has to compete with more than two trucks on the lot.
That the Truck Yard only hosts three trucks at a time might disappoint some, but if you come expecting an Austin-esque sprawl of tires and takeout windows you're missing the point. Austin's lots are clogged with trucks, but they break up the flow of people. The space behind the Truck Yard is filled with people and they unite and energize it. It's a lot more fun to hang out here.
The scrutiny, really, belongs on the quality of the food trucks in Dallas, which save for a few exceptions — Easy Slider, Nammi, Ssham and Bombay Street Food come to mind — is dismal compared to other cities, even smaller ones like Austin. Even with the loosened restrictions, Dallas joins Chicago as one of the toughest cities in the country in which to operate a food truck. Had the city embraced the trucks earlier as a catalyst for culinary creativity and commerce, there would likely be a lot more of them to choose from.
Of course you can always soothe yourself with a cheesesteak if you don't like the trucks that are parked when you're there. In the back of Boso's beer shack, two flat grills belch a greasy cloud of beef-scented steam into the air. Forget Steak-umm or frozen beef sliced and shipped from somewhere far away. Boso's contribution to the food at the Truck Yard is a glorious sandwich built from a whole prime rib roast sliced into paper-thin folds right behind the counter.
If Velveeta is the processed cheese food of Tex-Mex, Cheez Whiz is the modified dairy of this Philadelphian blue-collar sandwich. Administered with a hand-pump, the DayGlo-orange sauce drapes itself over the freshly griddled beef, then slowly recedes into the cheesesteak's center, where it patiently waits to burn some new texture into your tongue. Provolone or American cheese are available, as are cooked peppers and onions and other toppings, and they're all tucked into a roll from Village Bakery in quantities that test the bread's structural limits. Be sure to grab a few sheets off the paper towel rolls on the tables. You wouldn't stand a chance with napkins.
Paired with a permanent Carnival Barker's ice cream stand, the cheesesteaks don't leave much room for exploring the food trucks, which you should, even if the scene here is not as good as in other cities. But at least now Dallas has a place for mobile kitchens and their followers to come together and hang out a while. Places like this might even inspire a few new food trucks in the future.
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