There is something about food delivered out of a mobile location that just seems so much more FUN, even if the location isn’t anything as eye-catching as the big steel pig of Maximus/Minimus. We love that whatever truck it is sets up shop for a couple of hours on a busy downtown corner, or at the Thursday Farmers Market, or in various parking lots around town. We’ve gotten used to the idea that we can locate these trucks by following them on Twitter or Facebook, though some of the fun is also happening upon a truck at lunchtime, just when your stomach is starting to grumble. Although not quite the mobile food hub that Portland seems to be, Seattleites have embraced this particular trend with wholehearted enthusiasm.
Perhaps it’s the next step in the evolution of food trucks, then, that some of them have found brick and mortar locations. Does having a fixed location take some of the fun out of the mobile version, or is it just a way to give us better access to the food we already love? Some of both, I’d say.
Marination Station is the new Capitol Hill outpost of Marination Mobile, the roving truck that brought us delicious food in the vein of Hawaiian-Korean fusion. Their small parking lot-adjacent second story space is mostly spare, with the same clean lines as the rest of the Marination brand. On our visit there we sampled what seemed to be all of my favorites from the truck, though missed out on the revolving specials which I presume are, uh, special to the Station. First came the Hawaiian favorite, SPAM, served in slider form on a Hawaiian-style sweet roll. Really good sweet slaw, and as a sandwich much more delicious than I might have expected given SPAM’s bad rep. The relatively substantial quesadilla with kalua pork, kimchi, and cheese was the right combination of gooey and just a little spicy. The Kalbi beef taco was a little soft number, and not really much to it; for me it could have used a bit more oomph. Saving the best for last, the kimchi fried rice bowl with spicy pork, and a fried egg served atop. Spicy and perfectly gooey because of the egg, and altogether delicious. All in all, the Capitol Hill location is great because it’s drive up-able, for those of us who don’t live on the Hill. And having ready access to the food I know I already like, rather than having to track down the truck. But apparently tracking down the truck is half the fun for me, because although all the same food, I found that the experience wasn’t the same without the fun truck element.
Rancho Bravo Tacos has occupied the former KFC on Capitol Hill across from Cal Anderson Park for quite some time, but it wasn’t until last week that I made it in to sample their wares. I’ve been a big fan of the truck version parked next to the Winchell’s on 45th, so was interested to see what was happening over on Capitol Hill. The Rancho Burrito (flour tortilla with steak, rice, pinto beans, diced onions, cilantro, and cheese) was the same as I remembered it, and served the same as well: efficiently wrapped in foil and served on a paper plate. The soup offerings must be new to the fixed location, and both the pozole (with chicken and hominy) and albondigas (meatballs) were hearty servings, with sliced radishes, cilantro, onion, and lime alongside. I love that Rancho Bravo moved into the former KFC space, with seemingly very little renovation or redecoration. The ultimate in recycling! It’s utilitarian to the max, and allows them to pump out a considerable amount of food at a great price. I’m so big on ambiance, though, that I’ll stick to the (relatively) mobile location on 45th from here on out.
Skillet Diner is at the other end of the spectrum, a full-fledged restaurant with a menu expanded way beyond their mobile version. And now that I think about it… Although I didn’t track the specials that have rolled through the airstream that houses the mobile Skillet, it feels as though that was a bit of a test kitchen for the eventual restaurant. The diner is on the ground floor of the Chloe condo building on Capitol Hill (I know – Capitol Hill AGAIN), just across the plaza from another of my favorites, the reborn Marjorie. The space is hip in comfortable fashion, with mint green cushioned benches and fixed counter stools. The exposed concrete peeks out at the top of the walls, the tables are silver metal-topped, and any seating that isn’t mint green cushioned is of the metal and plastic variety that you’d find in a grade school, just adult-sized. The serving staff is hip in comfortable fashion as well, especially with all of that plaid running around. (When there for dinner I thought to myself that there was an excess of plaid among the servers, even for Capitol Hill, and it turns out that I was correct: A uniform of plaid shirts for all.)
As for food and drink, Skillet has a substantial bar with an excellent selection of bottles, though I did note that my cocktail (the Hey, Jack Kerouac: bourbon, Peychaud bitters, sugar, absinthe washed glass, lemon twist) was the only one that wasn’t served in a jar of one shape or another. I suppose that’s more of the casual hip vibe coming out. I want to assure anyone who is a fan of mobile Skillet that you can still get your favorites – the amazing burger with arugula and bacon jam, perfectly pliable french fries and their poutine’d cousin – as well as so much more. We had the rabbit duo, a grilled loin and braised leg, served with fava bean ragout, corona beans, fine herbs, citrus (orange?), and picholine olives. Couldn’t resist a side of sautéed swiss chard with pine nuts, port-soaked currants, and bacon. The fried chicken sammy had a fennel seed crusty that was especially crispy with an interesting bite, and I loved the picked and charred jalapeno aioli and especially the unusual use of kale as the green on the sandwich. All in all, it feels like Skillet Diner is just the kind of place you’d want to go for cocktails and snacks, brunch, or a full-on dinner. It’s not every restaurant that can do all of those well, so I applaud Skillet Diner for making it happen.