Occupation: Reggio-Emiliano Teacher
Favorite Restaurant: The Chairman (Food Truck)
Reviewed The Chairman (Food Truck): Friday, March 16, 2012
The first time I stumbled upon The Chairman truck (formerly known as "The Chairman Bao Bun Truck") was at the Eat Real festival in Oakland two years ago. I waited in a line that curled around the truck for about forty-five minutes with the hot sun beating down my neck and eventually sweated through my under garments. The chitter-chatter about how tremendous the food was on The Chairman truck from others bearing the line with me is what kept me from giving up my spot and running to the nearest shaded area. I waited, fully sunburned and needing a new change of clothes. I finally arrived to the order window. “Two pork belly steam buns please,” and a few minutes later the coveted buns were mine-all mine. Taking my first bite, I was in complete bliss with the tender fatty substance of the pork belly which has been braised for hours in Coca-Cola, nestled into a steamy fluffy bun with cool pickled daikon placed on top that cuts the richness of the sweet pork glaze with a tang that would send you into a food coma and with that, I was already back in line waiting for more.
Till this day, I have yet to taste anything as delicious as their steamed pork belly buns. I’ve followed them since the Eat Real festival two years ago, bought their t-shirts and even gotten parking tickets waiting for the buns to flow out of the pick-up window. The Chairman has opened (as Aladdin would say) “a whole new world” of not only Asian cuisine but the revolutionary movement of gourmet food trucks for me. I have only seen one food truck on Check, Please! and I think it's time for one of the many fabulous ones to shine. The Chairman truck is that fabulous truck, the bee’s knees when it comes to gourmet food trucks and is the perfect example of an exemplary food that rolls on wheels, and now with two Chairman trucks hitting the Bay Area pavement I cannot find a reason for anyone not to try them.
Their bold flavors will make your taste buds burst with delight with the flavors in their baked and steamed buns that are stuffed with the most succulent ingredients. They serve up these fresh with carefully thought-out components like their turmeric pickled daikon, spicy chicken, Coca-Cola braised pork butt, toasted sesame purée, crispy miso-cured tofu with garlic and green papaya, orange pickled red onions and mint in tender soft buns that are enough to send your pallet into a flavor frenzy with each bite. The steamed buns are light, airy, and warm with the baked ones resembling more of a burger bun being lightly crunchy yet tender. Though, once stuffed with any one of their menu items, there is no way that one of these buns can go wrong. The Chairman truck also offers shaved ice drinks with fresh coconut and strawberries in the warmer seasons for a summer day sweet treat. And when it gets cold outside, expect to see their winter squash soup with wonton chips to warm you up with its creamy goodness. I have yet to find any other restaurant that serves up anything close to comparison to the wholesomeness that The Chairman truck dishes out.
The Chairman truck is also apart of the Off The Grid organization, which brings mobile gourmet food to your local watering holes so that everyone may experience different cuisine at affordable prices and in a different yet exciting environment. Now, I know that not many would wait in the sun for forty-five minutes just to try The Chairman truck. However, being a mobile truck keeps them moving all year around from San Francisco to San Jose, serving up lunch and dinner to the masses thus giving everyone a chance to try their outrageously savory buns. There may be no wine service, fine décor, or swanky atmosphere but for me personally, I cannot picture a better way to end a long summer night than visiting one of The Chairman trucks during their dinner service, munching on buns and watching the sun go down with friends and loved ones.
Name: Larry the O
Occupation: Musician and Audio Professional
Favorite Restaurant: Rivoli Restaurant
Reviewed The Chairman (Food Truck): Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The food truck craze is a double-edged sword. For consumers, it provides variety and convenience and even saves some money, but it is easy to understand the complaints of the brick-and-mortar restaurateurs. With that as a backdrop, I tracked down the Chairman Truck in San Francisco on Mission Street near First about 20 minutes before their 2 PM closing time. The truck was lined up in an alley with two others under the guise of "Off the Grid," an apparently more-or-less official Celebration of the Truck.
Though I had read of crazy lines for this truck, when I arrived there was only one person in front of me. On the other hand, there were also only steamed buns left; they were out of baked for the day. A difficult tradeoff, but one in which I had no choice, so I proceeded to order three steamed buns: the Tender Pork Belly with Turmeric-pickled daikon, the spicy chicken with toasted sesame puree, pickled carrots, cucumber, and cilantro, and the vegetarian crispy miso-cured tofu with garlic tofu mayo and baby choy sum.
To get an idea of what the steamed buns are like, think of a doughy Cal-Asian taco. The bread (made from a 40-year-old house recipe) is soft and spongy, more like injera than tortilla, but maybe two-thirds the size of a typical corn tortilla, with fillings laid on top.
OK, so we know the ambiance and basic experience is Food Truck a la via; what you want to know is how the food is. Simply put, it kills. And it's messy.
I am not a major pork guy, but the tender pork belly was exquisite. The meat is braised for four or five hours, then thin-sliced and grilled to seal in the moisture. It had a sauce that was not any kind of BBQ, but had the dark, sweetness of good BBQ sauce. The daikon is in a light, Japanese style of pickling, and it provided a dramatic contrast to the soft, sweet meat that was brilliant, adding a touch of electricity to the dish.
Like the pork, the chicken is not a BBQ style, and its spiciness is more Asian. The carrots were sliced very thin and had the same soft, yet not mushy, texture as the daikon on the pork. There is a delicacy in the cooking that is definitely more restaurant than taco truck.
The vegetarian bun (the buns are all in the "bao" style; the truck's original name was the Chairman Bao Truck) was scrumptious. The tofu is soft like a triple-crème cheese, while the greens are crisp and refreshing like quick-steamed chard. Wow, I could easily eat two of these (or maybe one baked, the baked reputedly being considerably larger than the steamed).
Forget any notion of appetizers or desserts, this is a food truck. However, you can have young coconut juice, which I found a most appropriate accompaniment.
The bottom line here is easy: the food on the Chairman Truck is really outstanding, and having spent a grand total of $12 for it, I can tell you I'd have lunch here another time in a heartbeat. I am, however, given to understand that my experience of not waiting in line is atypical, so you'll have to decide yourself how long to wait for it.
Occupation: City Bike, Editor-in-Chief
Favorite Restaurant: Station House Café
Reviewed The Chairman (Food Truck): Monday, March 12, 2012
Oh, you hipsters. As soon as we see your skinny jeans and fixed-gear bikes swarming a food purveyor, we know that will be the next big thing. And 2012's next big thing is the fleet of brightly-painted food trucks that flash-mob from locale to locale like post-industrial Boer laagers (look it up). One of these repainted roach coaches is the bright red Chairman Truck, a specialist in Taiwanese-style steamed and baked buns. With over 10,000 Twitter followers, waiting for the Chairman's chow regularly exceeds 30 minutes, but sometimes newfound popularity isn't just because of just lemming-like fan-boi-ism. Sometimes it's actually deserved, and The Chairman is one of these cases.
The menu is simple (but changes—and there is no way of knowing in advance what will be offered). On our Monday-afternoon visit, there were four choices of filling and two different kinds of buns, steamed or baked. All the fillings were delicious, and the buns were delicate, tasty and prepared just right.
Service is as good as you could expect from a busy lunch truck. We got there early, so the line was short, and our order (I preceded my order with the old saw; what did the Zen master said to the hot-dog guy? "Make me one with everything," although I actually amended that to "make me one of everything," to order, which is even more Zen, if you think about it) took less than 5 minutes to prepare. The young lady taking orders was friendly, if not appreciative of middle-aged-man humor.
We had chicken, tofu and two kinds of pork. The tofu is marinated in miso and then crisped up. It's served with a garlic-tofu mayonnaise and a baby bok choy slaw. It was delicious, with a crumbly, chewy texture. The chicken may have been my favorite—it seemed more Korean-style than Taiwanese, with a fiery sauce, smoky grilled flavor and pickled carrots and cucumber on top. The Coca-Cola-braised pork was given the wife's most-favored pork status—delicate, salty, sweet and covered in cool, crunchy slaw.
But there's a reason why the majority of the 900-plus Yelp reviews worship the one true God of the Chairman Truck—crispy pork belly. Mine was pulsing with melting-tender salty fat and delicate, chewy meat. It was piled with more pickled veggies—daikon and shiso leaves. Make sure you eat it within minutes of getting your order—we didn't eat for 30 minutes and while everything was delicious, things became soggy, and when we sliced everything up for multiparty sampling, hand-washing and table-wiping was required. I will go back just to experience the pork belly hot and crisp.
The buns are also special. I think the steamed ones are best—delicate and slightly sweet, they are as light as a cloud while still holding up to the moist ingredients. The sweet baked buns are nice, too—soft and chewy but durable enough to hold up to the messy contents.
Prices range from $3.75 for the steamers (a hungry person will be happy with two) to $6.50 for the big baked buns. If you're getting too skinny for those skinny jeans and want maximum value for your buck, or just want to try something really different for lunch, get out your Mao jacket and line up by the big red truck.