by Jax Kiel
Since the late 2000s, food trucks have become increasingly popular across the United States. Mobile food purveyors have created a street food-esque alternative to fast food for the customers looking to walk up, grab their food, and go.
For some truck owners, their way of doing business is the affordable alternative to opening a brick-and-mortar. For others, their food truck is a way of sharing their passion with the widest, most diverse population they can.
While there is a plethora of food trucks in the heart of downtown Seattle, don’t forget about the incredible businesses selling food in South Seattle. For those not looking to venture deep into the city, visit one of the food trucks on your doorstep.
You can find these three BIPOC-owned food trucks in and around the Central District and South Seattle, serving fast, easy, and delicious dishes. Keep an eye out on their websites and social media to find out when they’ll be near you next.
Sisters Lizz Eng and Cindy Tran worked at their respective jobs for nearly 20 years before they decided to take a leap of faith and open their own business. In 2019, they opened Mami Tran, inspired by their mom — a Vietnamese immigrant, incredible cook, and single mom of five. Cindy always dreamed of owning a food truck, and both sisters wanted to share their mom’s cooking, including the pho and crispy egg rolls that drew people to Mami Tran’s kitchen counter.
Since opening the Mami Tran food truck, Lizz and Cindy have shared Vietnamese home cooking bursting with flavor and fresh ingredients inspired by their mother’s recipes. Lizz says Mami Tran has received an outpouring of support from their community from the beginning. Through the food truck community, Lizz and Cindy have met mentors and friends who have helped them thrive. Lizz and Cindy are committed to making good on that support. They source products from local suppliers and hire students for part-time help in hopes to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs.
When visiting Mami Tran for the first time, make sure to try Mami’s Famous Crispy Pork Egg Rolls. Thankfully, they come in a two pack because they are too addictive to eat just one. Lizz and Cindy also recommend their Banh Mi Sandwiches: A toasted baguette that’s so packed with marinated meat and fresh vegetables, it’s a meal on its own.
Not in the area? No worries! To make sure more folks can enjoy Mami Tran’s cooking, Lizz and Cindy ship and offer local delivery of their frozen egg rolls, garlic noodles, wontons, and homemade sauces.
“It’s what we grew up eating in Mami’s kitchen,” says Lizz. “We make everything from scratch — no fillers and no preservatives. Our egg rolls and wontons are all handmade, as we take pride in delivering only the highest quality to our customers.”
Where Ya At Matt
Matthew “Matt” Lewis opened Where Ya At Matt in 2010 after 10 years in the restaurant industry. His cooking journey started with his mom and his grandmother who taught him to make traditional Creole dishes. After graduating college, he was drawn into the restaurant industry in Alabama and worked his way up from waiting tables, eventually working in the kitchen at Chef Frank Stitt’s Bottega in Alabama. From there Matt attended, graduated, and became an ambassador to The Culinary Institute of America.
At the time, food trucks were just starting to take off in Seattle, and Matt wanted to do something that made him feel fulfilled. Together with his father and his grandfather, Matt raised the seed money to start his own truck.
Matt has seen firsthand how food can bring community together. Everywhere he parks his truck brings a different demographic of people who have supported Where Ya At Matt over an 11-year business journey and through the COVID-19 lockdown. Where Ya At Matt has also fostered a community behind the scenes. Most of Matt’s crew have worked for him for eight or nine years.
“Every time I go to work, it just feels like family,” Matt says. “Through thick and thin we’ve supported each other. It is one big family and I think maybe that’s why our food is so consistent and so amazing … You know it’s the community within the community.”
Over the years, Matt has brought the street food of New Orleans, Creole soul food from gumbo to sweet potato pie, to the streets of Seattle. Matt says it’s the food he grew up eating and a little piece of himself. The menu has two sides — “Po’ Boys” and the entree-style Southern Standards, which the Where Ya At Matt team calls “stick-a-fork-in-it” meals.
And while Matt is reluctant to call out a favorite dish, comparing his menu to his kids, he does have a special place in his heart for the Jambalaya.
“It’s just a solid dish all the way around but it’s also one of the ones that I ate the most growing up,” says Matt. “So it always has that nostalgic factor to it.”
Big Boys Kainan and Food Truck
Nate and Melanie Daep are the partners and owners of the Filipino food truck Big Boys Kainan and Food Truck. As a teenager and young adult, Nate hosted parties at his parents house, cooking more than enough food for everyone. This was also a time in his life when he was working as a technician at Xerox and pursuing a music career, which didn’t pan out as planned. As he was trying to imagine what he would do for the rest of his life, cooking was the only thing that came to mind.
Big Boys Kainan brings Nate back to family gatherings around a huge table of food, the smell of his mom’s cooking, and Saturday morning breakfasts of bacon, eggs, spam, and garlic fried rice with a mountain of ketchup. Nate says he loves watching people eat his food, and it’s always a plus when customers come back for more. For him, owning a restaurant is filled with joy. Nate also says he loves the diversity of people Big Boys Kainan is able to feed. Their restaurant and food truck see visitors from all around the world.
The first item on the menu was the Popper Sandwich, a Filipino sweet bread with house made coleslaw, fried chicken tenders, melted cheese with jalapeños, and sour cream — a mouthwatering creation thought up by Melanie, who Nate described as his “business partner, wife, and boss.” Nate’s favorite item to cook on the menu is The Hot Box: a chicken sandwich, musubi, three pieces of lumpia, lychee pink lemonade, and fries. Keep an eye out for a possible new menu item: Nate’s Dinuguan — diced pork cooked in pork blood, vinegar, and other spices. Nate says he thinks he’s perfected the recipe.
“The best way I would describe [Big Boys Kainan] is savory Filipino flavors served in a different way,” says Nate. “We like to pair our meats and sauces with not only rice bowls but sandwiches, burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and whatever our minds can think of.”
Jax Kiel is a student journalist at Western Washington University and an intern at Intentionalist.
📸 Featured Image: Packaged meals from Mami Tran, a Vietnamese food truck. (Photo: Mami Tran)
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