“This is what change looks like, but have food carts jumped the shark?” was the rhetorical jumble echoing around my brain — along with cacophonies of conversation and widespread food-bloggy photography — when I sat down in our city’s first anti-restaurant restaurant. Wait, what?
Dinin’ Hall (no “g!”) — where you eat off-the-grid while relaxing on a safety net — is a mobile vendor “pod,” and the result of the white-hot, dine-by-the-seat-of-your-pants food truck movement mimicking more traditional businesses. There are trade-offs, of course.
On the plus side, in one fell swoop you can graze on kicky munchies from multiple buzzed-about food trucks while also temporarily joining a like-minded micro-community of novelty-cuisine lovers. Other positives: You can support worthy nonprofit organizations (who get a portion of D-Hall’s profits) and enjoy your truck grub with amenities such as easy parking and a seat at a table in a spacious, brick-and-concrete-block set-up that accepts credit cards and provides restrooms and ceiling fans. For these perks (which don’t include air conditioning, water or waiter service), you must fork-over a nominal surcharge ($.50-.75 per item), wait in an extra “pay” line and deal with the potentially crossing wires of a more complex circuitry.
Only a brief jaunt from Downtown across the mod Main Street bridge, D-Hall resembles a renovated loading dock in an unrenovated parking lot. Here, customers order from trucks (which change daily), receive numbered cards plus itemized checks from each, then trek inside to pay, find a seat and await delivery.
With its infectious conviviality (on the beautiful-weather-graced afternoon I visited, the packed and rollicking D-Hall had a summer camp-type vibe), low-volume indie rock and fashionably bare bulbs dangling from black cords affixed to white-painted rafters, D-Hall exuded an energetic “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” spirit. Though not everything ran smoothly, it was a cheerfully semi-anarchic and intensely zeitgeist-y experience, plus a chance to try these new things:
Specializing in pajeon, i.e. Korean-style pancakes, this truck’s a fine introduction to the bold splendors of this increasingly popular cuisine. The shareably large pajeon I tried (both were dark-cooked, omelet-y, sorta oily and flabby and threaded with scallion) were the Hae ($9 — with bits of tiny shrimp, fake crab and jalapeno) and the Twe ($8 — with chunks of pig meat). If Ajumama’s Dukbokki ($5 — skewers of super-glutinous “rice cake” tubes slathered with chili paste) were unusual chews, the addictive Hodduk ($3.50 — puffy, dense and toasty nut-and-cinnamon-bun-flavored pocket pastries) are universally loveable.
Freedom a la Cart
This do-gooder (local and organic, but also supporters of human-trafficking survivors) has a zesty Latin tinge to its fare. I enjoyed its distinct sub-type sandwiches ($7) in both vegan form (The Papa, with crusty fried spud cubes, white beans, onions, lettuce and a sriracha-y sauce) and carnivorous style (the pot-roasty Gaucho, with chimichurri and mayo) as well as a refreshing watermelon, mint and mayo-free “slaw.”
Potent flavors and a sense of humor emanated from this fun and funky truck. While its Green Thumb “sandwish” was as healthy and satisfying as anything I tried that day ($8.75 — excellent grilled portobello, melted mozzarella, arugula and aioli on warm and puffy pita loaf) and its wacky “Shiznite” fully embraced the outre nature of its genre ($7.75 — a slob-tastic and irresistible crisply panko-crusted and deep fried hot dog with spicy jalapeno cream cheese), GM’s inexperience (open only a couple of days) showed via missing ingredients, short supplies and general confusion.