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Summer street scene

Between picnic tables and restaurant patios, a newer trend is driving the Rogue Valley’s outdoor dining scene.

Food trucks occupy street corners, parking lots and outdoor events, in addition to pairing up with regional breweries and wineries. Summer brings out more of these mobile eateries serving fast, inexpensive, multiethnic and uniquely local fare.

Southern Oregon’s first outdoor food court, modeled after Portland food-cart “pods,” opened last year in downtown Medford. At Digger’s Goodyear Tavern & Food Court, customers can choose from Peruvian, Mexican and American cuisines without leaving the business’ parking lot at 101 S. Riverside Ave. Beer, wine, seating and restrooms are available inside the former Goodyear Tire store.

“Coming soon is Vietnamese food,” says co-owner Doug “Digger” O’Dell. “They’ll deliver it on the patio. It’s really growing.”

While tacos, burgers and barbecue are popular at Digger’s, more unusual dishes can be had at Christian Ainzuain’s Peruvian Point, which also frequents local farmers markets. A sort of fusion between indigenous Incan ingredients and the influences of colonialism and immigration, Peruvian food’s only Southern Oregon outlet is his red-and-white trailer, says Ainzuain.

Flavors of lime and cilantro practically jump off Ainzuain’s plates of tender, grilled chicken. "Anticucho de pollo" is a meal with rice and salad; the Don Cesar sandwich comes on a pillowy roll with a side of potatoes reposing in a slightly spicy, sunshiny yellow sauce made with Peru’s quintessential chili, "aji amarillo.”

Another predominant player in Peruvian food, the whole grain quinoa more recently made the Peruvian Point menu. Ainzuain’s ceviche, citrus-cured raw fish, is perfect for light summer meals.

A summertime staple, burgers are The Rogue Chef’s specialty. Stephen Pena’s trailer features one-third pound Wagyu beef patties on olive-oil brioche buns baked inside his kitchen on wheels, parked weekday afternoons at Digger’s. Cooked to order, each juicy burger — just barely pink inside — is topped with tomato, onion and a fresh lettuce leaf.

Classic sandwiches also make up the menu. Pena mesquite-smokes pastrami for his Reuben, mingling it with crisp sauerkraut, creamy Russian dressing and melted Gruyere, all on house-baked cocoa rye covered in sesame seeds. Burgers and sandwiches are accompanied by tasty mounds of golden shoestring potatoes.

When they’re not at Digger’s, Pena and sous chef Dale Hartman set up at Opposition Brewing and Southern Oregon Brewing, both in Medford, and at local wineries, such as Valley View.

Food trucks give vineyard visitors another reason to stay and sip more local wines. Special winery events, including concerts, book Alyssa Warner’s Fresco Mobile Kitchen for nearly the entire summer.

“I’m not out there every day, but it’s because I like to take the time,” says Warner of her from-scratch cuisine.

“The menu’s usually different every week.”

Inspired by the Rogue Valley’s bounty and her own organic garden, Warner handcrafts pasta, stir-fries seasonal vegetables, slow-cooks beef shanks and churns her own ice cream. The region’s fine cheeses deserve no lesser accompaniment than Warner’s home-baked baguette.

“They want to know where everything came from,” says Warner of customers’ preference for locally farmed and produced ingredients. “It’s become really important to people.”

Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market — Tuesdays and Saturdays in Ashland and Thursdays and Saturdays in Medford — has welcomed more food trucks of ever-expanding variety in the past few years, says manager Mary Ellen DeLuca.

“At first it was just a few tamale people,” says DeLuca, explaining that shoppers more recently can find Thai, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern foods, among others, in the market’s aisles.

“The spices are amazing,” she says. “There’s diversity.”

Snacks seen in Singapore morphed into a food-truck concept that boasts no Rogue Valley imitator. Waffles — served as sandwiches — are reminiscent of sweet and savory crepes with their fillings of Nutella, fruits, meats and cheeses. But fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and fixings for iconic sandwiches, all stuffed inside tender yet toothsome shells, are most popular at Ooblies Artisan Waffle Sandwiches.

A variation on chicken and waffles is co-owner Tanner Elliott’s signature dish. He hand-batters chicken breasts with buttermilk, then fries them to crisply contrast with their waffle counterparts. A tangy cabbage slaw and honey-chili sauce heighten flavors and textures.

With Ooblies’ make-your-own-waffle option, customers furnish plenty of suggestions, rewarded with status as weekly specials. Elliott even riffs on fish tacos by replacing tortillas with his waffles.

Ooblies parks Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons on South Riverside Avenue near the Medford post office. Check Facebook, Twitter and other social media for local food trucks’ most current locations, operating hours, menus and prices.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.


Papa Rellena: A potato croquette stuffed with seasoned ground beef then deep fried to a golden brown. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Christian Ainzuain owns the Peruvian Point food truck. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell