A culinary gateway
Medford is a long way from almost everywhere, but the region boasts dozens of food trucks and carts that give us a taste of the world.
Taco trucks started the trend, followed by Asian and South American-inspired delicacies, along with more traditional pizza, hot dog and burger offerings.
“Except for the taco trucks, I was probably one of the first 10 here,” said Russell Evans, owner of Wok Star.
He estimates there are now about 50 food trucks and carts around the valley, with most clustered in Medford.
The food truck scene really started to take off during the Great Recession 14 years ago.
Various locations have popped up over that time that attract clusters of food trucks.
Some of the more popular locations include Fourth Street and Bartlett Avenue, Barnett Road across from Rogue Regional Medical
Center, and next to the U.S. Post Office on Riverside.
Medford has the most food trucks, but most other towns in the region also have them, particularly along Highway 99.
More than a decade ago, competing taco trucks offered five tacos for $5. They’ve since increased prices along with everyone else.
When Evans started serving teriyaki chicken, Asian tacos and other popular plates from his food truck, he continued his day job framing houses during the summer.
He’s left the construction industry and is currently setting up another food truck, hoping to place it on Highway 99 just outside Ashland, which doesn’t allow food trucks.
Food trucks started out as a budget option for lunch, but prices have crept up in the past two years as the cost of food has escalated.
Evans said his most expensive item is the teryaki plate with filet mignon, priced at $16.
is teriyaki chicken has gone up from $8 to $10 over the past few years. Chicken has gone up dramatically in price lately, Evans noted.
Another food truck pioneer is Christian Ainzuain, owner of Peruvian Point.
He started nine years ago and has two food trucks, one located across the street from Rogue Regional Medical Center on Barnett Road, another that is often at Fourth Street and Bartlett Avenue downtown, while a recent Facebook post showed the truck at the new Rogue Credit Union location on West Main Street near Thunderbird Market, and at a new location in Talent.
Ainzuain’s Peruvian dishes are so popular he regularly gets people from out of town stopping by.
“I had a lady from Grants Pass send her employee down here to pick up an order,” he said.
While successful, Ainzuain said it’s been difficult to keep prices down as the cost of food escalates.
Two years ago his most popular dish, antecucho de pollo, was $9, but he’s had to raise the price twice to $13.
“Things are very hard right now,” Ainzuain said. “The price of everything has skyrocketed.”
He still gets fresh chicken and other meats from a local butcher because he likes to keep the quality high.
Ainzuain also prepares his own local sauces from scratch and imports spices and other seasonings because they’re unavailable here.
Finding food trucks can be either an annoyance or a hobby for some people.
Google Maps and other apps generally list the location of the food trucks in the valley, though they don’t always stay up to date.
John McCalip started www.facebook.com/roguevalleyfoodtrucks/ more than six years ago for a class project at Southern Oregon University. He said the idea was born out of frustration at not being able to find a food truck at the same location as the prior week.
“I used to work downtown for the county,” McCalip said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Facebook page that told you were they were.’” Even though he doesn’t update the site anymore, he still gets five to six new people every week.
“It’s been dormant, but it just keeps growing,” McCalip said.
He said he’s been approached by one food truck operator to take over the site.
McCalip said he expects cities in the valley will follow the lead of places like Portland, which has a large concentration of food trucks in one location.
Over the years, the variety of food available locally has improved at food trucks, McCalip said.
He’s still got a soft spot for taco trucks, which are more numerous than ever.
“The taco trucks are the real culinary rock stars,” he said.
Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@ gmail.com.