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Star Pod Food Trucks: From affordable sushi to a heaping bento blast

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Rolls from Koye’s Sushi can be ordered through Grubhub, or in person at the food truck pod behind Medford Center. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
The combo bento includes grilled chicken and steak over rice at Simply Bento & Bubble Tea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Boba tea is the signature beverage of Simply Bento & Bubble Tea in the food truck pod behind Medford Center. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
The Koye’s Sushi “dynamite roll” incorporates tuna and cream cheese, topped with avocado and flying fish roe. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
The combo bento includes grilled chicken and steak over rice at Simply Bento & Bubble Tea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

Food trucks show no sign of slowing down in Southern Oregon, despite recent hurdles — from staffing to supply shortages — for their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.

Increasing locally at a respectable but reliable rate of about 5% annually, food trucks saw 14% growth in 2020’s pandemic-fueled climate, according to Jackson County restaurant inspectors. Their proliferation can be seen on street corners and parking lot “pods,” such as Medford’s Backyard Community Food Court and Star Pod Food Trucks.

The latter’s trucks seem a bit more transient, based on my occasional visits over the past six months. Delivering a delicious and slightly irreverent take on the meatball sandwich, She’s Got Balls Meatball Truck decamped in late April, citing a staff injury. Hot dog trailers, barbecue trucks, Caribbean cuisine, Hawaiian style shave ice and more also have come and gone, although the site at 719 Bennett Ave., behind Medford Center, boasts a covered pavilion for dining, as well as several picnic tables.

Conspicuously situated on cement blocks, however, the region’s first truck specializing in sushi — to my knowledge — looks poised to stay. Koye’s Sushi opened in May and quickly outpaced mobile competitors with lengthy, regular hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. In addition to takeout, Koye’s offers delivery through Grubhub, which makes for longer wait times than foot traffic at the pod implies.

I felt a tad self-conscious scanning the menu, trying to decipher what I wanted, when the staff clearly had numerous orders to fill. Finally, I settled on the “dynamite” and “beauty” rolls (each $13.99). And although I was fairly confident they’d be of the premade, frozen variety, dumplings always exert their appeal. And the price of $5 for four was almost as hard to pass up.

Arguably the most reasonable sushi prices in the region (outside of grocery stores) distinguish Koye’s. The vast majority of menu items cost less than $15. And I can’t think of another sushi-centric establishment offering 10 to 16 pieces — in 10 different combinations — for less than $18. Or feed a crowd with 100 pieces of any sushi for $180.

While Koye’s menu, at first glance, appears encyclopedic, closer inspection reveals that it perpetuates a trend in the industry: nearly innumerable variations on sushi mainstays accomplished by adjusting one or two ingredients or deep-frying some of the components. Our rolls were replete enough that I dismissed apologies that the kitchen was out of imitation crab salad, a filler ingredient anemic in flavor on my palate. At least Koye’s menu differentiates “real crab” in three variations of “king crab” rolls, priced from $14.99 to $18.

And Koye’s adds a few flourishes for diners who approach sushi as a sort of smorgasbord. Fried onions garnish several rolls, namely the shrimp, salmon and tuna “crunchy” rolls, while wasabi-spiced peas spike the “fantastic” and “tsunami” rolls.

A few inconsistencies, meanwhile, are evident in the online menu compared with its printed version posted at Koye’s physical location. To start, the online menu is much more extensive, albeit haphazardly organized. Yet it lacks the “dynamite” roll, which I ordered from Koye’s in person, as well as the Las Vegas, Myanmar and Yangon rolls. I suppose I could simplify the meal selection process next time and order Burmese fried rice with chicken or shrimp.

Instead, my partner and I gravitated to the aroma of grilled meats next door at Simply Bento & Bubble Tea. This stand’s name indeed says it all.

Customers can choose between chicken, steak or some of both over rice, flavored with several housemade sauces. Teas rely on commercially bottled syrups, garnished with regular tapioca boba or popping pearls in a half-dozen flavors. My partner and I ordered the combo bento ($11) and large pineapple tea ($5) with passionfruit popping pearls.

Simply Bento hustles to crank out bentos to order from a gas grill positioned behind the stall, typically between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays. We gratefully sipped our tea, confirming its sweetness was to our liking, while awaiting both sushi and bento.

Koye’s had the head start, delivering our sushi and dumplings about 15 minutes after we ordered. We gobbled up the still-hot dumplings in a few bites, relishing their savor, enhanced by soy dipping sauce.

Carefully arranged, accompanied by plenty of wasabi and pickled ginger, the sushi tasted fresh, if not exactly distinctive. Enthusiastic dollops of spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce likely masked the fish’s flavors somewhat. Tiny, orange flying fish roe did offer a nice textural contrast to buttery avocado and ahi cozied up to cream cheese. Saving room for bento, we set aside a few slices from each sushi roll to take home.

Excess bento was evident in a single glance. The portion easily featured a half-pound of meat, heaped high over steamed rice. Tender and nicely marked on the grill, the chicken and steak represented an excellent value, easily feeding one very hungry adult, or two more moderate appetites such as ours.

My only quibble with the bento’s presentation was difficulty accessing its rice to apply sauces. Condiment cups were offered, which I declined to minimize trash. But in hindsight, they would have been handy for transporting teriyaki and sweet chile sauces home with the remaining bento.

To order from Simply Bento & Bubble Tea, call 541-450-3609. To order from Koye’s Sushi, go to Grubhub.com or call 541-452-1181.

Tempo Tidbits

Honeysuckle Sunday Brunch is back in Jacksonville.

Restaurateurs Colin Cox and Monique Cordova reinstated their popular brunch service Oct. 3 by advance reservation, after suspending operations amid the coronavirus’ latest surge. Owners of Honeysuckle Cafe, first in Ruch then east Medford, the couple closed the latter location in 2020. Gogi’s Restaurant has provided space for Honeysuckle’s weekly pop-up brunch, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., since July.

Honeysuckle’s menu changes weekly, featuring such items as crab cake eggs Benedict, asparagus pancakes, shrimp shakshuka, ratatouille omelet and bananas foster brioche French toast. The per-person price is $20, regardless of item. The Oct. 3 menu has yet to be announced.

Chef Cox also offers “grab ’n’ go” wood-fired pizzas from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at Gogi’s,

235 W. Main St. Highlighting ingredients such as prosciutto, mission figs, roasted eggplant and heirloom tomatoes, the 12-inch pies cost $15, or $20 with a salad.

See thehoneysucklecafe.com. Call 541-973-3201 for reservations.

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More opportunities to taste fresh, local foods are planned at Jefferson Farm Kitchen in Jacksonville.

New seasonal salads, quiches, savory pies, “pasta by the pound” and weekly specials come through chef Kristen Lyon’s partnership with Applegate’s Barking Moon Farm, which provides unsold produce for the Farm Kitchen’s exclusive use upon conclusion of weekly farmers markets.

“This translates to the most fresh and seasonal salads we can offer,” says Lyon, who built her business on preparing weekly meal packages, available by advance order.

Farm Kitchen hours have expanded to Tuesday, in addition to Wednesday through Friday, beginning at 11 a.m. The store at 135 S. Oregon St. closes most days at 4 p.m., staying open until 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

Complementing fresh dishes in the deli case, frozen entrees, including chicken potpies, shepherd’s pies and savory hand pies, are ready for take-and-bake. The Farm Kitchen also is promoting “Harvest Meal” packages for groups of 10 or more, targeted to the grape and cannabis industries.

See jeffersonfarmkitchen.com or call 541-531-6740.

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The following restaurants in August received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, Ashland; Figaro’s Pizza, Medford; Gypsy Blues Bar, Medford; Hearsay, Ashland; Hiro Ramen, Ashland; Jasper’s Cafe, Medford; Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub, Medford; King Bo Inc., Medford; Kona Bento, Central Point; La Fiesta, Jacksonville; Las Palmas, Jacksonville; Louie’s Bar & Grill, Ashland.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp.

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.