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Buena Food Truck puts a personal touch on traditional Peruvian fare

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The “causa fresca” salad is a Peruvian speciality at Buena Food Truck in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chicken in simmered in a Peruvian yellow chile sauce at Buena Food Truck in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chicha limonada and Inca Kola are specialty beverages at the new Buena Food Truck in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
The chilled chicken sandwich comes on a Hawaiian sweet bun at Buena Food Truck in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
One of two sandwiches at Buena Food Truck layers portobello mushroom and sweet potato. Photos by Sarah Lemon

A new Peruvian food trucks pays tribute to family.

Summertime visits with her grandmother nurtured Lynn-D Hodgen’s love of food. And the vehicle for serving it fulfills her kids’ wish that Hodgen open a restaurant. Buena Food Truck brings a new generation’s take on tradition to Central Point.

“I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my grandma when she would visit from Peru every summer,” says Hodgen. “I would stir, taste and soak up all of her recipes.”

Characterizing her cuisine as “universally delicious,” Hodgen aims to be a casual, accessible but unconventional lunch option in the parking lot of Rogue Creamery. The reception a few weeks since she opened has been enthusiastic from students and staff at nearby Crater High School, the local business community and visitors to Central Point’s artisan corridor. Operating for just three hours each weekday, Buena can sell out of some items early.

Arriving about 30 minutes before Buena’s closing time, I had to postpone my date with Buena’s “causa fresca” salad ($10). Comprising mashed potatoes, the salad appealed for the unusual pairing with albacore tuna or chicken salad.

Because my partner preferred the chilled chicken sandwich ($10), I settled for the portobello mushroom sandwich ($12), which also incorporated sweet potato. We decided to save Buena’s interpretation of the popular “bowl” concept — chicken and portobello — for another time.

We couldn’t pass up, however, Buena’s flagship beverage, “chicha limonda,” described as a refreshing twist on a Peruvian classic, steeped with purple corn, apple, pineapple, lime, cloves and cinnamon. We also tacked on a can of Peru’s indispensable Inca Kola, which my partner likened to Peru’s Coke, based on his travels several years ago through the Amazon and Machu Picchu.

On my palate, the drink also known as Golden Kola was far better than Coke, reminiscent of cream soda and intensely thirst quenching. Kudos to Hodgen for upholding authenticity over popularity. And her sweetly spiced “chicha limonada” — in a sealed plastic bottle with custom label — is destined to become a community favorite, easily recognizable by its deep violet hue.

The chicken sandwich was much more familiar, fairly bland and plainly constructed with finely diced celery — just the way I like it. While the menu described garlic-lime aioli as the salad’s binder, the seasonings didn’t overly assert themselves.

The sandwich filling’s overall effect with fresh lettuce and tomato on a Hawaiian sweet bun was harmonious. Shoestring potatoes provided some crunch on the side. Or tuck them into your sandwich, if you’re so inclined.

Portobello sandwiches I’d had — but not with sweet potato, a favored ingredient in my own cooking. I appreciate Hodgen’s effort to update a mainstream vegetarian dish. Her pickled red onion provided a pleasing crunch and acidic counterpoint, although sensitive tastebuds may find the quantity in excess.

Almost outshining both sandwiches, Hodgen’s “buena crema” came as a condiment for dipping the crunchy potatoes and spicing up the main dish. The key ingredient is “aji amarillo,” a yellow chile widely regarded as the national seasoning of Peru.

Since we’d tried the chicken salad, tuna was an easy choice when my partner and I returned the following week for Buena’s “causa fresca.” Similarly straightforward, the tuna incorporated a bit of finely diced red onion in a mild mayonnaise mixture. Avocado slices and half a hard boiled egg complemented the mound of aji-sauced potato, topped with a generous scoop of tuna. I would have considered this more of a salad if the lettuce had been in bite-sized pieces, rather than whole leaves.

The real star, again, was Hodgen’s green sauce — “aji verde” — a delicious, spot-on spicy elixir of jalapeno, cilantro and lime. It’s for good reason that Buena charges 50 cents for additional sauce portions. Hodgen could bottle both — but the “aji verde,” in particular — alongside her limonada. Add this to just about anything for a bright burst of flavor and a pleasant burn.

Milder than I anticipated, Buena’s chicken bowl ($11) derived its most intense flavors from moist, tender, savory poultry. A generous scoop of steamed white rice soaks up all the silky sauce, accented with more green and yellow chiles, half a hard-boiled egg and a few olives. Honoring Hodgen’s deceased son Kyle, this dish is a customer favorite.

Buena’s vegetarian bowl ($12) piles the portobello and sweet potato on rice with accents of onion, tomato and fresh cilantro. Hodgen conscientiously notes which dishes — most, in fact — are dairy- and gluten-free. Customers may request vegan preparation of some items.

Putting her personal touch on Peruvian fare, Hodgen also acknowledges those who have come before her. Buena’s social media recently gave a shout-out to the Peruvian Point food truck, the only one of its kind locally when owner Christian Ainzuain hit the streets in 2013. Adding a Talent location in March, Peruvian Point regularly operates on East Barnett Road and has enjoyed the title as “best food truck” for four years running in Southern Oregon’s Best of the Best awards.

Peruvian Point’s focus on grilled and stir-fried dishes distinguishes it from Buena. Customers of both trucks won’t encounter redundant flavors.

Find Buena from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday in the gravel parking lot between Rogue Creamery and CraterWorks MakerSpace on North Front Street. See updates at facebook.com/eatbuena and @eatbuena on Instagram.

Tempo Tidbits

Handmade ice cream featuring locally grown and produced ingredients is new at Medford’s farmers market.

Harper’s Sweet Cream Ice Cream also offers frozen dessert service from its nostalgic bicycle-powered cart for parties, weddings and other private events. Vegan, gluten-free and custom ice cream flavors are available, along with freshly made waffle cones.

Harper’s is the latest iteration of Medford’s Sweet Cream, formerly at Rogue Organic Cafe in downtown Medford. Doug Harper purchased the business with wife Karen in January after retiring from a physical therapy career. Southern Oregon got its first taste of Sweet Cream, under founder Kayla Barton, at the 2016 Pear Blossom Festival.

The Harpers cite a Hawaiian vacation for inspiring their love of icy treats and food trucks. Doug Harper has been experimenting with ice cream recipes at home over the past four years. When the Harpers saw Sweet Cream was for sale, they decided to pursue dreams of creating high-quality, small-batch ice cream, says Karen Harper, who still works as a registered nurse.

Changing its flavors monthly and seasonally, Harper’s collaborates with local growers, bakers, brewers and makers for ingredients, says Karen Harper. Although some flavors are original Sweet Cream recipes, many are new. March’s special flavor is gluten-free cookies and cream. Single scoops cost $4.50, double scoops $5.50, and pints are $8.

Until Harper’s operates its own storefront, ice cream and cones are produced in a local commercial kitchen. Find them from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market in Medford’s Hawthorne Park. See sweetcream-icecream.com

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Weeknights are for games, bingo and trivia at Ashland’s Growler Guys.

The growler station, tap house and casual eatery hosts Ashland’s Funagain Games from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays for classic and new games. Six rounds of bingo are free, with prizes awarded each round, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Team trivia is on tap from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays; players should plan to arrive by 5:30 p.m.

Games, bingo and trivia are for paying customers, ages 21 and older, who can enjoy special deals on drinks and food. Entertainment is first come, first served (no reservations).

Located at 345 Lithia Way, Growler Guys serves pizzas, salads, nachos, wings and more alongside 60 taps for beer, cider, kombucha and nonalcoholic beverages. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, until midnight Thursday through Saturday.

See thegrowlerguys.com. Follow @tggashland on Instagram for updates.

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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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.