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Friends, I am really excited today to give you a full review of one of my new favorite lunch spots. Actually, that's sort of a misnomer, since my new favorite 'spot' is actually a mobile hot food truck serving gourmet, hand-crafted street food: San Diego's own MIHO Gastrotruck.
Over the last few years, there has been an evolution in the world of hot food trucks; previously, many major metropolitan areas were dotted with food stands and food trucks that served greasy foods or cold sandwiches, both with ingredients that the customer might rather not identify. This is not to say the food didn't taste good, but it was squarely in the realm of 'fast food.' More recently, the 'gourmet' food truck movement started in cities like New York and San Francisco, and then spread to Los Angeles, Portland, and even San Diego. These gourmet food trucks differed from their predecessors, because in one way or another, they were stepping it up; instead of a fake crab patty you could get escarot and you could choose to eat a burger with grass-fed beef instead of mystery meat. The lowly hot food truck was being elevated to haute cuisine.
Here in San Diego, we now have quite a few gourmet food trucks cruising the streets, and San Diegians can take their pick according to what they feel like eating, and what food truck happens to be in their neighborhood that day. Some food trucks are more popular than others, and MIHO Gastrotruck has definitely surged ahead and has strong foothold in local communities; it also happens to be my favorite because their food philosophies are aligned precisely with mine. I like to know exactly what I am eating, and MIHO serves hand-crafted food (which means they make everything from scratch) and they get all their ingredients from local farms which means their menu changes weekly according to the seasons.
If you know me at all by now, you are aware that I am a pretty curious and inquisitive person (I am a scientist, it comes with the territory), so when I decided to review MIHO gastrotruck I wanted to interview owners Juan Miron and Kevin Ho to get the full story about MIHO.
I hope you enjoyed my coverage of MIHO gastrotruck! I had such a great time talking with Juan since he is really down to earth and it is always a pleasure to chat with someone else who truly loves food. The clip above is obviously an edited version of our interview and I wanted you to be able to see the whole thing if you are interested, so be sure to check out both Part 1 and Part 2 of my MIHO interview on YouTube.
So as Juan mentioned in the interview, he and Kevin met when they were working at The Linkery in Northpark. The Linkery has a 'farm-to-table' mentality for their menu, so since both Juan and Kevin chose to work there, it was logical that they shared this same philosophy about food. While Juan was working at the Linkery, he took his passion for food and cooking outside of the restaurant and started hosting underground supper clubs where he would entertain large groups of friends for dinners of homemade foods paired with craft beers. (I think this is totally cool.) Eventually, Kevin got in on the supper-club action, and the two became fast friends. Kevin is Chinese and Juan is Mexican, and they grew up with a big appreciation for street food. They clued in to the gourmet hot food truck movement, and knew immediately this was the venue they were looking for to bring their love for food to a larger community.
Similar to The Linkery, MIHO has a farm-to-street philosophy when it comes to their food. They work with a multitude of local farms to ensure that their food is made with thoughtfully-sourced ingredients; since they work with what they can get from the farms, all their menu items are seasonal. (For instance, a few weeks ago they had a great Pomegranate and Persimmon Salad. Apparently great minds think alike-check out my salad!) What's also really neat for me, is that I can go to the Farmer's Market and see the same farms that MIHO uses to get their ingredients. This gives me a sense of connectedness and community.
And speaking of community, MIHO has a loyal following throughout many communities in San Diego, and Juan and Kevin refer to them as their "HOMIs." As Juan says, "If you take the word MIHO and switch it around, it's like the slang word, homi." I am more than happy to be one of MIHOs HOMIs. And while we are talking about it, be sure to watch the video interview to find out how they came up with the awesome name MIHO!
Ok, so I really want to tell you more about their truck and how they operate, but I can't wait any longer to tell you about their food. MIHO's food is amazing. Their food is so fantastic in part because of their ingredients, but also because of the amazing dishes their executive chef, Courtney Bryant, dreams up. It is isn't on their menu any longer, but the first thing I ever ate from MIHO was their Pork Belly Sammy, with house-made kimchi, pickled local cucumber, apple, and spicy mayo (made from scratch) on a french baguette from local Bread and Cie. Seriously, I was drooling. I have never tasted anything like it, the richness of the pork belly was perfectly balanced by the tart crunch of the apple and cucumber and the heat from the kimchi and mayo. I cried a little when they switched it out of the menu.
But MIHO does not disappoint, and so of course their menu was currently filled with lots of goodies.
To start with, they had a Butternut Squash Salad with tender, roasted local butternut squash and arugula (both from Suzie's Organic Farm). The salad was topped with crushed hazelnuts and a Spanish Manchego that had a great piquant flavor to pair with peppery arugula, and balance out a little sweetness from Julian apples. I love any salad topped with a balsamic vinaigrette, so of course I thought this salad was delicious, and definitely seasonal.
Next, they have their Grass-Fed Burger; this is something that consistently stays on the MIHO menu each week, but they change it up with different toppings and sauces. No matter what goes on top, the patty is grass-fed beef from Tallgrass Beef, and the burger is juicy and grilled to perfection. This week, MIHO topped the burger with fontina, butter lettuce from Suzie's, crispy shallots fried in buttermilk (I loved these!), and also their hand-made garlic-dijon aioli. Yes, I can tell you this burger does taste as fabulous as it sounds, and there is certainly a reason it has a permanent spot on their menu. One thing I also really like about the burger is that they serve it on a soft brioche bun from Bread and Cie. I would never have thought a brioche bun would be good for a burger, but the sweetness and slight crisp when they grill it just works. Oh, and did I mention you can add bacon? We all know everything is better with bacon, and MIHO gets Duroc bacon from Vande Rose Farms. This is the real deal.
Alright, now I want to tell you about MIHO's Meatball Sammy. You know how I told you I adored the Pork Belly Sammy? Well, this meatball sammy might have stolen my heart. The meatballs are made with the same grass-fed beef as their burger, but there is also bacon in the meatballs as well as local shitake and trumpet mushrooms (from Crows Pass Farm) plus fresh herbs. MIHO successfully elevated the meatball to epic standing. (And guess what?? They shared the recipe with me so I am going to make them for you this week!) They top the meatballs with their own zesty marinara sauce, plus fresh mozzarella and pepperonata made with local peppers. This sammy was so good, that I sent 4 of my co-workers back to get it for lunch the next day, and they loved it just as much as I did.
(As an aside, when I was talking with Juan, he mentioned they originally wanted to do the meatballs with ground pork and lamb for more depth of flavor; however, they couldn't find any sources of grass-fed meats they felt comfortable with, so they stuck with their grass-fed beef. I think this speaks to their integrity.)
The last main dish (but certainly not the least) that that I tried was the Polenta Pie, and I thought it was particularly interesting; I have never had anything quite like this before. If I am being honest, it wasn't very pretty to look at, but the taste definitely made up for it. I love polenta to begin with, especially when it is mixed with cheese, and then MIHO added local mushrooms and herbs, and topped it with roasted root vegetables (from Susie's Organic Farm) and roasted cherry tomatoes. I think the roasted tomatoes were great, because they were the one thing that was slightly out of season, but roasting them brings out a great sweet flavor. The whole dish was really rustic and homey and perfect for a chilly fall day.
And then I can't forget about the fries! MIHO has great Belgian Style Fries made from Kennebec potatoes, that they slice and prep in their off-site kitchen each day, and then fry to order for each customer. The fries come with different hand-made sauces: this week they had a Baharat Ketchup which had a spicy, earthy flavor, but another time they had an awesome garlic dipping sauce. Right now you can only order a full size of fries, but I wish that there was the option to order a 'combo' meal and get a smaller portion of fries with any of the 'main' dishes; maybe MIHO will do this in the future.
Oh, and if you have a sweet tooth (or any room left in your stomach), MIHO also has organic cookies and cupcakes. I didn't get a chance to try these (see last comment about having any room left in the stomach), but I saw several customers buying/eating them so I bet they are delicious.
Then to wash down your whole meal, MIHO has a great selection of bottled beverages; for me, I was giddy at the idea of getting to drink a Mexican Coke in a real glass bottle. Perfection.
So I am sure you are wondering, what is the price point here? Well, in my opinion, MIHO's prices are at just the right place between inexpensive and expensive. If you are looking for a $4 burger, head to McDonald's, because you won't get that here. I think the saying usually holds true that, 'good things aren't cheap and cheap things aren't good,' and I am more than happy to pay MIHO's prices to get grass-fed beef and dishes made from ingredients from local farms; not only do I know what is in my food, but I also know I am supporting locals. So just as an example, the Meatball Sammy was $7.25 and the Grass-Fed Burger was $7.75. I would come back and pay that again to order either of these items (and in fact I have already!), I think it is completely reasonable.
So if you want to visit MIHO for a great lunch during the week, or for one of the events they do on the weekends, be sure to check out their website to follow them on Facebook or Twitter to be 'in the know' about their weekly menu items. Currently, MIHO is working on a new location, but they are all over San Diego from Little Italy, to UTC, and their most popular location is Sorrento Valley.
I am sure you have already had your fill of info about MIHO, but before I finish up, I just wanted to share a few things I asked Juan about after our interview. Like I said, I am curious, and I think it just tells a little bit more about what makes MIHO unique.