Route Bistro has been on the road for a little over a year now, but the first time I stumbled across the truck was on a recent Saturday at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary. My wife and I had planned on turning a couple of the local German Johnsons we’d just bought into tomato sandwiches for lunch.
Then Route Bistro lured us onto a detour. Or more accurately, it wasn’t the truck – a fairly standard trailer-hitched-to-a-pickup-truck rig with a generic-sounding “Gourmet Street Food” motto painted on the side – that led us astray. It was the menu, posted on an easel in front of the order window. The list was riddled with dishes whose unfamiliar names tantalized with the promise of unexplored territory. The tomato sandwiches, we agreed, could wait.
The green plantain bowl, we decided afterward, was the highlight of our adventure. We opted for the carnitas version and were rewarded with succulent shreds of slow-cooked pork piled into an edible bowl of green plantains that had been mashed and fried in a manner similar to Puerto Rican tostones or Venezuelan patacon. Topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and a few crunchy curls of fried pork rind, the bowl was accompanied by homemade red cabbage sauerkraut and shredded carrots for a presentation as colorful – to the eye as well as the taste buds – as a tropical island sunset.
The Mestizo sandwich proved to be another worthy destination. Featuring Argentinean pork sausage on a grill-pressed Mexican bolillo bun lined with guacamole, kraut and crumbled cotija cheese, the sandwich is served with plantain chips and an addictive Spanish alioli brightened with a parsley-basil-cilantro pesto for dipping.
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While the Route Bistro itinerary focuses for the most part on Central and South American flavors, we were able to venture north for an inventive riff on Texas caviar. Substituting brown lentils for the customary black-eyed peas, tossed with diced tomato, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro in a light dressing amped up with Tabasco and chipotle, the salad made for a refreshing intermezzo on a warm July day.
Then we ran out of gas. That is to say, we were too full to explore further. We’d have to save the Disco Fries, a Latin riff on poutine topped with Argentinean sausage, cheese and black pepper chicken gravy, for another day. Maybe we’d track the truck down at one of the area brewpubs it frequents. Next time, we might also try the veggie version of the green plantain bowl.
Nah, who am I kidding? No way I can say no to a dish that contains the twin temptations of carnitas and chicharrones.
Route Bistro’s Latin-inflected fusion fare is the brain child of Julian Perez, a classically-trained chef who racked up more than 15 years of experience in Argentina and his native Colombia before being lured to our neck of the woods by the burgeoning food truck scene. He moved here in 2014 and worked on another food truck for several months to learn the ropes before setting out on his own with his wife, Ana Maria, last summer.
It didn’t take Perez long to make an impression. Route Bistro was named the 2015 Food Truck Rookie of the Year by Mobile Cuisine magazine. Now that I’ve sampled his wares, it’s easy to see how Perez beat out vendors from all over the country for the award.
Oh, and the tomato sandwiches hit the spot the next day – a return to the comforts of home, you might say, after our spur-of-the-moment adventure abroad.
Prices: plantain bowls $9, sandwiches $10
Looking for a food truck?
The Street Food Finder website has a map that tracks locations of local food trucks.
Check it out at streetfoodfinder.com/c/nc/raleigh.