Nosh: Seattle’s Best Fish & Chips, Bar None


It was a year ago almost to the day that my wife declared the fish and chips served by Nosh as the best ever she’s had in the States. When I sampled the fish, I couldn’t have agreed more. The thing is, Nosh is a food truck and the venue was the Crossroads Food Truck Snackdown. Since then, accolades have been piling up for Nosh, including an endorsement by the Seattle Times as the best chippy in town. Similar praise came from other publications.

Today, we happened to be in the Westlake Center area in downtown Seattle when we saw Nosh among a few other trucks in the plaza outside.

nosh - 1

The fish and chips is made in the British-style, which as far as I can gather means mild white fish coated in a light, thin batter made from flour, beer, water and seasonings and served in a newspaper cone over thick-cut fries.

Nosh’s batter, made with a local microbrew’s pilsner, is very thin and crispy, sprinkled lightly with sea salt, a far cry from the thick and oily batters that are more common these days. The star though is the almost foot-long Pacific cod that flakes apart so easily and is so moist that it seems caught only hours before. Couple the fish with an excellent tartar sauce and perfectly cooked, thick-cut fries that likely have been double-fried. A side of very good minted peas is also included. The fish and chips (☆☆☆☆) are decidedly superior to what I’ve had at any other restaurant, stand or truck, including Ivar’s, Spuds, Wally’s and Nordstrom Cafe. The only thing faux about the entrée is the ‘newspaper’ in which it’s served, a clever reproduction on parchment paper.

Nosh has Seattle’s best fish and chips—bar none.

(Update: 6-13-16) With fish and chips so good, it would be easy not to order anything else. Nosh shows up in Bellevue every Monday at the downtown Barnes & Noble parking lot. (Validated parking for 1 hour.) At the noon hour, every truck in the pod was busy with customers, some who drove here, most who walked over from their nearby workplace. Even when Nosh’s line is ten deep, it doesn’t take long to get your food. Obviously, the two-person crew inside has the process down pretty well. Today, I decided to give another entrée a try—meatloaf sandwich. I’ll say this, if it weren’t for the fish, this sandwich could easily bring Nosh accolades on its own. I have yet to try Seattle fried rabbit and roasted bone marrow, Nosh’s other unusual menu items.

The meatloaf is a tasty combination of pork and beef. The patty is somewhat soft, which I would have preferred to have a little more toothy substance. But it’s paired with sweet roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, arugula, dressed with aioli and served on a toasted potato roll. What great flavors! The side of braised red cabbage is quite good, too. This is an a very good sandwich (☆☆☆½).

Nosh's meatloaf sandwich

Nosh’s meatloaf sandwich

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Eat Your Heart Out, Disney World—Gobble Express’ Smoked Turkey Legs


Gobble Express started showing up at the Issaquah Famers Market this year, swapping the sole food truck location every other week with Maximus/Minimus. As the name suggests, Gobble Express specializes in turkey, as does the brick-and-mortar operation, called Gobble Restaurant, in Woodinville. The truck has a more limited menu, including smoked turkey legs. The first time I ever ate one was at Disneyland two years ago, a transplant from Disney World where it has been a huge hit. My gnawing on it must’ve seemed like a Neanderthal moment to my family. In truth, I wasn’t so impressed, the leg meat being extremely chewy and stringy. So it was with a little trepidation that I took my first bite of Gobble Express’ drumstick. Not to worry, it was phenomenal, the meat succulent and smoky and burnished to a rich, dark brown.

Gobble’s motto is You buy, we’ll fly, referring to its flexible catering business. Its drollery and terse rhyme remind me of another local smokehouse, Caveman Kitchen in Kent, whose motto is You choke ’em, we smoke ’em, referring to its side business of smoking any meat you bring them. The similarity doesn’t end there because the skin of the turkey leg is like that of Caveman’s vaunted chicken, very smoky, leathery—and delicious. Gobble Express also sells sandwiches made with BBQ beef brisket, pulled pork and pulled turkey, but the turkey leg is its best seller (☆☆☆☆).

Surprises at the Crossroads Food Truck Snackdown


The latest Food Truck Snackdown at the Crossroads Shopping Center happened today, so we were sure to see what was cookin’. Two things were on the radar for this trip.

One was a shiksa, a pork stew that was described in ZAGAT. Sandwich-style, Napkin Friends puts everything between two “slices” of latke, which suggests influences from Jewish cooking. Revealingly, there is matzoh ball soup on the menu. Even the stew’s name is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of its meat ingredient as straying from the non-Jewish arena. Unfortunately, shiksa wasn’t on the menu, so I went to Peasant Food Manifesto instead and got their Inigo Montoya, a spicy tomato-based dish that is labeled a shakshuka. Hey, I recognized that name. Inigo Montoya was that famous character in “Princess Bride.” (“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.”) The other items have similarly idiosyncratic names and show PFM’s preference for global fusion food. The shakshuka had lots of tomatoes, which almost qualifies it as a tomato stew, heavy on the chard, and Spanish chorizo from by Uli’s. A fried egg was served on top. The entrée was a hearty dish, spicy and definitely healthier than fried food. (☆☆☆)

shakshuka

Peasant Food Manifesto’s shakshuka

Here’s a novelty—British-inspired food served from a food truck, appropriately named Nosh. Looking over the menu, I wasn’t sure anymore what constituted English food. Some day, I might be adventurous enough to spring for fried rabbit or roasted bone marrow, but for now, it was fish and chips, reputedly one of the best served in the Seattle area and another item that was on my list. The Pacific cod piece was enormous, the biggest we’ve eaten since New Zealand. And it was fresh, not having seen the inside of a freezer. To ensure lightness, the batter is mixed with beer, apparently a local microbrew. The result was, according to my wife, the best fish and chips she’s ever had in the States thus far. And I agree. We did differ on the chip quality slightly, but they were equally top-notch, stubby little pieces with skin still attached. Supremely flaky with very little grease on crispy, thinly applied batter, a little tub of tasty tartar sauce, this was magnificent fried fish. A side order of refreshing mint mushy peas was included, not in the least overcooked as it sounds. To add to the British air, the works were served on “newspaper,” which in reality was a clever reproduction on parchment paper. (☆☆☆☆)

Nosh's British fish and chips with mint mushy peas

Nosh’s British fish and chips with mint mushy peas

Off to the side of the truck pod was a business that was serving malasadas. Hawaii’s Donut only had three kinds, plain, raspberry and Bavarian cream. The server asked if we were Hawaiians (no, we weren’t), but we told him that we love Leonard’s in Honolulu. “Never heard of Leonard’s,” he said, a strange admission coming from a guy whose wife is Hawaiian. A look at Yelp reviews of the brick-and-mortar store in Northgate later revealed many reviewers (several of them Hawaiian and familiar with Leonard’s) who were very disappointed in the donuts. Words like “dry,” “came out of a plastic bag”, “cold” and “instructions for microwaving” were used, uncomplimentary remarks applied to any business making them on the Islands. These were all at odds with the incredible malasadas we had today, hot from frying oil, dusted to order with granulated sugar and carefully put in paper bags. Can it be that the store doesn’t have an in-house fryer while the mobile operation does? These were not comparable to Leonard’s only because they were smaller and lacked in filling variety. They were minuscule, no more than 3″ across. But they were the equal of Leonard’s otherwise, tender, puffy, hot and sweet. Both my wife and I preferred the Bavarian cream, but the malasadas with both fillings had us harking back to Kapahulu. (☆☆☆½)

snackdown-4

Bavarian cream and raspberry malasadas (from Hawaii's Donut)

Bavarian cream and raspberry malasadas (from Hawaii’s Donut)

Super Sandwiches from WiseGuy Italian Street Food


It’s been several years that I’ve passed by the stand that sells Italian sandwiches at the Issaquah Farmers Market. I’ve tried most of the other food vendors’ fare, and none of them has left a lasting impression. That was about to change. WiseGuy Italian Street Food serves two hot hero sandwiches: sausage and pepper and Italian meatball. There are big pans of each filling cooking over stoves that attract passersby. Though WiseGuy at the market operates under a canopy, it normally is a food truck operation that roams the east side of Lake Washington.

Sausage and pepper filling

Sausage and pepper filling

Meatballs

Meatballs

How better to sandwich both fillings than using Le Panier‘s baguette, a wonderfully light bread with a thin, crackly crust. It could almost be suitable for banh mi. (Le Panier’s pastries and sandwiches, served at Pike Place Market, are fantastic in their own right.) Each sandwich uses one-third of a loaf.

The foundations of the best Italian meatball sandwiches are flavorful, succulent meatballs, a great marinara and the right bread, neither too soft nor thickly crusty. WiseGuy delivers on all counts. The bread is sliced in half horizontally like a book, packed with humongous meatballs and sauced. The marinara is terrific with no dominating herbal notes. Instead of using mozzarella, grated provolone is sprinkled along the cut length. Not a bad thing, just different. The only problem, if I can call it that, is the colossal size of the meatballs which are difficult to sink your teeth into; the sauce acts like lubricant that slides the meat down the bread. Only taking a bigger than normal bite or attacking the sandwich from above makes any progress. Unhinging your jaws works, too. Apart from that, what a great sandwich, as good as we’ve had in a long time. (☆☆☆☆)

Meatball sandwich with marinara

Meatball sandwich with marinara

The most popular sandwich seems to be the sausage and pepper hero. The way the sandwich is constructed is interesting. A plastic rod nearly as wide in diameter as the bread is pushed into the cut end but not all the way through, forming a deep pocket into which is stuffed the filling. The technique may seem gimmicky but it is quick and an inspired way to keep the stuffing contained. The sausage flavor is excellent, the red bells perfectly cooked and the filling spicy from dried red pepper flakes. The sandwich is the ideal combination of bread and savory, zesty and spicy Italian flavors. (☆☆☆☆)

Sausage and pepper hero

Sausage and pepper hero

We enjoyed these last week, enough so that we made it a point to go back to the market today and try some variations.

An alternative to the sausage hero is a combination of sausages and meatball. The same hollowed-out baguette is mostly filled with the sausages and peppers. The last couple of inches is plugged with a single giant meatball. I’ll call it The Corker because it doesn’t appear on WiseGuy’s menu. Many customers order it this way. Whether in the future I have The Corker or not will depend on my mood that day. (☆☆☆☆)

To address the slipping meatball problem, my wife got the option wherein—you guessed it—the meatballs are instead stuffed into an excavated loaf. So as not to skimp on the sauce, the server drizzles a spoonful of marinara in between each ball. Sure enough, no more slippage. But even so, part of the ecstatic pleasure of eating a meatball sandwich is the marinara itself, lots of it, which clearly a stuffed sandwich severely restricts. You trade convenience for sloppiness. In yet a third variation, you can get the traditional sliced bread with meatballs cut in half.

WiseGuy Italian Street Food
Issaquah Farmers Market and food truck

Big Robby at Mr Burger (Christchurch, NZ)


It was a spur of the moment decision. One of those times when your intention suddenly changes as a fleeting thought goes through your mind. I was on my way to Re:START Mall to buy lunch from one of the (shipping) container food businesses until I walked past a food truck stationed just east of the Worcester Blvd bridge over the Avon. I’d gone by Mr Burger several times in the past, not giving it much thought—until today. This time, I looked at the menu posted on the truck’s side for a few minutes, then continued on. But, I stopped not more than 20 feet beyond. It occurred to me that I’ll be leaving New Zealand in a few days, and I hadn’t yet had a burger, Kiwi-style, on this latest visit.

It’s an odd reality that most burgers in New Zealand are sold by fish-and-chips shops. I’m sure there’s an interesting history behind that. Anyway, no doubt because of my expectations in the U.S., I had never even considered the idea of getting a burger where the main offering was fried fish. Even my favorite fish-and-chippery in Christchurch, Coppell Place Seafoods, has one on the menu.

There I was, in front of Mr Burger, a “real” burger enterprise (albeit a mobile one), considering my options. I studied the menu to look for a quintessentially Kiwi sandwich with fried egg and beet slice (called beetroot here). The Big Robby came closest, also including onion, cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and double patties but no beetroot. Predictably, I got a monstrous sandwich, fully 4” high, a blow to sensible portion sizes. That’s not all. A stiff wind from the east made it hard to have a pleasant al fresco experience. Sea gulls were gathering around me, including one that alighted on my table, waiting for handouts. Cheeky, as Kiwis would say.

The first bite was comical, the fillings pooching out at the other end, sauce running down my fingers and hands, lettuce and tomato hanging out of my mouth. Every bite was no less messy. I must’ve gone through a half dozen napkins. The patties were tender and high-quality New Zealand grass-fed beef. Kiwis like their bacon flabby instead of crispy as most Americans would prefer. A better bun I would be hard pressed to recall, soft and with enough gluten to resist falling apart. Rather than a Thousand Island-like sauce, a sweetish barbecue sauce lent an interesting smokiness. In summary, the Big Robby was a fine burger sandwich (☆☆☆), messy to the end, over-the-top maybe but culturally fitting. I couldn’t finish a quarter of it. Maybe I should’ve fed it to the gull.

Mr Burger
Worcester Bridge
Christchurch, NZ

Food Trucks: Roll OK Please & 314 Pie at the Eastside Food Truck Snackdown


An event like the Eastside Food Truck Snackdown is problematic for a solo diner, such as yours truly at this second annual Crossroads shopping center gala. With twelve mobile trucks to choose from, I’m not able to sample more than a couple things.

I cased the possibilities three times. A few trucks drew my attention, among them one that was selling only paleo-diet meals (Outside the Box), fried chicken (Ezell’s Express) and Indian tacos (Off the Rez). One positive trend I noticed was the use of organic produce and grass-fed beef by more than one truck.

I settled on an item that I fell in love with in New Zealand, a meat pie, offered here by 314 Pie. The proprietors are neither Kiwi nor Aussie, but were inspired by the savo(u)ry snacks from Down Under. I found the Steak, Cheese and Mushroom Pie (☆☆½) somewhat of a disappointment. The crust was too thick, where fluting was needed to keep the substantial, vented crust restrained. The NZ pies I’ve eaten had thinner shells (no fluting) with a flaky, puff pastry-like top. 314’s steak was substantial, much more generous than its Kiwi cousins’, taking it beyond the realm of snacks to a bona fide meal. Though tender and flavorful, there was little savory sauce that should barely ooze out like Down Under pies. This pie will not make me forget the ones I’ve had from Copenhagen Bakery or Sheffield Pie Shop.

Steak Pie

Steak, Cheese and Mushroom Pie

Beef and mushroom pie

Beef and mushroom pie (Copenhagen Bakery, Christchurch, NZ)

In order to try something else, I ate only half the pie, the rest to be eaten on another day. From the familiar, I decided on something that I’ve never had before. Roll OK Please sells Indian snacks called kathi (or kati). They sort of remind you of taquitos. Paratha bread is rolled around a filling and then pan-fried. The Chicken Kathi Roll features grilled chicken breast marinated in yogurt and garlic-ginger masala. Cilantro-mint chutney and pickled onions give a flavor boost. You can add the excellent complimentary hot sauce, which is more like a fine mince of Thai chile peppers and garlic moistened with vinegar. A side of cucumber raita cooled things down. Though I felt chicken thigh would have been a tastier choice, this was still a very good snack (☆☆☆½), especially with that killer sauce.

Chicken Kathi Roll

Chicken Kathi Roll

Asada Burrito at El Maestro del Taco


For my money, the best soft tacos in Bellevue are served at La Cocina del Puerco and El Maestro del Taco. Though their approaches are different, they both are wonderful in their own way. Neither place limits itself to just tacos—Cocina is a sit-down restaurant, while Maestro is a food truck that also sells tortas, cemitas, sopes, quesadillas and a carne asada plate (with rice and beans). It also sells burritos that can be ordered with any meat offered in a soft taco (lenguacabeza, beef cheeks, adobadaasada and carnitas). My favorite taco filling there is asada, which is the reason I got a burrito filled with the same thing.

I can now say unequivocally that El Maestro del Taco’s burrito is in a league by itself.

Let’s start with the flour tortilla wrap. Unlike at most places where the ends of a gigantic tortilla are tucked in before the burrito is rolled, a single turn of an 8-inch one barely covers Maestro’s substantial filling, potentially a big mess if the filling pushed out at one end when the other is bitten into. Fortunately, the whole thing is swaddled in foil. The absence of the tucks eliminates excessive tortilla that can double, even triple upon itself otherwise. A small matter maybe, but one appreciated by me. Plus, the tortilla itself is thin yet stretchy enough not to tear, putting all the emphasis on the filling.

It starts with shredded iceberg lettuce for a pleasant crunch and generous slices of avocado for creaminess. Sliced pickled jalapeños add spiciness and zing. Rather than whole beans, Maestro uses savory refried beans that act as a glue to hold the rice together. The supremely flavorful asada is chopped and in generous quantity that there’s no mistaking it as the main ingredient, unlike other places (such as Casa D Taqueria) where the filling is mostly rice and beans, tasty as they may be. Also excellent is the tomatillo salsa that comes with the burrito. At $5, this classic burrito (☆☆☆☆), like everything else here, is a bargain.

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El Maestro del Taco
15615 NE 8th St
Bellevue, WA 98008

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