Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eating Out: Las Vegas Foodie Fest 2013

By Dru Chai

I've attended my fair share of food truck gatherings, and the Las Vegas Foodie Fest was one of the better ones in terms of organization, layout, selection and most importantly... lots of shaded seating, especially in 90+ degree Vegas weather. There's nothing worse than paying admission for one of these things and there's literally no where to sit in a hot parking lot except for a few measly picnic tables. The food trucks were spaced out perfectly -- not too close or too far -- and there was plenty of room to walk around.

If you're a first-time attendee at one of these food truck festivals, you might be disappointed in the long lines, admission prices, and jacked-up prices. Organizing a food truck gathering of this magnitude (30+ trucks) requires a lot of organization, logistics, and planning. As painful as it is, the admission price covers some of these costs. Just like with a BBQ festival, long lines are inevitable. Beat the crowds by going early -- there's no other way around it. Food trucks who traveled from California and Arizona have to increase their prices as well. They have to factor in the price of travel, hotel, gas, and other expenses. Food trucks will also run out of food -- either towards the end of the day or end of the weekend. Go. Early.

White Castle made its first appearance in Vegas, and was by far the biggest draw for the event. Lines quickly swelled and wait times estimated were as long as 3 to 4 hours. Yes, insanity. I spoke with a White Castle regional operations executive and she said she was blown away by the response from Vegas after just the first day. When asked about opening on the West coast, she smiled and said "would you like White Castle more than In-N-Out?" I said definitely not. But if you asked me where White Castle would most likely to succeed, it would have to be Vegas over California. The late night and drunken Vegas crowd would flock to White Castle to get their slider fix, sloppily reciting lines and re-enacting scenes from the beloved cult classic movie Harold and Kumar.

Love 'em or hate 'em, they have a cult following
The calm before opening storm

I tried White Castle sliders for the first time when I lived in the East coast, as well as the frozen ones in the local grocery store. Now that I've had these "freshly cooked" sliders at the Vegas Foodie Fest, one thing's for sure -- White Castle tastes the same everywhere! I'm not sure how anyone can throw down more than 4 or 5 of these sliders without getting bored. The meat is pre-frozen and steamed back to temp on a griddle -- it has no charred flavor. The best flavor comes from the jalapeno cheese slider -- with a sligh spicy kick --and the tartness from pickle slices.

Staff busy cooking those sliders
Staff started cooking hours before opening 

So why were so many people willing to wait in a long line for something they can easily find in their local grocery store freezer section? For most people, it was just for the experience and curiosity, just to say they tried White Castle when they visited Vegas. For others, it was a bit of nostalgia -- either some childhood memory or experience when they lived back East. Some other people I spoke with scoffed at the long lines, saying that the long lines weren't worth it, and that the sliders tasted like "cafeteria food." Love 'em or hate 'em -- White Castle sure makes an impression one way or another.

Shortly after opening, two long lines formed, easily a few hundred people
Many were buying multiple Crave Cases, 30 sliders each case
BBQ food trucks were well represented, this one based in Arizona
Q UP! truck's "Gangsta" mac and cheese, brisket and bacon, on sourdough
Logo for the Super Q BBQ truck from San Diego
Another BBQ truck, relocated to Vegas from San Diego
Seoul Sausage, winner from last season's Great Food Truck Race on Food Network

The Maine Lobster lady truck based in Scottsdale, AZ
Who needs to fly to Maine for a lobstah roll?