I pass the Smoked Food Truck every other day when I head to work on Neil Street in Champaign. With a name like Smoked, you know they have the meat. So today, I decided to stop before getting to work to give it a try; and I wasn’t disappointed. The truck was in Downtown Champaign, and it was easy for me to park my car while grabbing a bite.
I was greeted by Derrick Clark and Mario Cartagena on my visit to Smoked, and they gave me the inside scoop on food truck life, and their plans for the future. (Adam Shallenberger is the owner and chef, but was not on the truck this day. Clark is a manager for Fired food truck and helps with Smoked as needed, and Cartagena is a manager of Smoked.) You might think that operating a restaurant out of a truck would be easy, getting to travel wherever you want to meet your customers. There are designated locations in Champaign where food trucks are allowed to be. Plus despite the fact that campus town holds a large part of the Champaign population, there are only a few spots on campus where the Smoked Food Truck can go, and if you’re ever on campus and looking for them, the food truck spots are right outside Joe’s. They say Urbana is much more flexible with where food trucks can set up. Clark and Cartagena said they’re able to park virtually anywhere in Urbana, as long as the meter is paid.
When I think of smoked meat, I imagine pulled pork or brisket. I wanted to go the not so typical route to see what the Smoked truck had to offer. I visited on a Tuesday, so I stayed festive and celebrated Taco Tuesday Smoked style.
I started with the smoked chicken taco, which included onions, cheese, bacon, and ranch ($2.50). These flavors meshed well together, but they weren’t what would originally come in mind when thinking of all the ingredients separately. The smoked flavor of the chicken paired well with the crispiness of the bacon and the creaminess of the ranch. I can never deny my favorite salad dressing, and I was pleasantly surprised trying it for the first time on a taco. This is definitely the taco for savory flavors.
Next on my taste list was the smoked pork taco ($2.50). This was not what I was expecting at all. I assumed because it’s a smoked food truck, everything would be savory and packed with smoky flavors. This pork taco was definitely more sweet than savory. Yet still the smokiness of the meat was present through the sweet mango salsa and pickled onion. The taco is topped with fresh cilantro, which kind of clears the palate and ends the bite with a fresh flavor.
I’m a mac and cheese lover. Ever since I was a little girl, cheese has been close to my heart, and what’s better than having it all over warm creamy noodles? I had to try the mac ($2.50). This mac was more of the creamy Velveeta cheese kind; the noodles were the perfect soft consistency and definitely agreed with my taste buds, a very smooth and creamy side to a chilly day.
Other than mac and cheese, I needed recommendations on which sides to try at the truck. The first thing that was suggested from the guys working was the Smoked truck’s newest addition, brisket fried rice ($2.50). I had never heard of the combination, but I will never forget it. My introduction to brisket fried rice was met with skepticism, but the first bite changed all doubt. The brisket definitely steals the show in this mix, and it was a great introduction to the smoke flavor the food truck is named for. The dish features flavorful 12-hour smoked brisket, barbecue sauce, carrots, peas, and, of course, the rice. Although the brisket could definitely stand on its own, the meat pairs well in this unique combination.
Food at the Smoked Food Truck is made fresh daily, and chef Adam Shallenberger has comfort food in mind with all of his creations. Everything on the menu is affordable for any budget with options as low as $2.50, and no single item is over $10.
More info about Smoked and where to find it is available on Facebook.
All photos by Anisa McClinton.