The Chinese chicken takeout swapout at 300 W. 20th St. is now more or less complete, as of the space’s soft opening on Saturday (just in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which kicked off, as it happens, the start of the year of the rooster). The restaurant’s official kickoff is planned for this weekend, the day before the Super Bowl. Rice Box owner John Peterson told the Chronicle years ago that the now-catering-only food truck was loosely inspired by the movie’s White Dragon noodle shop; the new restaurant’s prominent neon signage and dense Asiatic business district patio mural offer a more overt visual cue. (Incidentally, Peterson isn’t the only person interested in ushering in the movie’s dystopian aesthetic for culinary purposes — celebrity food guy Anthony Bourdain is reportedly working on a whole Blade Runner-themed food marketplace on a pier in New York.)
Interior renovations include the addition of several beer taps, in line with that TABC permit notice spotted last year (though some of the taps reportedly dispense nitrogenated tea.) Here’s a look from W. 20th St. at the refurbished exterior, and the building’s new side patio:
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Heights Chicken Switch
A few twists and turns up Little White Oak Bayou from N. Main St. and the White Oak Music Hall complex, work is underway on a bayou-side brewery on another piece of land owned by W2 development (and going by the name Black Page Brewing Co.) The city issued a few more permits for the brewpub this week (fast on the heels of the permit issued Tuesday for the music venue’s permanent outdoor stage — a few days after construction allegedly got rolling, though not quite in time for tonight’s planned outdoor The Head and The Heart concert). Owner Anthony Heins tells Swamplot the pub is just leasing the land from W2, which country records show bought the property in April of last year. And builder KUEHN Inc. has been snapping photos of progress at the former warehouse, which sits near the stretch of waterway where an area resident took those videos of chainsaw aftermath back in May; that area is down beyond the orange fencing below on the left:
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Near Northside Neighbors
Here’s the map posted by Houstonia’s Katharine Shilcutt this morning showing the usual haunts of 8 taco trucks now also serving as mobile voter registration hubs. This particular registration push, which started yesterday and will last through Texas’s October 11th registration deadline, is a combined effort of communication designer Thomas Hull and the local chapter of political-activity-encourager Mi Familia Vota. The plan developed in the wake of Latinos for Trump founder Marco Gutierrez’s comments earlier this month, which painted an accidentally delicious picture of a future US landscape hosting “taco trucks on every corner”; those comments, in turn, spurred a “Guac the Vote” campaign from the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has been calling for taco-truck-based voter registration at the national level.
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Guac the Vote
A reader caught sight of some recent stirrings at the southwest corner of W. 20th St. and Rutland, where food truck The Rice Box looks to be setting up a second non-mobile operation in the former home of Chirps Chicken and Rice. Braun Enterprises snapped up the 1,584-sq.-ft. building in mid-2015, when Chirps flew the coop; a TABC permit for the dry zone address was issued to Black Dragon Private Club — an entity listing The Rice Box as a trade name — in early May. Braun also owns the retail strip across Rutland, which replaced those Baptist Temple buildings that were demolished in 2013; the photo above was taken from the Zoe’s Kitchen at the corner.
Photos: Jason B. Cockerell (top), Chirps Chicken and Rice (bottom)
The second non-mobile location of Good Dog is now hiring, per the signage spotted by a reader at 1312 W. Alabama St. The food truck that started the chain camped out in the building’s driveway on Father’s Day, but no official opening date for the new space itself has been announced yet.
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Here’s a late-afternoon shot of the drive-thru in action at Taqueria Taconmadre’s extended taco schoolbus, parked in its usual space this past weekend at the corner of Crown and Brownwood streets. The Taconmadre taqueros have been frequenting the concrete slab on the lot across the street from X-IT Bail Bonds for at least a decade, though the green vehicle employed has been upgraded from truck to bus to bus-plus during that time; the drive-thru setup was added in the most recent expansion a few years back. Those not comfortable breaking with standard foodtruck transaction protocol can still order on foot from the bus’s passenger side.
The taqueria operates a brick-and-mortar drive-thru-or-sit-down spot at 905 Edgebrook Dr., between Ryan’s Express Dry Cleaners and Casa Tires; Taconmadre also lists Bellfort St. just west of I-45 as the normal location of another green (but non-drive-thru) truck, between dry cleaner St. Mary’s Washateria and GG’s Wheel & Tire.
Photo of Taqueria Taconmadre truck at 610 Crown St.: CW
Tacos in Idle
A little green man in a flying saucer heralds the looming takeover of the former Los Amigos space at 823 Dumble St. (at the corner with McKinney, a few blocks west of S. Lockwood Dr.). Los Amigos is prepping to be reborn as Invasion Ice House — a tipster tells Swamplot that the new owner wants to make the space into the “cool neighborhood hangout” that the area “desperately needs”. The 1,300-sq.-ft. building, formerly violet (and even-more-formerly lemon-yellow), has been repainted a dusty blue behind the sci-fi mural now adorning the front.
Invasion manager Monique Ramos applied for a TABC beer and wine license last month; a closer look at the signs posted on the space indicates that the interplanetary colonists will bring along Tex-Mex provender in the form of the Tako Box food truck.
Photo of 823 Dumble St.: Swamplot inbox
FOOD TRUCK GOING FOOD COURT Next venue for the 2-truck Chinese-food-about-town hotspot known as the Rice Box? A non-mobile location in the food court at 5 E. Greenway Plaza, Alison Cook reports: “[Owner John] Peterson has signed on Jim Herd’s Collaborative Projects to design a Rice Box Greenway prototype that will set it apart from its more conventional neighbors. Under a crimson sea of 80 Chinese lanterns (one of the visual totems on the original Rice Box truck), informal barstool seating will range across a counter overlooking oscillating video panels and a custom tea bar. The menu will appear on its own video screen. Red roof tiles from China have been ordered to construct an awning over the counter. ‘It’s one step closer to the White Dragon Noodle Bar,‘ jokes Peterson, referring to the Blade Runner food stand that was his visual inspiration for the Rice Box truck. (All he and Herd need to do is rig some kind of periodic rain showers.)” [Food Chronicles] Photo: The Rice Box
ACTING ON HER OWN, MAYOR WILL ALLOW FOOD TRUCKS DOWNTOWN Note: Story updated below. Hopes there wouldn’t be much opposition this time to changing the city’s fire and health codes to allow food trucks a few niceties such as the ability to park near seating for their customers (if not actually provide it) may have been dashed by objections aired by restaurant owners and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association at yesterday’s city council committee meeting, but Mayor Parker said she plans to go ahead and let propane-fueled mobile food units operate downtown anyway, by acting on her own — an administrative change that doesn’t require council approval: “Parker said she has received an opinion from the fire marshal’s office deeming propane tanks of up to 60 pounds safe for mobile food units in the downtown area. It was not clear Wednesday when that rule change would go into effect, though it is likely to be coupled with smaller, more technical regulatory changes to the food truck policy that the City Council could vote on as soon as this fall.” Update, 1:30 pm: A spokesperson for Mayor Parker tells Swamplot the fire department expects to implement the propane rule change, which would allow trucks in the Texas Medical Center as well as Downtown, sometime in September. Changing the rules to allow a food truck to park closer than 60 ft. to another food truck — another administrative change not requiring a vote from city council — “isn’t likely to be considered until the end of the year or early next year when other changes to the fire code are proposed.” [Houston Chronicle; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coreanos food truck
CITY MAY SOON CAN RULES THAT FORCE HOUSTON FOOD TRUCKS TO SPACE OUT What makes Houston’s food truck scene so quirky, so scrappy, so outré? Well, it could be some of the wacky rules mobile food units are required to follow when they’re operating within city limits — to guard against terrorism, major explosions, and other all-too-common street-food hazards. Three such rules — the fire code regulations that mandate that trucks park no closer than 60 ft. away from one another and that propane-equipped vehicles stay out of Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, and the health code ruling that subjects owners of mobile food vendors to fines if they’re found parking within 100 ft. of any table or chair — could be going away soon, however. A task force charged with looking into the issue is recommending the city 86 those particular regulations but keep in place others, including the requirement to visit a commissary every day. A city council committee meeting this afternoon will be the first opportunity for public comment on the proposed changes; the city’s Laura Spanjian tells Culturemap’s Eric Sandler that she doesn’t expect to the Greater Houston Restaurant Association to object to the recommendations. [Culturemap; more info] Photo: UH
WHERE THE FOOD TRUCKS ARE PARKING ON HWY. 6 One advantage of the new Energy Corridor-area food truck park that officially debuted last week at 800 Hwy. 6 South, backing up to the Addicks Reservoir: the 3.5-acre grounds mean there’s room enough for a variety of trucks — as well as seating areas that comply with City of Houston regulations by keeping 100 ft. away. Katharine Shilcutt finds plenty of parking, music, fire pits, and ambition there too: “‘We want to make a farmers market over there,’ [My Food Park HTX co-owner Liz Gandy] told me, pointing to a series of metal structures that already form the shape of a roadside produce stand. ‘We get so much shade in the afternoons right here. It’s just beautiful.’ Behind the future market area, the acreage goes from gravel to grass, surrounded on three sides by dense thickets of trees. Back here, where many people choose to dine, it’s quiet. You can barely hear the traffic from Highway 6; you feel like you’re in the country.” [Houstonia] Photo: My Food Park HTX
FOOD TRUCKS AMONG THE TREES IN SPRING BRANCH EAST Another parcel of Houston real estate is being given over to food trucks: The Mangum Food Park is set to open in Spring Branch East in about 2 weeks, reports the Leader. The new park will be located at 2924 Mangum Rd., pictured here, just east of Hwy. 290. And unlike the busted concrete, street art, and for-lease signs that lend the Houston Food Park in East Downtown an urban grit, this spot outside the Loop would seem to have more of a rural feel: “The property . . . has been in [co-owner Paige] Hughes’ family since the early 1900s and has been a dairy farm and residence. The main work so far has been clearing ‘lots of dead trees’ . . . Enviably, there’s a row of large trees still standing along the south side of the land, which, along with canopied areas and plenty of tables, will provide shaded eating . . . .” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 2924 Mangum Rd.: Mangum Food Park
Justin Turner of the cheddar-colored, school-themed burger bus — a frequent visitor to the can-you-hear-me-above-the-generators Houston Food Park in East Downtown — tells Eater Houston that he’s planning to open 3 non-wheeled restaurants in the next 5 years. That’s in addition to the stand he set up at Sections 114 and 115 inside Reliant Stadium to cook patties while the Texans play. Bernie’s will still operate 3 buses to serve close-in ’hoods, but it appears that all the restaurants will be outside the Loop: The first to open, says Turner, will be on Bellaire west of 610, the second in Katy, and the third “another place out in the ‘burbs.”
Photo of Bernie’s Burger Bus at Inversion at 1953 Montrose Blvd: Yelp user Jason T.
This is where Houston’s food trucks will come to loiter — er, idle: The so-called Houston Food Park is opening in about a week here at 1504 St. Emanuel in East Downtown, in the parking lot beside the vacant Meridian Sports Bar. You might recognize the weedy lot bound by Leeland, Bell, St. Emanuel, and Chartres from its cameo in Alex Luster’s street-art documentary Stick Em Up. (And this is also catty-corner from the human espressos and doggie hemp treats served at The Green Bone on Leeland.) According to
Alison Cook Syd Kearney, the Food Park will celebrate its opening with a festival this Saturday, and regular lunch service from 11 to 3 will begin June 24. Co-owner Ponce Tirzo tells Cook Kearney that there’s room here for 8 or 9 trucks, but they’re hoping to use some of the other vacant lots nearby, too.
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A ‘FIELD GUIDE’ TO HOUSTON FOOD TRUCKS A new book declares which among the estimated 1,400 are the best food trucks in Houston: Houston Chronicle food writer and UH marketing professor Paul Galvani tells a 392-page story of what he calls “the food truck movement,” providing maps and reviews of his 100 favorites, like Good Dog Hot Dog and The Modular, which gave rise to the recently opened Downtown ramen shop Goro & Gun. Houstonia food writer and El Real Tex Mex co-founder Robb Walsh doesn’t seem to think this is a book meant for the coffee table, blurbing, “I plan to carry a copy in my car as a field guide . . . .” [Houston’s Top 100 Food Trucks; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Houston’s Top 100 Food Trucks via Swamplot inbox