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Wanna-E: a Mandalay Food Truck 

Wednesday, Jun 17 2015

Most dishes served by the Wanna-E Mandalay food truck appear completely unfinished, a little like the infamous avant-garde "cake batter" dessert by Kaley Laird at Union Square's Aveline. Everything is compartmentalized and not brought together yet. Patience required.

The fun ensues as you toss together every component of Wanna-E's breathtaking tea leaf salad ($10), something which servers typically handle at many Bay Area Burmese restaurants. Wanna-E's truck boasts a sign warning those with banal palates that this might not be the thing for you. It's not viciously spicy or funky, but this tea leaf salad is bright, vibrant, and seductive. Toasted sesame seeds partner with pickled whole shoots imported directly from Burma for a one-two umami punch. Garlic-fried beans unleash their power, simultaneously blasting their presence in flavor and in nut-evoking crunch. Shrimp powder adds another layer of texture and a light fishy acidity (although this being San Francisco you can order a vegetarian alternative). A container of a squid sauce-based dressing ties everything together with its seafaring notes that are far more pleasant and less pungent than regular fish sauce. The cabbage is moist, a bright, snow-white hue, and looks happy and healthy. Alice Waters would approve.

Pork plays a key part in Mandalay dishes. The perfectly described "Not So Stinky Garlic Noodles" ($10) come served on the crisp side of al dente with shreds of pork. Garlic oil and garlic chips provide the herb's trademark earthy undertones, and a red chili flake condiment — similar in burn to Sriracha — swoops in. The noodles have nothing in common, ingredient-wise, with the tea leaf salad, but they share the same multifaceted flavor strategy. There is a lot going on here. None of it stinks.

This is not San Francisco's debut Burmese food truck, but none of the others have quite made a splash on the street food scene like Wanna-E, the result of four friends who came to San Francisco for education opportunities. It routinely hangs out at some of the normal food truck stops: street corners in SOMA and at SoMa StrEat Food. I found them at G Food Lounge on Second Street under the Bay Bridge on-ramp one Thursday lunch hour. 

Five starters and five mains make up the savory menu, along with a trio of appetizers, including a sticky rice coconut "snow drink" with tapioca pearls swapped for basil seeds. Fried pork wontons and square tofu fries, made from scratch, come ready to dip into a tamarind sauce so alluring it should be bottled. For another main aside from the garlic pork noodles and tea leaf salad, keep an eye on the vegetarian rice noodles with curry sauce shiitakes with a bean soup borrowed from across the border in China's tropical Yunnan province. 

Oh, and why is it the Wanna-E truck? It sounds like a Pixar film but they're unrelated. The four founders came up with a mission statement about making food the public will want to eat — and with a little slang involved, put it together. And you'll wanna eat this tea leaf salad frequently.


About The Author

Trevor Felch


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