You smell it from half a block away, and then again for the entire duration of the walk or drive home. It’s smoky and sweet and a little bit spicy. Once it gets in your nose, and then inside your head, you’ll be propelled by one thought only, like a serial killer in a movie unable to ignore the voices in his brain: Open the box and eat. Open the box and eat. Open ...
From an olfactory (and, happily, gustatory) standpoint, Tyson Bee’s is the food-truck equivalent of crack, impelling you toward ever more gluttonous behavior that, though it may prove detrimental to your blood pressure and cholesterol, is impossible to fight. The urge will always win, and you’ll be very happy it did.
Upon arriving home from a recent stop at the technicolored truck on 33rd and Spruce streets, I happened to have opened, purely by chance, the box containing the magnificently named O.G. Dog. And while there were other, lighter dishes that would have made more sense to start with, I was powerless to fight the pull. I couldn’t even see the dog itself, buried as it was beneath a glowing purple frizzle of thin-sliced cabbage, Ferrari red and Lamborghini orange kimchee, and a protective layer of Korean barbecue short rib. But I didn’t need to see it; it was there at the bottom of the thick roll, flavor ballast to this ship of toppings that even individually would have made a great sammy, lending the entire gorgeous construct a familiar smoky depth amid the relative exoticism of its other components.
This is the kind of food that Chef Tyson Wong Ophaso is using to reintroduce himself to the city after his stint at the short-lived and much maligned Chew Man Chu. It’s a brilliant move: The tight menu here taps into the relatively recent fashionableness of food trucks, the flavors—many boldly spiced, mostly unabashedly decadent—are familiar but often couched in a new context, and the prices are beyond reasonable.
Jonesin’ for a quick steamed pork bun? For $3, it’s a great mid-afternoon pick-me-up. It’s also a beautifully rendered one in its own right, the homemade hoisin-, sesame paste-, and vanilla-kissed barbecue sauce glazing both pork and airy bun, the lovely layer of pig fat liquefying perfectly.
Korean barbecue short rib taco also played in the heady end of the pool, and its toppings—cabbage again, and a generous squiggle of Sriracha-spiked aioli—enlivened it and threw its meaty depth into sharper focus. Thai basil chicken tacos were lighter and more fragrant, and kissed with enough lemongrass perfume to make them a nice alternate-bite break from the density of the other taco’s beef.
Green curry, a recent “curry of the week,” appeared as if it would be a quieter version of the standard—it lacked the slick of vivid color that so often typifies it around town. What it lacked in spicy appearance it made up for in its flower-petal layering of flavors. Another pearl-rice dish, barbecued lemongrass pork, paradoxically looked as if it would be hotter, but was the sweeter of the two. The meat here was prepared with the kind of technique that makes food-truck dining such a treat: The flat grill’s surface had charred the bite-sized slices of pork shoulder into a curl-edged crunch—some seriously concentrated smoky pork love. Mix it up with the chickpea salad, kimchee and other accouterments, and you have a gorgeous, nontraditional riff on bulgogi, or bi bim bap.
The only dish I’ve tasted that I didn’t want to house in a single sitting was the kimchee and cheese quesadilla. While I’m a firm believer in melted cheese making everything better than it otherwise would have been, and it did hedge some of the cabbage’s spice nicely, it covered up a bit too much of the kimchee’s character for me, which was delicious on its own.
On the other end of the lack-of-self-restraint spectrum, however, was the Bee-zilla, another perfectly named creation that taps into every guy’s deepest primal desire to create and consume some sort of uber-burrito. It’s a short rib and pork belly burrito loaded with rice turned purple from the cabbage, cilantro, and kimchee, all of it doused in more of that Sriracha- aioli love. I ate half of it (this is after that O.G. dog), took a breather, did some push-ups and jumping jacks in the corner, a bit of Pilates and a stint of prayer, and went back for more. Ten minutes later, according to my wife, I was asleep on the couch, the juices still glinting off my scruff like a victorious caveman after a successful hunt.
Ophaso is a man determined to make his mark here with Tyson Bee’s. Everything is made fresh, he’s recruited friends and family to help him and, in general, the crowds have been steady and growing. No wonder they’re lining up: This is the perfect intersection of concept and execution, and a more than worthy way for him to get back into the city’s foodie graces. Sometimes, a brightly painted truck, a hot griddle and a great team are all you need to hit your stride all over again.
33rd and Spruce streets
Cuisine type: Inspired by Thai and Korean, intelligently and addictively re-imagined.
Hours: Mon.- Fri., 11:30am-7pm.
Price range: $3-$7.
Atmosphere: Food-truck chic.
Food: Joyful and addictive; wear sweatpants to accommodate the extra room you’ll want for stomach-expansion.
Service: Ophaso and his team—including Chef (and sister) Manoi Wong Ophaso and Chef Cliff Asavadejpakdee—are gracious and enthusiastic.
Philabeverage: Veggie Pairings