Guerrilla Street Food cuts an imposing figure as it rolls through the streets of St. Louis. No candy-colored graphics or cute cartoon logos for this food truck. The vehicle is black, and the logo resembles a military insignia: a gold star, at the center of which a knife and spatula are crossed like swords.
Guerrilla Street Food also stands apart from fellow food trucks by virtue of its menu, both in concept and in execution. The fare is Filipino, a cuisine largely absent from St. Louis. The signature dish, the "Flying Pig," comes topped with an egg cooked for an hour in a sous-vide bath, a technique associated with fancy restaurants, not mobile vendors.
In other words, that Guerrilla Street Food is part of the ever-expanding fleet of St. Louis food trucks might be the least interesting fact about it.
"Why Filipino cuisine?" is the first question I ask when I connect with business partners Joel Crespo and Brian Hardesty by phone shortly after the truck has sold out for the day.
Hardesty's résumé includes time as executive chef at the since-shuttered Terrene in the Central West End. Most recently he was the creative force behind the ambitious and shockingly short-lived Root, a retro-American restaurant that opened in January in the restaurant space inside Starrs wine shop in Richmond Heights. Owner Bud Starr pulled the plug after three weeks, telling Riverfront Times the restaurant was "bleeding [money] like a stuck pig."
Crespo gives the obvious answer: "I'm Filipino." There's a little more to it than that, however: He says he wanted Guerrilla Street Food to offer diners "something they can't get anywhere else."
The menu is brief: three or four entrées (the number varies owing to availability and/or the chefs' whims); one appetizer and one drink, the tart, refreshing "Calamansi Cooler," which features its namesake fruit (a lime-like citrus variety indigenous to the Philippines), along with honey, ginger and mint. Guerrilla Street Food offers the occasional "exotic" dish — I wanted to try dinuguan, a thick stew flavored with pork blood, but I never managed to visit when it was on the menu — but for the most part the cuisine's appeal is so broad it makes you wonder why it took this long for St. Louis to get a taste of what transpires in a Filipino kitchen.
Hardesty, who is not Filipino, says the cuisine resonated with him in much the same way. "As I started playing around with Filipino food and started talking to Joel and his mother [about it], it just sounded as close to comfort food [as you can get] in the Asian food world," he says.
The "Flying Pig" is Guerrilla's standout dish: tender slow-roasted pork on a bed of jasmine rice, the meat's natural flavor subtly spiced and then spiked with chiles, sriracha sauce and calamansi. And that slow-cooked egg on top, which has a texture like no other egg you've ever eaten: White and yolk are thick and supple, like custard. I'd happily eat one of these eggs on its own; deployed in tandem with the pork, it fully justifies the dish's name.
The "Wandering Pig" is a variation on its winged sibling. Here the pork is served over rice with sriracha sauce, fried garlic and black sesame seeds. No egg, though you can add one for $1 (and you're a fool if you don't).
"Belly of the Beast" is a recent addition: a generous slab of pork belly in a tart kumquat sauce, served over jasmine rice flavored with coconut milk. Though the belly delivers its usual indulgent pleasures — the exterior seared crunchy-crisp, yielding to the tender meat and succulent fat within — the kumquat sauce and the coconut milk are the keys here, the former slicing through all that richness, the latter providing a long, sweet finish.
Chicken adobo might be the most familiar Filipino dish. Guerrilla Street Food's version is straightforward: Dark-meat chicken braised in soy sauce and vinegar with garlic and black pepper, served along with its cooking liquid over rice. It falls short only when compared to the pork dish and its brighter flavors.
The lone appetizer is lumpia, which might best be described as a cross between a spring roll and a crêpe: sautéed green beans, cabbage and carrots with garlic and crushed peanuts inside a large, paper-thin flour pancake. Crespo and Hardesty tell me the dish keeps them on their toes; it doesn't take well to refrigeration, not even overnight, and if any element is the slightest bit shy of optimal freshness, the flaw is there for all to see. Lumpia also stands out as the truck's only non-meat dish. ("We really need to start adding some vegetables to our dishes," Hardesty admits.)
A small menu translates to a small window of opportunity for customers: Guerilla often sells out before its 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. lunch hour has passed. Hardesty says that's a matter of quality control as much as popularity.
"We try not to go out with the intention of [selling out]," he says. "What we're really trying to do is to maintain quality, not have a bunch of food. We hope to sell out. If not, we have a big family meal."
I hope the Guerrillas aren't staking their own sustenance on said family meal, because that'd be an uncharacteristic miscalculation. That, or a shrewd weight-loss program.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.