The Fare: Native-American-inspired cuisine, like fry bread tacos.
The Stop: Stumbling upon the turquoise truck, which according to owner Mark McConnell, used to wheel around linen, is like finding an oasis of comfort food in the form of savory, flavor-rich fry bread tacos. In a scene inundated with trucks toting pulled pork sandwiches, burritos, and Pad Thai, Off the Rez has made its mark as the first Native-American-inspired food truck to pop up in the Seattle area. To McConnell, it represents something personal: creating this truck is an outlet for his entrepreneurial spirit, and has become a way for him to stay connected with family traditions.McConnell, who grew up in Ballard, said his mother's side of the family is from the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Mont., and that food was always a big part of family gatherings and powwows. In fact, he was originally going to name the truck "Big Chief," after his uncle who passed away a few years ago.
With the help of his childhood friend Donovan MacInnis, who was a sous chef at Portalis, and the support of his girlfriend, Cecilia Rikard, McConnell began making plans to open the truck.
They started by developing Off the Rez's fry bread, which McConnell said was taken from a Blackfeet recipe.
"Fry bread is definitely a big deal in the Native [American] community. It's one of those foods that's shared when big groups come together," McConnell said. "A lot of times we'll have fry bread or Indian tacos, so I've grown up having them at different family functions or at powwows."
And so far, Off the Rez's fry bread tacos, at $4 each, are a hit in Seattle. They come in the form of barbecue pulled pork or beef, vegetarian, or chicken chili.
Photo courtesy of Off the Rez.
The pulled pork tacos are McConnell's favorites. The pork, which is slow cooked to something that tastes like soft, moist perfection, is coated with a tangy honey bourbon barbecue sauce and is topped with a homemade, Guam-inspired slaw that comes from the chef's mom. Thinly-sliced radish and black sesame seeds dot the pork tacos, giving them a welcome crunch and texture. The tacos are a little spicy, a little sweet. But most of all -- best of all - they're not boring.
But these tacos would be nothing without the fry bread, which emerges from the fryer bubbling and piping hot. They can be ordered naked for $2, or for 50 cents more, can be sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or slathered with a glorious, homemade strawberry jam. The sweet fry bread will make you ask: "Doughnuts? What are those?" Heads up to your arteries, though: McConnell said they've just concocted a blackberry preserve that rivals the strawberry jam. Lemon curd and honey are other available toppings.
Also on the menu is quinoa succotash, chili, and sliders, all priced moderately.
During the day, the truck can be found in Fremont, South Lake Union, and other recently procured places where working professionals frequent. On weekend nights, it's lodged in a space next door to Big Mario's Pizza in Capitol Hill, catering to people with drunk munchies until 2 a.m.
"People come up to us sometimes, and they ask us for hot dogs," McConnell said, wryly describing the late-night crowd. "And we're getting tired of that. We tell them to go down the street a couple of blocks."
But let's be real: you'd have to be completely out-of-your-mind wasted to want hot dogs instead of Off the Rez's fry bread tacos.
What's next for McConnell and his crew? For now, he's content with experimenting with new recipes, and is starting to go into business helping others re-build and convert their trucks. Eventually, though, McConnell said he'd like to open a restaurant, which, like his truck, would be one of the first Native-American-inspired, brick-and-mortar eating spots in Seattle.
Either way, Seattleites should just feel glad that the truck is carrying fry bread tacos, not linen.