May 21-May 28, 2010
This restaurant’s on a roll
When was the last time you saw a business lunch like this – three guys sitting on the lawn in front of one of the office buildings along Barnes Canyon Road in San Diego’s Sorrento Valley? Maybe never, but if Todd Ichinaga has anything to do with it, expect to see more of this trend. Steve Bui, Davey Kim and Jeremy Schafer are happily wolfing down burritos and tacos beneath a bright early afternoon sun on a lunch break from their jobs at a local law firm. They could have gone to any number of sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood, but chose to twitter Tabe (pronounced tah-bay) at tabebbq.com
. Instead of going to the food, the food came to them – and the rest of the neigh- borhood.
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munity to give him an honorable burial. Another incident involved a young cou- ple who wanted to get married but could- n’t get in touch with the bride’s parents for their permission. My father coordinated everything through a live radio program. As a result, the family in Thailand was able to celebrate the special day with their friends in America and Thailand at the same time. It was a day filled with fun and pride.
This event took place before most international news reports became custom- ary and before satellite linkups. This is a only a trace of one man’s life – the life of Sombati (Sam) Hmudpongtua. As family, we all inherited an invalu- able treasure from his public speaking ability. His grandson Al is in the Air Force and stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, granddaughter Alice is a pre- med student in Florida, granddaughter Sarina is marketing manager of Time Warner in San Diego, grandson Shariff Dahlan is a senior manger for Salesforce, one of the largest software companies in San Francisco, and his son, my brother Sorasak, has been appeared on several TV programs in Thailand recently.
Call it “street food with an attitude” or “gourmet to go.” Ichinaga, who blends several traditional Asian and Mexican dishes served in a tacos and burritos, simply calls it “a dif- ferent kind of taste.” Or, as Bui would say, after sampling his crab-stuffed burrito: “It’s street food with a Korean influence.” Ichinaga admits the idea of Asian food served up Mexican style is not new. However, his presentation is. Where one of Tabe’s typical dishes would not be cheap in a regular sit-down restaurant, served from a truck with little overhead makes it a lot more accessible to the general public. “Taco trucks are an accepted culture in L.A.,” said Ichinaga, a native of that city, who witnessed the growing popularity of Korean street food in Los Angeles. “I said ‘I have to bring this to San Diego.’” With part- ners Matt Gorton, and, more recently, Rich Morris, he did. But he wanted to take it a step further. “I wanted to make it fine cuisine but at the same time keep it inexpensive.”So, the idea of trucking food around town was born, according to Ichinaga, who maintains his is the first rolling restaurant
of its kind in San Diego.
“I read a story about a similar Korean taco truck and thought ‘What an awesome idea,’” said Schafer. Ichinaga, 33, came to the food business relatively
recently. His first ambition was to be a pharmacist. But while attending classes at El Camino Junior College in 2006, he told himself: “There’s something else out there.” That something else turned out to be cooking school. “I decided if it didn’t work out, I could return to pharmacy.” After studying restaurant management at the California School of Culinary Arts, he took a job at the five-star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“I did anything that could be done to get into the busi-
ness,” he said. Little by little, volunteering for events and given more responsibility, he – pardon the pun – got the itch to go out on his own.
Fine cuisine was his passion, but starting an upscale restaurant in these troubled economic times was out of the question. So, with partner Groton, he took to the streets. With a relatively low overhead comes relatively low prices, ranging from $1.99 for barbecue beef marinated in Korean spices and served in a taco to the $5.25 beer-bat- tered fish burrito in Ichinaga’s secret cream sauce. From the spicy pork to the barbecue chicken, the spices and sauces he renders to accompany everything are his own, with dishes topped by a range of items, including tomatoes, pineapple, sour cream and seaweed. His own version of French fries, enhanced by his mixture of five seasons, is something you will not find anywhere else. Tabe moves around daily from location to location and can be found more frequently at business centers in Sorrento Valley, Towne Center Drive in La Jolla and in North Park by check- ing the company’s website at www.tabebbq.com
or twitter- ing www.twitter.com/tabebbq
– Leonard Novarro
Family portrait: Rear, l-r, daughter Rosalynn Carmen, granddaughter Assama, son Tom; front, l-r, granddaughter Ivory, wife Renoo, and Sombati Hmudpongtua holding youngest granddaughter, Nadia.
I am the most fortunate because he has been consultant to my two newspapers in San Diego
and Los Angeles the non-profit organization The Asian Heritage Society. He has also taught me how to understand the diverse wants and needs of the community. To be with my father and nurse him until his last breath was an unexpected gift from the
Tourism Authority of Thailand and China Airlines. Both invited us to Thailand at the right time. The Asian Heritage Society and the Asian Heritage Awards Committee took responsibility for our annual dinner coming up in July and in doing so allowed me to focus on my father wholehearted- ly. At 6:10 p.m. the day he died, I saw a mist float from his last breath. At that point I knew he had moved on, but his legacy remained. As one of our committee members, Jaye Van Kirk, said: “His legacy will be carried on through Roz. The lessons he has taught her have shaped the positive influence she currently has in society. Through his life and now through Roz's, each person in the Asian Heritage committee has been positively affected.”
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