If you didn't grow up eating Japanese food, you probably came to it through sushi, long ubiquitous in this town. Then probably ramen, thankfully pretty common lately. Then maybe other iterations of noodles or bar food, thanks to your local izakaya — assuming you have one, which you probably do if you live in L.A. But Japanese food also extends to the rarefied realms of kaiseki, and to other street food, of which there's a lot more than bowls of noodles. There's okonomiyaki and yakisoba and udon — and maybe the best comfort food of all, curry rice.
You can find Japanese curry in restaurants, although not as many as you'd think and mostly in Torrance or Gardena. And you can find some pretty terrific curry on the road, courtesy of LuckDish, which is not a food truck exactly but a food trailer — or, more accurately, a refurbished 1968 Airstream.
Tokyo native Hiro Seo, called Tomo, started LuckDish two and a half years ago, serving curry rice and other curry dishes out of the silver trailer. And this is not curry from a packet, as so many resort to, but homemade curry, which Seo cooks for 48 hours in his Airstream's tiny kitchen. ]
It's great stuff, thick and intensely flavorful, and you can get it in degrees of heat: 1 to 5, with 5 having the added zip of a dose of habaneros. The chicken curry goes on top of rice, in what was the original LuckDish dish, and now in a number of other iterations: curry chicken nachos, curry chicken tacos, curry chicken burritos, curry chicken quesadillas. You get the idea. There are tofu options, and Seo also is making teriyaki chicken tacos; omusubi (also called onigiri), the nori-wrapped rice balls; and something called the Godzilla, a teriyaki taquito. Along with the spice options, there are also toppings, including wasabi mayo, guacamole, cheese, tortilla bits and furikake.
Seo's road wasn't the standard food truck journey, of simply finding a Roadstoves truck. Seo wanted an Airstream, and he finally found one — in Michigan. He stripped and converted the 17-foot trailer — originally a camping trailer — and then drove it back to Los Angeles, where it took him a year and a half to get it approved by the Health Department.
As for the name, LuckDish, it's because, Seo says, “I want to give the customer my luck.” Whatever's in the curry, or the Airstream, seems to be working. He says he's had people find jobs, pass exams, even get married after eating his curry — and there are photos of happy patrons lining the underside of the awning, often with Seo's kanji of the customers' names. Maybe if he finds another vintage Airstream, he can rent it out to for graduation parties, or to honeymooners. Or maybe to teach the rest of us how to make proper curry.
LuckDish can be found parked in downtown L.A. and in Santa Monica; check the Twitter feed for times and locations. Follow LuckDish on Twitter @luckdishLA.