Now we’re on our way. Little Rock’s burgeoning food truck scene, long rich in tacos and, more recently, hot dogs and fancy sandwiches, is inching closer to the big city ideal. We’re approaching ethnic diversity thanks to Banana Leaf, the Indian food truck that’s set up residence near the corner of Van Buren and Markham.
If there are any would-be truckers out there wrestling with the proper model, they could do worse than following Banana Leaf’s lead. Husband and wife owners Chan Pethaperumal and Poorni Muthaian offer a menu with several constants — a drink, the deliciously sweet and creamy mango lassi ($2.50), along with three varieties of dosa ($2.99-$3.99), the griddled fermented crepe popular in Chan’s and Poorni’s native south India — as well as two or three rotating daily specials, always with a vegetarian option. Like all good food trucks, Banana Leaf distributes its daily menu via Facebook (facebook.com/bananaleaflr) and Twitter (@bananaleaflr).
By focusing on just a few items, the mobile kitchen is able to turn out orders in a matter of minutes; it changes its menu daily for variety. It’s a strategy that keeps those who know and love Indian food coming back, we’ve observed. For those without much experience with Indian food, these dishes could bring the barrier down; once someone knows the joys of Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower fritters in a spicy sauce), for instance, a novice becomes a convert. So far Banana Leaf has never let us down. We’ll have whatever’s on the menu.
So far that’s been: halal chicken biryani ($6.99) with baghara baingan, a terrific eggplant and peanut curry; raita, the smooth, yogurt-based condiment that makes everything better; a thin, almost crispy masala dosa ($3.99), stuffed with potatoes, peas, cumin and other delicious spices we couldn’t identify and accompanied by a spicy tomato chutney, a sweet coconut chutney, and sambar, a lentil stew that’s ideal for dipping. We’ve also had spinach and onion pakora ($1.99), fried, slender morsels as irresistible as French fries and served with coconut chutney for dipping, and, what may be the best lunch deal in town, the kati roll ($3.99), a wheat flatbread wrap filled with spiced chicken, onions and a coriander and mint chutney vaguely reminiscent of tzatziki. And also paneer tikka masala ($6.99), a curry made with green pepper, onions, tomatoes and blocks of dense and delicious Indian curd cheese.
All were good and, aside from our first visit, when there were maybe a dozen people at the truck waiting to order or waiting for their food and our order of the daily special took 10 minutes, we’ve never had to wait more than five minutes or so. Even for items made on the griddle. Still, Chan and Poorni suggest calling in orders in advance.
The couple says they may be truly mobile with the truck at some point, but at least in the near future, it will remain at 201 A St., two blocks behind the Exxon on the corner of Van Buren and Markham.