Carmen McKibben opened Vida Flare because she missed the Southwest Mexican-inspired food from her home state of Arizona.
“One of the meals I had nostalgia for when I moved up here was the Sonoran hot dog, which is the big cultural hot dog,” she said. “In the Southwest, each area may have a variation. Texas has a little slight difference in the Tejano Dog, then you have the Southern Cal Tijuana Dog, and the one that I do is kind of the Sonoran Dog customized for Pacific Northwest folks.”
She customized her Sonoran Dogs by not using a heavy mayo sauce or heavy cheeses (these are available upon request). Carmen took her love for the Sonoran hot dog, combined it with her background in finance and business, added it to the food truck culture of her new home in the Pacific Northwest, and started her food truck Vida Flare.
I visited Vida Flare on a Wednesday night at Fortside Brewery. The little light blue food truck was covered in vibrant swirling murals created by local artist Michael Feliz.
I ordered a Sonoran Dog and an order of Carne Asada Tacos (three tacos come in an order). While I was waiting I slipped into Fortside (the food is delivered to Fortside) and enjoyed a Couve A’licious Nitro Brown Ale.
The Sonoran dog and the tacos arrived as I was halfway through my beer. I finally had my hands on this mysterious new food — the Sonoran Dog. What I learned is that Sonoran Dog is a meal with two floors — on top there is the high quality hot dog wrapped in smoky bacon topped with salsa (I chose the tomatillo avocado salsa). On the bottom was the thick hearty bolillo bun (similar to a short, thick baguette) filled with slow-cooked black beans, chopped tomatoes, and chopped white onions.
This dish requires you to roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty. I got impatient and just grabbed the bacon wrapped hot dog out of the bun and ate it. The hot dog was high quality with a nice snap and the bacon grilled around it added a nice crunch and smokiness. I moved on to the black beans, chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro that remained in the bun. The black beans had a richness to them that comes from slow cooking over low heat. The tomatoes, onions, and cilantro tasted farmers-market fresh.
The tacos were also very fresh. The corn tortillas are from local tortilla factory — Fiesta Mexicana near the corner of Mill Plain and Grand boulevards (where you can score a one-pound bag of fresh warm tortillas for $1).
The steak was expertly grilled, cut into meaty strips, and topped with fresh-chopped tomatoes and onions. The tacos were sprinkled with traditional tangy Mexican cotija cheese (an aged salty cheese similar to Greek feta). I opted for red salsa (made with chiles from Mexico) and green (tomatillo avocado) salsa on my tacos. The salsas were fresh, tangy, and added just a hint of spice. All the food went well with the brown ale. The combination of beer from Fortside Brewing and food delivered from Vida Flare made for a really nice Wednesday night.
Vida Flare is at Fortside Brewery on Wednesday nights, at the Columbia Tech Center on Wednesday at lunch, at community events, and also available for catering events. You can keep up with them on their website (vidaflare.com) or by following them on Facebook and Twitter (@Vida_Flare).
Rachel Pinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@foodcouverusa) and Twitter (@foodcouverusa1).