If you go
Hazel Dell Commons, 9811 N.E. 15th Ave., Vancouver. 360-771-1296. www.hazeldellcommons.com
People get a puzzled look on their faces when I talk about dining in Hazel Dell, and I get that it has a sketch reputation in many people’s minds.
Warren Neth, owner of Hazel Dell Commons, believes he can help change that perception.
One of the reasons Hazel Dell has such a bad rep, he recently told me, is “there is no community gathering space.” With Hazel Dell Commons, he is working to create that space at one of the busiest intersections in the county — the intersection of Highway 99 and 99th Street.
Phase one of his plan includes Brothers Cascadia Brewing and a food cart pod with four stellar food trucks: Pizzeria La Sorrentina, Papa Joe’s BBQ, La Oie Cajun Cuisine, and Bahn Mi Saigon.
Pizzeria La Sorrentina is owned by Daisuke Matsumoto (aka Chef Dice K) and his wife, Amy Hernandez Matsumoto. The wood-fired pizzas that come from this little blue truck have received heaps of well-earned praise. Buzzfeed listed it as the best pizza in the state of Washington according to Yelp. James Beard-award winning writer Karen Brooks of Portland Monthly called it,”the best pizza you have never heard of.” Adam Lindsley of the Oregonian noted, “This is the best pizza in a suddenly strong pizza town.” I can’t even think of the proper superlative to describe the experience of eating this pizza. Try it and you will understand.
Papa Joe’s BBQ is owned and operated by Joel Wilson, a retired police officer and country boy from Oklahoma who says he has been cooking BBQ all his life. Joel is a man who has a way with smoke and meat. The smoker on the back of his truck is constantly producing tasty brisket, pulled pork and spareribs. I recommend the spare ribs with sides of beans and collard greens. Exercise self-control and save a couple spare ribs — they make the perfect breakfast eaten cold out of the container the next morning.
La Oie Cajun Cuisine owner Christina Haas left her job as general manager at Laurelwood Pub & Brewery to follow her dream of opening a Cajun-French restaurant with her husband, John Davis. The restaurant idea became a food truck. According to Christina, “All the pieces fell into place. You talk about things that you want and you’re positive and then the universe presents them and you roll with it.” The menu includes Christina’s favorite dishes with recipes from her mom and her Papa Howard, and some internet recipes tweaked to meet her high standards. One of those tweaked recipes is the Shrimp Etouffee — a bowl filled with succulent shrimp curled into a velvety sauce over tender rice.
Bao Quach Sides, owner of Bahn Mi Saigon, opened her food truck six months ago to share the food from her native country, Vietnam. “When you cook food and people love it, it makes you happy,” she told me as I waited, drooling outside her pale yellow food truck. The grilled pork bahn mi is extraordinary and gets even better if you add an oozing egg. The unctuousness of this meal is like a beautiful dream you wish wouldn’t end. The egg yolk mixes with the tender pork meatballs spoked with fish sauce, topped with pickled carrots and cucumbers and a handful of cilantro, all wrapped in a fresh baguette.
The food from these four carts is best eaten with a beer (or two) from Brothers Cascadia Brewing. You can enjoy your food and beer in the spacious main area or head up the stairs to the left of the bar and perch yourself in a little cove while listening to an eclectic mix of tunes on vinyl.
Neth, who is also Executive Director of Slow Food Southwest Washington, plans on adding a farmers market and a pocket park as part of phase two. There is a patio out back festooned with little white lights that will be the ultimate spot for summer eating and drinking. That is, if you can overcome any preconceived notions you have about Hazel Dell.
Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.