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Food

L.A.'s First Bustaurant is South African Street Food, an American Steakhouse & Much, Much More

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The recent gourmet food truck trend started with Kogi BBQ over a year ago and has since exploded. From breakfast food to comfort food to crowded festivals, L.A. has gained notoriety for its fleet of curbside dining. But what happens when you ditch the curb and go double decker? Meet Worldfare, L.A.'s first bustaurant.

"We wanted to create a place where you would feel like you're not eating on the street even though you just got your food from a mobile unit," explained Travis Schmidt of his double decker bus, complete with marble countertops and large umbrellas acting as roofing on the top deck. "It's quite special up there. We can do 14-seat fine dining dinners in Malibu or Mulholland Drive over looking Hollywood. We can put bands up there."

Eating atop the bus does offer its advantages. The defined communal space offers a more casual moment to eat and chat with others and with the countertops, you don't have to balance eating and holding your food, napkin and drink all at the same time. But all of that doesn't matter if the food is not good. And Schmidt agrees. "The whole bustaurant starts and ends with amazing food," he said. "Without the amazing food and without the quality of the food coming out, it's just a fad."

In order to make that happen, Schmidt courted one Michael Mina's (XIV on Sunset Boulevard, among many other restaurants) top chefs to make a high-class worldly menu fit for the street. Andi Van Willigan, 30, worked under Mina as his executive sous chef for 4 1/2 years, opening 12 restaurants. "I was little and blonde and nobody listened to me. I yelled my ass off, told 45-year-old guys how to cook. But, you know, it is what it is," the native Southern Californian said with a laugh.

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Photo by Shane Noir/Worldfare
"I was sort of jarring out, there was no good produce," Van Willigan explained of why she left Mina in Las Vegas. "Now I'm back and loving the produce." She shops at local farmers markets and buys local meat from Premier and chicken from Jidori. As for the menu, it's runs the mill from a hybrid of South African street food--Schmidt moved to Los Angeles from South Africa 7 years ago--to a high-end steakhouse. The core menu mainly consists of Bunny Chow, originally an Indian-influenced South African food where a loaf of bread is hollowed out and used as a container for curry chicken. Worldfare takes the chow to another level filling the mini loaves with short rib (Worcestershire braised short ribs and horseradish creme friache), BBQ pork (barbeque braised pork with sweet corn relish) and a vegetarian chile (black and red beans, sweet corn, garbanzo beans and tomato). There's also the classic curry chicken (coconut milk, chick peas, cashews and cilantro). Each are $4.

Sides include truffle mac & cheese balls ($3 for 3 balls) and fries with a choice of dipping sauce (mustard creme friache, spincy remoulade and bbq sacue). "Everything is made by hand," said Van Willigan. "We sell the mac and cheese balls for three bucks, and people might think they're expensive, but they take us four hours to roll." She said even the sauces are made from scratch, that the short rib takes 18 hours to make and the bbq pork gets briased for 15 hours before hitting the streets.

Even the featured drinks ($2.50 each) are homemade. The strawberry basil lemonade is fun, but the orange lavender tea is the one to rave about. Also included are a hibicus lime and iced coffee. As for the desserts, there is red velvet cheesecake cupcake ($2.50), brownie ($2.50), a large chocolate chip cookie ($2) and an amazing butterscotch bread pudding ($3).

Besides the core menu, Van Willigan really mixes it up with the specials. "I wanted to do the chef's blackboard to do different things and have fun." Last week the specials included a pork belly with fig and a salty carmel sauce ($4), steak frites with aioli ($12) and a burger made from an 8 oz. piedmontese patty covered in a special sauce and red onions on a brioche bun ($8).

"Our biggest challenge is people seeing the bus and understanding that they can get restaurant food on a bus and understanding the bustaurant as a concept," said Schmidt. "You can kind of understand the gourmet taco truck theme right now, but people see a double decker and think 'private party?'" He says the specials will change as events in the world happen. If it's Bastille Day, expect some French food. If a World Cup game is featuring England vs. Spain, then foods from those countries will "compete" on the menu.

Worldfare's slogan is "taste the love, love the taste," and so far it's living up to that promise. We've heard some claiming that the burger rivals Father's Office (but you know how the burger wars go) and the Yelp buzz has been positive. Our first gluttonous meal, consisting of vegetarian chile, fries, mac and cheese balls, bread pudding and the red velvet cheesecake cupcake will definitely have us coming back for more.

You can follow them on Twitter at @worldfare