Dirty South Deli is one of the most sought-after food trucks in D.C. Its sandwich, the “Mr. Chips,” was voted “Best of D.C.” by the City Paper. When they’re not feeding us at Farragut Square, owners Will and Jacob hold a pop-up café at The National Museum of Women in the Arts. We caught up with Will to learn a little more about Dirty South Deli, and what we can expect from this favorite D.C. food truck in the future.
First and foremost, where did you learn to cook?
I went to college at the University of Florida and worked at a sushi place for a little beer money. When I moved to D.C. for grad school, I started at Sushi Co., then moved to American cuisine by working at Ted’s Bulletin and Matchbox. Jacob has worked throughout Memphis, Atlanta, and now D.C. for the past nine years. By working at different places and taking the best of attributes of each place, you kind of find your own voice. Er, own plate?
How did you learn to roll sushi? Are there any hidden secrets you can share?
Rice is the most important part, down to the type of grain, and kind of crop. If you make it at home, you probably don’t know the age of that grain of rice. When you take a bite, you should feel every grain—it shouldn’t feel too mushy or too crunchy. Also, don’t go crazy on ingredients. Keep it simple. Sushi is about showcasing the ingredients.
What’s the favorite roll you’ve ever made?
My favorite roll is Engawa—if you see it, definitely get it. It’s made with the meat right under the fin of a flounder fish. It takes a mindful chef to get that cut. It’s a mild flavor, but the texture really sets it apart. I like “weird” cuts like that.
When/how did you launch Dirty South Deli?
Jacob and I worked at Matchbox for 4-5 years together. We were happy where we were at, but it would never be “ours.” We took a chance, and everyone was really supportive. We started as a food truck, which acted as a moving advertising space. Slowly we picked up catering orders.
If you could go back to the beginning, would you do anything differently?
I probably would have started on my own, sooner. I knew it would be a grind and you’re mentally and physically more ready in your twenties. At the same time, you’re lacking the knowledge and confidence. You have to find that sweet spot to know when the time is right.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to break into the food truck/restaurant space?
Don’t cut corners and don’t burn bridges. When we first started, there was a network of friends who wanted to help us. Always keeping those relationships, especially the people who give 100% for you, is the best part of this job.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food is going to be my mom’s. She makes amazing Shanghaies food, which you don’t see a lot. Sichuan and Cantonese is more common, but in terms of Chinese food it’s my favorite kind.
What’s your favorite food to make for other people?
When I make food for my family, I’ll usually make sushi. That’s one of the only things I can make better than my mom. They also love when I barbecue some ribs or make American food.
What can D.C. expect from Dirty South Deli in the future?
Constantly evolving is a big thing for us—we’re like the British fleet, we know how to maneuver quickly. Brick and mortar is the end goal. We’re looking at different neighborhoods, and deciding what style we want. We hold a café at The Museum of Women in the Arts, and it has taught us what we can, and cannot do within a certain space.
One thing people always ask is, “Are you scared?” Of course it’s scary. We’re enjoying the freedom, it gets stressful, but it’s also exciting. That first plate we sold, that felt really good. We don’t know exactly where we will be in five years, but when we see what we want, we’ll take another chance.