What do The Food Network's reality TV show, "The Great Food Truck Race," a beat-up bus in an abandoned field near Cashmere, Washington, and a samurai without a master have in common? The answer: Ronin, a Japanese Food Truck located between Skjersaas and the westside Dutch Bros. on Century Drive.
For the past several years, Jesse Pratt and Scott Byers have worked together in the local restaurant industry, dreaming and half-joking about opening their own food cart. Eventually, this talking led to the idea of trying out for "The Great Food Truck Race," a reality show on the Food Network that rewards the season's winner with a food truck of their own. Long story short, Jesse and Scott didn't get picked for the show, but they realized that through the application process, they already had done all the legwork necessary to get their business off the ground.
Why not go for it?
One inspiration lead to another, and, eventually, to a 10-hour road trip up to Cashmere where Pratt and Byers picked up a bus that needed some serious love (nobody was sure if it would even run). They ripped out the seats, carpeting and wiring, and fitted it with a 4-star kitchen.
Still in need of a name, the two turned to inspiration from Japanese samurai who left their clan to strike out on their own and protect villages during the Japanese feudal era. And, just like the samurai rebels, explains Byers, "We wanted to do things on our own terms." Smiling, he adds, "and we have sharp knives."
Doing things on their "own terms" includes using only sustainable fish—nothing farmed, endangered, or over-fished—even if that means limiting their menu to what's available and in season. And, just like their truck, built from the ground up, everything on Ronin's menu is made from scratch, including the sauces and spices (just say no to MSG!). "We cater to people who want to know what's in their food and who care about what they're putting in their body," says Pratt.
Ronin's current seasonal menu focuses on hot comfort food: traditional Japanese curry, miso soup, hot noodle dishes, and some limited sushi options. I tried the Japanese curry with pork (you can also choose chicken, beef or tofu). It was the perfect lunch on a cold, damp day—hot, savory and satisfying, but not too heavy. On a second visit, I went back for the Bento Box, which offers a little bit of everything: miso soup, edamame with sesame-togarashi salt, a yakitori chicken skewer, cucumber sunomono, wakame seaweed salad, the daily sushi roll, and a scoop of rice. The chicken skewer was soft and juicy, with pieces of asparagus, and the rice, clumpy enough to eat with chopsticks, but not too soft or sticky, was sprinkled with spices. The vegetables were light, crunchy and tangy, and the sushi had plenty of flavor without trying too hard. I'd recommend the Bento Box to anyone who is either unfamiliar with Japanese food or who simply can't make up their mind.
Pratt's and Byers' passion for their food and their customers shows. On pleasant days, you can enjoy your meal at the table out front; on nasty, wintry-mix days, you can call your order ahead, and they will bring your food out to your car. Ronin is a welcome addition to Bend's growing food cart community.
Ronin, 130 NW Century Dr.
Tues-Sat 11 am – 4 pm