On any given evening Tuesday through Saturday, in a truck with a banana-yellow hood, decorated with lithe palm trees in maroon, green and orange, Djosen and Hilder Vilnor will be readying a flatiron grill, fryer and condiment station to whip up made-to-order Haitian eats.
Hilder and his sister opened the King-Queen Haitian Cuisine food truck six years ago following years of behind the scenes work as a busboy and then as a cook in restaurants like O’Charley’s after emigrating from Haiti to the United States in 1994. He still works occasional shifts on the line at the Longhorn Steakhouse on Wendover Avenue in Greensboro, but finds his joy in cooking the recipes of his childhood.
Rice cooked with black beans kept warm in the large cooker provides a base for many of the dishes, the traditional jerk chicken for instance. The tender meat — your pick of light or dark— falls readily off the bone and carries enough spice to create some heat. (For reference, anyone comfortable eating a “medium” salsa from the grocery or a spiciness level 2 at Southeast Asian restaurants should handle it well.) A complementary vinegar-pickled carrot and shredded green cabbage combination — known as “pikliz,” a popular Haitian condiment when accompanied by peppers — garnishes the chicken. This staple dish is served with a somewhat unnecessary dinner roll and yellow plantains fried just long enough to bring out the starchy fruit’s natural sweetness and produce a crispy casing. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you pine for the gooier, sugar-saturated variant.
They serve up takes on other prevalent Haitian recipes, too, like poule frite, or Haitian fried chicken, and Haitian griot, or fried Berkshire pork, both long-marinated in a distinctive blend of spices. These are among their most popular dishes, alongside the Haitian Louisiana Creole chicken pasta, a mix of sautéed vegetables with chicken on a bed of penne — ask for extra spice if you’d like.
Less adventurous souls should find comfort in options like a traditional American hamburger, barbecue chicken sandwich, Buffalo barbecue wings, chicken quesadillas, tacos and a Creole burrito similar enough to the Americanized version but with the addition of homemade chili. Though the tacos are unremarkable, Hilder’s avocado dressing and a mild red chili sauce bring distinctive flavor to an otherwise ubiquitous dish. He embellishes the steak taco with cilantro, lettuce, jalapeño, both sauces and fresh purple cabbage, adding a nice crunch within the soft taco shell. If you love pineapple, Hilder’s pineapple-steak taco looks delicious and the added fanfare might make up for less-than-top grade steak.
Other simple options like the Haitian barbeque chicken sandwiches come with a side of crinkle-cut fries but, unless you’re dead-set, swap out the fries for a side of five plantains. As a side dish, they come with a mild, creamy dipping sauce and are certainly more noteworthy finger food to accompany an evening’s craft-beer diet.[pullquote]Learn more on the King-Queen Cuisine Facebook page.[/pullquote]
For a more complex palette of flavors, one of the truck’s standout dishes — and my favorite — is the “blackn’” tilapia bowl, a blackened filet of the white fish served over a bed of black-bean rice and topped with sautéed red and green peppers and onions, sweet plantains on the side. It is the best meal I’ve eaten out of a Styrofoam box, and it’s only 9 dollars.
King-Queen Haitian Cuisine offers a more sizeable menu than most trucks I’ve visited in the Triad. Yet, you won’t wait longer than 10 minutes unless you’re one of many in line. Even then, the sibling duo moves quickly and your food will be well prepared. The main issue is confirming their location on any given evening. Sometimes they update their Facebook page — especially for one-off events and food truck festivals — but Hilder and Djosen rotate between Foothills, Wise Man and Brown Truck breweries, often park near Bailey Park in Winston-Salem and pull up to First Fridays in Greensboro. The Vilnors take occasional trips outside the Triad, too.
There are quite a few Jamaican and vaguely “Caribbean” brick-and-mortars but you won’t find much other stringently Haitian food in the Triad.