By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Oct 08, 2010 at 5:20 AM

October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."

The day after I read a story in The New York Times this summer about a new dining phenomenon, Korean tacos, sweeping eastward across the country from Los Angeles, I walked passed a long sleek black truck parked at the curb on Water Street, just south of Wisconsin Avenue.

The Times story mentioned that Asian style tacos are often sold as street food from trucks, just as their Mexican culinary cousins are dispensed in cities with large Latino populations.

The black truck on Water St. was emblazoned with the name Tigerbite, and Asian influenced tacos and quesadillas were on sale from a walk-up window, along with egg rolls and decidedly American sweet potato fries. Pleased and a little surprised that a hot new dining trend had found its way to Milwaukee so quickly, I stopped to investigate and discovered Tigerbite co-owners W. Chang and Noel Ly intend to be more than Korean taco vendors. They envision their new business to be Asian fusion food on wheels.

Chang and Ly, who are Hmong-American, are a romantic couple as well as business partners. The 34-year-old Chang grew up in the Two Rivers area before moving to the south side of Milwaukee while in high school. Trained in radiologic technology at UWM, he has worked at several Milwaukee hospitals, including Froedtert.

Ly, 24, is a native of Providence, R.I., but she moved here as a child and has local restaurant business experience. The partners are foodies, which explains Chang's decision to leave the stability of a medical industry job for the financially risky life of being a restaurateur.

"We wanted to do something for ourselves, and although our families are very traditional, we are not," Chang recently said. "We are American, we grew up eating burgers."

The non-traditional approach included shunning the conventional bricks and mortar approach to starting a restaurant and choosing a mobile operation that takes street food to the customer. "It made sense to us," Chang said. "Street food allows us to be more creative and representative of where our families came from."

That would be Asia in the broadest sense. "We are very multi-cultural," he added. "Our menu is taking classic Asian flavors and mixing them with others."

Tigerbite offers beef, pork and chicken tacos ($2.25 each or three for $6), with small corn tortillas and classic Asian ingredients. The beef uses Korean-style marinated and barbecued short-ribs known as kalbi, garnished with crunchy cabbage in an Asian vinaigrette.

Chang and Ly call their pork taco a phonita, a word blend of the Mexican term carnita and the Vietnamese soup known as pho. Tigerbite braises the pork in an aromatic Vietnamese broth and tops the meat with the traditional soup garnish of basil, onions, cilantro and bean sprouts.

For chicken tacos, the couple place the meat in an Asian marinade, grill it and add cabbage slaw to the tortilla.

None of the tacos contain cheese, but the quesadillas ($5), which are offered with chicken, beef or plain, include Monterey Jack with caramelized onions. Chang said Tigerbite is the only commercial business that sells Hmong -style egg rolls (two for $3.50 or four for $6) in Milwaukee.

Hmong egg rolls are tightly rolled and crispy, not soggy, according to Ly, who said subtle spicing differences also set them apart from other styles. The Tigerbite product won the prize for best egg roll in Milwaukee at the Silver City Asian Festival on National Ave. in August.

Sweet potato fries ($4) are on the menu because they are popular but not offered at many restaurants, Chang explained. He gives them an Asian touch with a hint of Vietnamese cinnamon. Tigerbite also sells soda, juice and bottled water.

Chang and Ly went to Los Angeles to search for a truck that contained a full kitchen, and they found a vehicle that had been used to prepare and sell organic food. They bought it and drove it here..

The big black truck has three ovens, six stove top burners, two flat top grills, two full refrigerators and a freezer. "You can't get a truck like this in the Midwest," Chang said. "We had to go to the West Coast."

The couple is using only a fraction of the vehicle's capacity at the moment, but they expect to grow into it as they expand their offerings. They are currently working on developing a banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich, to their liking. Reflecting Vietnam's French colonial history, the sandwich is made with a baguette, and Chang and Ly are seeking a local supplier that meets their specifications.

Since opening for business in July, Tigerbite's top priority has been Monday through Friday lunch. Favorite spots are Cathedral Square, Water and Wisconsin, the front of the U.S. Bank Center, and the Marquette and UWM campuses. Chang and Ly have experimented with special events and late night downtown on weekends, and volume of business will determine if they become regulars at those venues. Chang said they plan to operate into the winter until snowbanks make curbside vending too difficult.

The best way to locate Tigerbite on a specific day is to follow it on Twitter, @tigerbitetruck, or go to its Web site,

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.