Taco Truck Secrets

By Cyrus Farivar, "The Ultimate Taco," May/June 2010

Discover the secret to making the best tacos in town. Plus: Bruce Aidells shares his recipes.

"These are excellent recipes and real crowd pleasers. I've had nothing but rave reviews every time I've made them. Go to a hispanic grocery to find nearly everything you'll need to make these yummy recipes! "

The magic of the taco truck is the freshness of the food. The lag time between when the meat comes off the grill, hits a warm tortilla and is sprinkled with cilantro, onions and salsa averages about 30 seconds. Maybe even 20 seconds. Even better, as Bruce says, “They’re cheap! You can get a really good meal for ten bucks. Where else can you eat fast food that’s made from scratch, is really tasty and includes vegetables?”

Ten bucks at a taco truck is a fortune. At El Ojo de Agua, that’ll buy you six tacos. I usually order two or three and a drink and have enough money left to drop a few quarters in the tip jar.

And though the average bill is small at most taco trucks, that doesn’t mean that they’re not thriving. Taco trucks first started in the 1970s to feed both California agricultural workers in rural areas and late-night patrons in Los Angeles. Since the 1970s, taco trucks have been opening across California and the country. In Oakland alone there are around 50, mostly concentrated here in the Fruitvale neighborhood. Los Angeles County, generally considered to be the nation’s taco-truck capital, has an estimated 7,000 trucks according to the Asociación de Loncheros, a taco-truck owners trade association founded in 2008.

And in the last year the taco-truck trend has exploded. Many of the newer trucks are taking the taco-truck concept and expanding it to other types of cuisines. In Los Angeles, Kogi BBQ truck pioneered fusion Korean tacos—taking Korean-style thin-sliced marinated beef and serving it in a tortilla with a little kimchi. Another L.A. truck, Don Chow Tacos, offers up the “chimale,” or Chinese tamale, replacing the Mexican-style meat filling with cha shu sweet pork. Still others serve up new, exciting variants on burgers, Peruvian-Japanese noodle dishes and even French food. (Yes, you can now get crème brûlée from a food cart in San Francisco.) And most of these newer trucks are using Twitter to let their devoted customers know their location.

However, these newer styles all have their roots in trucks like El Ojo de Agua and unsung heroes like Salvador Anaya—who doesn’t even use the Internet at all, much less update his location on Twitter. His truck isn’t in San Francisco’s Financial District. He’s a world away, in East Oakland, within sight of a local day-labor pickup spot.

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