Tasty tacos

Taco wagons offer the thriftiest deals in town

MUCHO GUSTO With cousin Anabel Cazares (foreground), María Enríquez, 16 (standing), manages her parents Mauricio and Leticia’s popular Tacos El Pinolero taco wagon.

MUCHO GUSTO With cousin Anabel Cazares (foreground), María Enríquez, 16 (standing), manages her parents Mauricio and Leticia’s popular Tacos El Pinolero taco wagon.

This way to tacos:
Tacos El Pinolero is located on Whitman Ave., behind the Grocery Outlet store, and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Two dollars. That’s how much it cost.

A Monday night dinner, that is. And since I followed that up with “cheap night” at the Pageant Theater ($2.50, Monday nights only), I had a whole night out on the town for less than five dollars. What a deal.

I had opted to eat at one of the taco wagons that dot the Chico cityscape, figuring I would uncover a fascinating story behind one of those silver and white trucks. I was not disappointed. (The old adage that “Everybody has a story” always pans out.)

Although I’d been leaning toward visiting the one on the corner of Lassen and Esplanade, since I frequently drive by it, I had recently learned about another taco wagon: Tacos El Pinolero, right across from the Chico Enterprise-Record office and just behind the Grocery Outlet.

A friend had recommended I try this one, claiming, “Their food is the best Mexican food in town!” Quite a lofty claim; however, I’ll have to admit—the plate of chicken tacos I ordered tasted positively delectable. All of the ingredients were superbly fresh, and the salsa verde was chevere—not too hot for this gringa and not too bland, either. And the sprinkling of chopped cilantro and onion that topped the salsa provided that extra little zippity-do-dah that made the meal memorable.

But what also made this repast memorable was my conversation with María Enríquez, age 16, who is the young manager of Tacos El Pinolero. María is a junior at Chico High School and she runs the business for her father, Mauricio, who purchased it about four years ago. With bright eyes and a vibrant and personable manner, María—who plans on declaring business as her major in college—already demonstrates a flair for the entrepreneurial world. She was gracious about answering my battery of questions, even though she seemed to find some of them amusing.

For example, she laughed when I asked her if Tacos El Pinolero offered any kind of “specialty” items. “No, we have no specialties—everything is good here!”

All of the recipes come from María’s mother, Leticia, who learned to cook while growing up in a large family in Mexico. And, while some of the recipes are “tried and true” recipes that come from a long tradition of Hispanic cuisine, Maria emphasized that her mother “invented” many of the recipes, including some that are used for the salsas. “My mom is the only one who knows how to do everything that we do here,” she shared.

María’s parents married in Chicago well over 20 years ago. Both of them went to adult school in their 30s to learn English, and then became American citizens. María has two younger sisters and one older sister, who is married. Her cousin, Anabel, works in the taco wagon, as do other family members. “It is a completely family-run business,” María emphasized.

Tacos El Pinolero offers haritos, which are flavored Mexican sodas, as well as Mexican Pepsi in the bottle (like the oldies you used to be able to get in the U.S.). Burritos, quesadillas and tortas are some of the menu items offered in addition to tacos. Tortas, María explained, are bread with meat and onion, cilantro, salsa, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. She recommended the beef tacos with a side of rice and beans, and she offered a tantalizing incentive: “We give samples to people who are dropping by for the first time—and they always come back!”

There’s no mariachi band for atmosphere or colorful piñatas and maracas for dàcor, but Tacos El Pinolero does have street-side tables where you can sit down to eat your food if you don’t want to take a “to-go” bag. On a brisk winter evening, such a gritty environment can be most invigorating. And one of the customers recommended the vegetarian burrito. “You really ought to try them,” he said.

There’s no doubt in my mind—I will.