Truck wars, part three

Writer finally puts his money where his mouth is

The simple elegance that is Tacos el Tapatio.

The simple elegance that is Tacos el Tapatio.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

In past columns I’ve talked of taco trucks in the abstract. Now to get concrete. Who, among the dozens of Chico taco purveyors, deserves your dollar the most?

To answer that question, I’ve whittled down the many taco trucks and taquerias to the six that meet Tuck’s most basic criteria: a superb chicken burrito. From there, I evaluated based on taste, bennies, general ambiance and burrito weight. Below are Nos. 3-6 of the top six. (The top two, plus some honorable mentions, will appear in a future column.)

6. Tacos el Tapatio (corner of East First and Longfellow avenues): This truck is a classic: stripped down, no frills, capturing the essence of the taco truck experience. Spanish is the language of choice. The menu lists a total of four items. No kidding. This truck is very popular for one reason: The regular burrito (480 grams) costs $3, including tax.

No Mexican newspapers, no gran baile posters, no black beans, but perk points for Mexican Coke, chorizo, plentiful shade and “shrimp.”

5. La Cocina Economica (corner of Ninth and Wall streets): This taqueria isn’t perfect. The impersonal cinder-block interior isn’t welcoming, the background music is annoying generic rock, and the food, despite the wonderful name, isn’t all that cheap—$6.25 plus tax for a 460g burrito. Its greatest selling point is the superb breakfast burrito, especially the veggie version with rice, beans, eggs, tater tots and the usual extras.

Perk points for free limes and peppers at the pick-up counter (very easy to overlook). A cold case has beer, and a soda fountain has poor PepsiCo offerings. Chips and salsa are 80 cents and aren’t worth the money.

4. The Taco Truck (parking lot of All the Best Video, 2422 Cohasset Road): This is your taco truck for the 21st century—slick, hip and fairly Americanized. The pork is called “pork” on the menu, not carnitas or pastor (they have both if you ask).

No gran baile posters, Mexican newspapers or ads for money transfers. Too corporate-looking? You decide. The food is marvelous and cheap ($5 including tax for a 540g burrito) and they take their shrimp seriously. Perk points for an extensive menu (tortas, tamales, enchiladas, taco bowls, fish, lots of shrimp), that very meta name, and a large map of Mexico where I have wiled away many a happy hour musing “So, that’s where Chiapas is!” Double bonus points for the occasional half-off coupon. One small table with umbrella in the midst of a brutally hot parking lot.

3. Gordo Burrito (1295 E. Eighth St.): Gordo has the best vibe among my winners. When the owner, Jose Uriarte, isn’t there, it’s a pleasant, friendly spot. When he is, it’s a party. Uriarte is having fun and wants you to join in. He keeps the conversation as Spanish as you can handle, so you know you aren’t at Chipotle. Gordo’s art is unforgettable, both the Aztecan murals and the logo (a campesino pulling a wagon swamped by an enormous burrito), which you can score on a T-shirt. Double bonus points for the occasional half-off coupon.

The chicken at Gordo has a distinctive, smoky flavor you love or hate. It can get dry, so it needs some moisture. Perhaps sensing this, Gordo’s “basic” burrito is loaded (with avocado in addition to the usual toppings), and is priced accordingly ($6.50 for 580g). I actually gravitate toward the enchiladas when I’m not comparison shopping.

Perk points for the condiment/salsa bar, and the novelty of getting your soda from the gas station/quickie mart next door. Good veggie burrito. Uriarte also owns the Gordo Burrito truck at Ninth and Pine streets, if you want to eat al fresco.