Truck wars, part two
The search for the taco wagon McGuffin continues
Last week I began discussing the criteria for evalu-ating a taco truck, the first of which was the name. I’ll now consider some others.
A second way a truck attracts customers is through perks—little bennies other trucks don’t have. First among perks is a coupon. The standard taco coupon is for half off a second meal if you buy two drinks. Do not fall for this. Do the math: half off a Mexican lunch is $3.50. The drinks will cost you $4. This is just a scam to get you to spend more money. With diligence, coupons can be found for half off everything, without strings.
There are many other perks. Among them:
Mexican Coke or Penafiel (Mexican soft drink)
Shade—especially in a parking lot on a Chico summer afternoon
Free chips and salsa
Good chips and salsa
Black bean option
Aguas frescas (real fruit juice—try the sandía, aka watermelon)
Double tortillas on the tacos
Limes on request
Limes in the salsa bar (better)
Unusual menu items: sopes, tortas, lengua, barbacoa
Interesting décor (e.g., Gordo Burrito’s murals)
English rarely or never spoken
Promises of healthiness (lard-free cooking especially)
Promises of unhealthiness (aka “auténtico”)
Feel free to make your own list. El Sol has killer french fries, for example.
The criterion most people think of first, but the hardest one to use, is the quality of the food. The facts of the matter are: 1) Tastes differ wildly. The most inedible taco truck food in Chico, by my reckoning, is at a truck lavishly praised by a seemingly sane friend who swore to me it stood head and shoulders above all other Chico trucks. And, 2) It’s very hard to tell one taco-truck burrito from another. As far as I can tell, all Chico trucks get their beef and pork from a central distribution hub called Carnes R Nos. To render a judgment, you must order the chicken. Taco truck chicken comes in three modes of preparation: boiled in water (ugh), grilled (OK) and interestingly seasoned (Gordo).
By the way, if you’re a novice negotiating the various Mexican meats, you really need to know only two things: 1) There are two porks—carnitas and al pastor—and al pastor is the hot one. Apparently, in Mexican culture, ministers or shepherds are considered “hot.” 2) Barbacoa is made from goat, unless it’s made from beef, cow head or lamb.
A third reason judging food quality is iffy is because there are two standards of judgment: how good the food tastes now, as you eat it, and how sick you feel in an hour, as you digest it. Often the trucks that rate the highest by the first standard fail most dramatically by the second (see “auténtico,” above). You must decide for yourself where your values lie.
Now rating a given taco truck is easy. Consider the name. Award points for each perk present according to how much each perk matters to you (award three points for sopes—they’re rare). Try the chicken. Decide if you value pleasing your palate now or feeling good later. Sum up.
When next we meet, we’ll go forth armed with our new skills and evaluate some real Chico trucks.