THE CREW: two Edible OKC publishers, one photographer, one writer, and a taco truck expert.
THE MISSION: to eat from every truck selling food in tortillas on a two mile stretch down SW 29th street.
THE RESULT: pure bliss.
Faint black smoke billows from the vent atop El Primo Loco’s truck. The paint on the back is faded slightly, but still vibrant, featuring a delirious bird dancing atop a flaming charcoal plane. The truck, parked next to a tire shop, produces the savory scent of smoky meat.
While not a true taco truck, we couldn’t resist making El Primo Loco’s our first stop on the tour. The initial item on the small menu was the most enticing: pollo entero, or an entire barbequed chicken. We hungrily paced around behind the truck, waiting what felt like an eternity but what was really less than five minutes. Although it was approaching noon, I had just woken up from a late night work shift and writing session, so this was to be my breakfast.
After a few minutes of us dawdling and Josh testing his cameras, our order was called. We took each item out of the plastic bag and spread them all out on the tailgate of Jen and Aaron’s car: a styrofoam container of soup, another full of beans, two tinfoil-wrapped packets of steaming corn tortillas, and finally, a white butcher paper wrapped parcel. Upon opening it, a luscious steam poured out, revealing a pile of crispy chicken that was charred to perfection with half a grilled onion on top.
Chris passed out tortillas, within which we each placed a bonein cut of chicken before dousing it in El Primo Loco’s verde sauce. “This is how I remember eating grilled chicken growing up,” Chris explained. “My father would cook the chicken, and we would hold out tortillas as he passed it out.” I had never tried to eat a drumstick like that before, but it worked well to soak up all the extra sauce and grease.
WIth a nice pollo appetizer, it was time to cruise eastward to the first true taco truck on our trip, which was Taqueria el Dolar. A running theme for the trucks parked on this block is the inclusion of the Spanish word for dollar into their names, indicating the tacos only cost one dollar each. In much of the food world these days, cheap often correlates to a lack of quality, but not on the taqueria scene.
El Dolar offers meats that are more familiar to many Americans, such as carne asada (beef steak) and al pastor (marinated and slowcooked pork), but also some of the off al delicacies like lengua (tongue), buche (pork stomach), and tripitas, which is what I ordered from El Dolar. I had never tried them before, but I was feeling adventurous enough to sample fried small-intestines. Typically, pork or beef is boiled for about half an hour before chopping it into little pieces and frying until it’s crispy. If you’ve ever enjoyed a bag of chicharrones, I recommend dropping a dollar here on the tripitas.
Aside from tacos, El Dolar also offers tortas, sopes, mulitas, ceviche tostadas, and services as a notary public, just in case you have some documents you need officiated during lunch!
The sun was beginning to peak in the afternoon, and although the rains of May had subsided, the breeze was still crisp. Two rounds of food had begun to dry our throats, so we made a gas station stop for tall cans of Tecate, taking them to our next truck.
Taqueria El Jiro, located in a Family Dollar parking lot, would turn out to be my favorite surprise of the day. The vehicle didn’t look like much, but this was an important lesson to never judge a taco by its truck. There was already a short line and a couple of people waiting for orders in their cars. The food took longer than the other trucks to come out, but we were perfectly content hanging out in the parking lot, sipping our brown-bagged beers and people-watching. A man on a bike stopped in front of the store next door. Mounted on his handlebars was a plastic milk crate with two small chihuahuas inside.
Eventually, our order was called and I had my favorite taco of the day, the cabeza. The head and face of any animal holds the fattiest meats, making it perfect for tacos. The beef flavor was intense and rich, with just the right amount of grease. The cabeza at El Jiro is a transcendent experience for any carnivore.
We also ordered a side of chile toreados to share. Chris opened the foil packet and popped one of the whole grilled and blistered jalapeños into his mouth. “Are they very spicy?” Aaron inquired.
“No, they’re pretty mild actually,” Chris replied. The rest of us each grabbed a pepper and took a bite, quickly learning that Chris’ Hispanic definition of spicy and our Anglo versions are very different. After much sweating and beer, the heat subsided, but not before Chris enjoyed a few good laughs at our expense.
The last truck open on 29th Street that day was another one named Mr. Dolar, with apparently no relation to the first. The back of the truck bore a full color painting of the Virgin Mary appearing before a rural Mexican farm, with the words “Bendice mi negocio,” or “Bless my business.” I had been holding out on ordering my favorite taco, lengua, and now it was time to fulfil that craving for tongue. It was tender and savory, but I did wind up with order envy over Aaron’s chorizo, which had just the right amount of fat and spice.
With our bellies full and the taco trucks receding, it was time to pack it in for the day. All five of us ate heavily and enjoyed a beer each, yet the entire afternoon cost the combined group less than forty dollars. If you’ve ever got a couple hours and a few friends with empty stomachs, the taco safari is an adventure awaiting you.