On a cold, gray, wet day, we three comacheros (Nicholas Collias, Cynthia Sewell and myself) set out in search of Boise's handful of "taco trucks"--ambulatory Mexican food stands or "puestas." Undaunted by the weather, our taco trek, nonetheless, began dismally. The first two trucks we headed for had disappeared, leaving nothing but a few, sad leveling blocks and milk crates in their stead. Such is the nature of portable food. Still, we ventured on through the storm, driven by visions of steamy, spicy quarry.
First things first. The American taco of ground, spiced-up beef, a skein of lettuce, some shredded cheddar and a dollop of Pace Picante, all served inside a hard taco shell is not a real taco. The traditional, South of the Border taco begins with one and sometimes two soft corn tortillas--usually three to six inches in diameter. Meat, onions and cilantro are added, and a red or green salsa is usually included, along with the obligatory lime wedge. Other garnishes may involve radishes, jalapenos, carrot or avocado slices. Such tacos are served flat and once folded, take about four bites to finish off. All sorts of meats are used and some test the limits of the usual gastrointestinal protocol. Carne asada (grilled beef), barbacoa (shredded, barbecued pork), al pastor (marinated pork), carnita (fried pork), chorizo (sausage), cabeza (head meat), lengua (tongue), buche (pig stomach), pollo (chicken), chicken innards, pescado (fish), camaron (shrimp)--if it can be cut up or shredded, it can be taco meat.
Here's what our team of "Tacotistadors" found in the way of taco trucks. Our threesome included La Vaca Borracha (The Drunk Cow), a.k.a Cynthia Sewell hereby referred to as VB; Sir Tongues a Lot, a.k.a Nicholas Collias hereby referred to as STL; and El Chancho (The Pig), a.k.a Chuck McHenry hereby referred to as EC.
EL REY #2
Northwest corner of Chinden and 42nd
Tucked back from the road, this stand had a couple of customers quietly eating at tables barely sheltered from the rain (our table had a 15-inch puddle in the middle). The menu--like most we encountered--was a list of taco types ("brains" had been crossed off) and some handwritten specials. We ordered four tacos: asada, barbacoa, cabeza and lengua. The ingredients--meat, onions, cilantro--were sparse, but the tacos were quite good. The drink options were strawberry Jarrito (strawberry soda), champurrado, a thick, hot, chocolaty drink with hints of cinnamon and vanilla, and bottled water. Tacotistador comments included:
VB: "No brains. That's where Mad Cow disease comes from. That and spinal cords. I won't do tongue or head."
STL: "I didn't ask if they had spinal cord tacos."
EC: "The cabeza is good. A little chewier than the asada."
STL: "This is some good tongue!"
Total price: $7
Northeast corner of Chinden and 46th
This taco truck has a hint of real permanence about it. A weather-proof ramada protected us from the downpour, with enough chairs and tables for a sizeable crowd underneath. A refrigerated case at the front of the trailer held an array of drinks---both domestic and south of the border sodas and juices. The menu at El Torito is rather extravagant, with beef tamales, ceviche tostadas, quesadillas and breakfast burritos. Along with the tacos, we also ordered a beef tamale. Each plate came with marinated carrot and jalapeno slices. La Vaca Borracha went into the market nearby and, as her name suggests, came back with a quart bottle of Tecate beer. Tacos ordered: chorizo, lengua, buche, camaron, pescado.
EC: "What? You bought a jeroboam of beer!"
VB: "Mmmm, jalapenos!"
EC: "The corn tortillas are fried a bit so they don't get soggy."
STL: "What could be tastier than the tongue? It's the tongue!"
EC: "Try this stomach. It's got a different flavor."
EC: "I think these are bigger too, but I could just eat these all day long."
STL: "They're so tiny you don't even realize it until they're already down, and then 12 of them later, you're doubled over."
VB: "Help me drink this beer!"
Total price: $9
Southeast corner of Lake Hazel and Five Mile
The sign along Lake Hazel states Bacilio's tacos are "not Tex-Mex." The rain had turned the lot where this truck sits in a muddy bog. The service--as it was with all of these stands--was friendly and very fast. The choice of tacos was sadly limited to al pastor, beef asada and chicken. We ordered one of each. The cook offered up two salsas: a green tomatillo sauce, and a deadly-looking red sauce, saying, "if you want to kill yourself." We put a teaspoon-sized drop of the suicide salsa on our three-taco plate and scurried for cover in our vehicle.
VB: "These are doubled corn tortillas."
STL: "These are doubled and cooked."
STL: "This is the asada? Pretty good."
EC: "The chicken tastes like ... chicken."
VB: "The tofu of meat."
STL: "Fry it up in lard, it will taste like fried lard."
STL: "The pastor is ... I don't know what's on that; it's good, though."
EC: "This is not Tex-Mex. There are no ranchero beans and gravy."
VB: "So, did you happen to see what this red sauce is?"
EC: "He didn't say. He just said, 'If you want to kill yourself.'"
STL: "Pico de arsenic."
Southeast corner of Grove and 5th
Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, this downtown taco puesta brings in the late-night crowds. Chilango's has a wide-ranging menu, covering all of the Mexican food groups---even rellenos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches). Despite the late hour, four or five other patrons had gathered by the truck. We waited our turn to order, hopping up and down to keep out the cold weather, our hands thrust into our pockets. Food ordered: carnita, asada, barbacoa and a beef tamale.
STL: "Hard to believe I can fit anymore of these in."
STL: "The carnita is awesome."
STL: "It's good. Spicy. I think it's the spiciest asada we've had."
EC: "It has a little kick to it."
STL: "The carnitas are good because they're a little salty."
STL: "The tamale is great, obviously homemade."
VB: "More corny. Some good masa."
STL: "These tacos are adorable!"
EC: "You want to name them before you eat them."