It recently occurred to me that we’ve lived in Mount Vernon for twelve years now and have never done a comparative study of all the taco wagons here in town. With the able assistance of my husband and two taco-loving friends, I set out to do so last Saturday.
(Mount Vernon, by the way, is a particularly good place for taco tastings, as our population is about 25 percent Hispanic. This crawl just covered taco wagons, but if you included groceries, taquerias, family restaurants, carnicerias and ladies-who-make-awesome-tamales, you’d be kept busy for quite some time. Anyway – on to the tacos.)
Our first stop: Taqueria La Bamba. This truck has been set up on College Way for at least ten years, but since we moved out of the neighborhood we hadn’t visited. Its location is prime, near both the community college and the largely Hispanic Kulshan neighborhood. It boasts a large permanent dining area, several outdoor tables and a highly dangerous looking rope swing.
We decided to order four types of tacos, getting two of each so we could all taste. We picked lengua (tongue), asada (beef), adobada (pork) and tripas (tripe). We also picked up a couple of bottles of tamarind soda pop, one of the best things to drink with a taco besides beer.
Presentation here was very nice. Like most taquerias in this area, they serve their taco filling on two small corn tortillas, heaped high with meat, chopped onion and cilantro, with piles of sliced radishes and a lime wedge on the side. La Bamba also provides a whole scallion on each plate, grilled until soft and salted liberally. I love these – the outside gets a little tough, but you can suck out the soft oniony innards.
All the tacos here were nicely done, with good flavor and very little gristle. The pork had a nice sear on it, but not much sauce, and the beef also was fairly plain. The tongue was tender and not too dry. The tripe tacos were a little more expensive than the others and took a little longer, but proved to be well worth it – they were amazing. Looking like sliced calamari, with a little chew but not at all tough, the pieces of tripe had been seared to caramelized perfection. Delicious. And the salsas were excellent, too: a spicy sweet red and a kick-ass hot green. We felt that the day had already been well spent.
After the success of our first stop, we eagerly forged onwards. Our next installment was at Tacos Tecalitlan, a very well hidden van tucked behind a smoke shop off of Riverside. They have a few tables in a fiberglass carport, but the setting is otherwise bare parking lot.
These folks do just about everything – we barely made a dent in their menu. Next time we need to try the cueritos, which seem to be pork rind tacos. This time, however, we limited ourselves to the same selection as at La Bamba, and were really impressed with the quality.
They don’t bother with a lot of extra fixings, just the taco, radish and lime. The meat was so good, though, we didn’t miss it. The pork had a spicy, lively sauce and the tripe was lightly breaded and fried and had a great light texture. The tongue was especially good here, well marinated, tender and flavorful. We tried the green salsa, which was very good, but never got around to grabbing a red salsa bottle. The meat was flavorful enough not to need extra sauce.
There aren’t usually a lot of gringos at this bus, and the cooks don’t speak much English, but the food is really top notch. This will probably become our go-to taco truck from now on.
Beginning to feel a little full, we took a walk to the next truck, just up the hill on 4th St: Tacos Guadalajara. This place has all the ambience one could wish for in a taco truck: they’re in a driveway between handsome old houses, surrounded by herbs and tomatillos, and the dining room and outdoor tables are all painted brilliant yellow. It was a gray day, but sitting here made it feel like summer. Plus the man who served us was wearing a fabulous outfit with matching belt, cowboy hat and boots. He thought I was really weird for photographing my taco, though.
This place didn’t have adobado, but they did have pork al pastor, so we got that, as well as some barbacoa, with our tripe and tongue. The plates came very well decorated here, with pickled carrots and jalapenos, plus some cooked sweet onions on each plate. The vegetables were delicious; unfortunately the meat wasn’t as successful. The barbacoa was tasty, like a savory meat stew with lots of onions, and the al pastor was good enough, but the tongue was hard, tough and dry, and the tripe was inexplicably fried to a really weird consistency, hard and crisp. Not something I’d care to repeat.
The salsas here aren’t very interesting, either. They do offer menudo, though, and birria di chivo, so we’ll have to come back some cold day and try those.
BTW, this was where we discovered that Jarritos does a plain sparkling mineral water as well as fruit sodas. I had no idea.
Feeling a little weighed down by the fried tripe, we rolled off to the wilds of West Mount Vernon to our final stop: Tacos Gaby. This truck has an enormous parking lot all to itself, but only a tiny carport with one or two tables. Their menu is also very small: they didn’t have tripe at all, or many other options. Being full anyway, we settled for two types of taco: tongue and adobado.
Rather to our surprise, these were really good. The adobado was heavily sauced and seriously flavorful with a good kick. The tongue was almost creepily tender – we weren’t sure if it was cooked at first, but it tasted excellent – I think they marinated the bejesus out of it. We ate these sitting in the back of our van, trying to drip on the gravel instead of our laps or each other.
We toyed with the idea of hitting up a carniceria or getting some paletas at Cost Cutter, but some of us had hit our taco wall. We went and had a well-earned beer.
This was an awesome project, and we didn’t get to taste nearly as many things as we would’ve liked. Anyone who wants to participate in another taco crawl, drop me a line! We’re keeping our eyes out for any places we might have missed.