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Sep 1, 2001 10:33 PM

Report: Oakland Taco Trucks Pt. III

  • r

One of the most fun parts of surveying taco trucks is the horrified/incredulous remarks from friends and family, along the lines of "you mean Roach Coaches!?"

But today I managed to convince my visiting friend Elinor that, really, they were safe and delicious. Well, we have new convert: Elinor is a folklorist, and even as I type is trying to figure out how she can get funding to study taco trucks.

But to cut to the chow: we headed for the two Mi Grullense trucks in the Goodwill Store parking loton the northwest side of International at 29th, but we immediately detoured across the street to a truck I've never seen there before: La Costa Mariscos Frescos -- they may only be there on Saturdays and had pulled quite a crowd. The have a wide assortment of seafood-based offerings, including pulpo (octopus), ostriones (oysters), and concha (conch?). Elinor tried the Tostada Ceviche de Pescados, which included not only fish, but octopus and shrimp (leaving me wondering what the difference was among the ceviche de polpo, ceviche de cameron and the mixto). In addition to the seafood, the ceviche included avocado, tomatoes, red onions and cilanto (and more?). We got it to go, and it came in a large (16 oz.) styrofoam cup with four tostada shells, lime and ... a packet of ketchup. This was the cheapest item on the menu: a huge portion for $2.50. According to Elinor it tasted fairly fresh and was fairly mild, although the fish was "mushy".

Back at Mi Grullense: Standard menu, standard tacos (a little heftier than most, and slightly pricier at $1.25). The benchmark al pastor tasted as if the meat had been roasted/grilled with barbecue sauce. Horchata ($1.00) had a nice rice note, not overly cinnamony, but not rich and creamy either.

On this trip, we also stopped at the Tacos Michoacan in a parking lot in the middle of the 3600 block. Difficult access, a rather depressing truck and mediocre tacos make this a "don't bother."

Getting into the spirit of chowhounding, Elinor insisted that we try one more place. A good thing to, as we hit paydirt.

El Ojo de Agua, in the parking lot of the International Produce Market in the 3800 block, stands out among the trucks I've tried so far. They have a much more extensive menu, including specialty tortas (Cubana, Hawaii, Italiana), a greater variety of fillings, and also specialty drinks (I'm not sure what the story was, but they seemed to entail the addition of things like granola or dried fruit). They also had both guava and strawberry aguas frescas -- the strawberry was made with cream and tasted like melted fresh strawberry ice cream -- not traditional, but yummy.

The tacos are a premium $1.25, but in addition to the Oakland standard, they come with grilled cebollitas and a strip of nopales (steamed? boiled? definitely not pickled, and apparently cooked on site, since I saw someone wheeling a cart with the prepared raw nopales from the back of the market to the truck). The tacos themselves have a smear of guacamole, but best of all, they were really hot -- the first tacos I've had so far that could make that claim -- with visible flecks of red pepper. This truck definitely rates a return visit to explore the menu in depth.

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  1. m
    Melanie Wong

    Oh those aguas frescas sound really good. They're not that common up Santa Rosa way even in summer. I love sandia (watermelon) aguas.

    Your Spanish is growing more fluent every day!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Elinor's Spanish is somewhat better than mine: she actually studied it. My Spanish is limited to what a reasonably intelligent person with an ear for cognates can pick up living her whole life in California.

      Also, I read it and spell it better than I pronounce it -- I can never get my mouth comfortably around the "gua" sound, among others.

      In exploring "International Avenue" I've spotted my new favorite cross-cultural business: an Arabic market with a Carneceria. Do you suppose they sell pork? Can you call yourself a Carneceria if you don't? Someday when I get up the courage to park on what is a truly scummy block (even by east Oakland standards), I'll have to check it out.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler
        Melanie Wong

        Actually, carne means meat and isn't limited to pork. The carneceria could be run by Christian Arabs and not subject to religious restrictions. There are a lot of Lebanese in Mexico. Their influence created al pastor style meat.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I know "carneceria" just means meat market ... I was being slightly facetious, in that pork seems to be an important meat in Mexican cuisine.

          Thanks for the info about Lebanese-Mexicans. For that matter, there could be Mexican Muslims -- I think of pork as being one of the central ingredients in Chinese cuisine, but there are both Chinese Muslims and Chinese Hindus who eschew it.

          Mostly I was tickled by the sign that was in Arabic script above an Arabic name in Roman lettering, and also said "Carneceria" (probably left over from the previous ownership).

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            let's get back to the subject of worthy taco vans...mi familia recommends the vans on 22nd avenue at international blvd that produce consistantly good tacos and burritos. the old dairy queen on that corner has been transformed into their restaurant also, so you have a choice to dine in or eat out.

            1. re: valerie

              Yeah, that one is pretty good. I wrote them up in part II of my reports (linked below).