Salsa de Molcajete and Gordita @ Mayra's Catering Truck, Salinas
Talking with the proprietors on Monday as they were setting up, I noted the signs posted on the back side of the truck promoting salsa de molcajete and $2 Gorditas. The following day I had a chance to return with an empty stomach to give them a whirl.
Interestingly, the menu offers both "pastor" and "adobada", whereas one or the other is more typical. It also has hot dogs and hamburgers in addition to the antojitos. In the photo below of Mayra's menu, the molcajete can be seen in the glass-enclosed cubby hole to the right. After I got my order, I helped myself to the two kinds of chunky salsa in the case.
Image of Mayra's menu and business side of the truck -
This taco truck, tucked into an alley around the corner from the Teamsters hall, radiates an extra friendliness and warmth. The welcoming proprietress has a lyrical lilt in her voice that makes her that much more charming. She calls out to the customers' children gathered around by name, acknowledging each of them. She was wearing a "Steps to a Healthier Salinas" apron, and I'd read elsewhere that Mayra's was a program participant adding more healthful options to its menu. When she needed change for my bill, the palatero visiting with us volunteered some singles. There's a definite feeling of community spirit here.
Not having asked whether my gordita would be made-to-order, I couldn't help but smile when I caught a glimpse of her molding a ball of masa in the shadows of this mobile kitchen. Then I heard the rhythmic pat-pat-pat followed by the sizzle of the damp masa hitting the hot grill. She tried to engage me in small talk while I waited for my order, but alas, my Spanish skills were not up to the challenge. She assured me that it wouldn't be too much longer and that it would be worth the wait.
That was no empty promise. The bubbly protein of the fried pork crackling turned soft and spongy braised in a complex red chile sauce. Intense and flavorful, it's remarkable that this filling was not aided by a pool of grease. The gordita masa cake itself was dry-grilled, nicely charred yet no oily sheen. It was a bit damp and heavy, however, I enjoyed the gordita very much just the same, especially with the fresh shredded cabbage and chopped cilantro and onions. The two small batch salsas de molcajete shown on the plate in the photo, the lighter-colored one more vegetable-like and savory and a smoky, redder, and more hotly spiced type, were just great to alternate for differing tastes on the palate. As demonstrated in the high quality of her artisanal salsas and the stewy red sauce, this talented woman is clearly a Maître Saucier or whatever the Mexican equivalent of that might be!
Image of Gordita de chicharrones with salsa de molcajete -
The day before, her husband, Guadalupe Ramirez, explained (via their son as translator) that they've worked this spot for seven years and draw many repeat customers. He said that they're here as early as 1pm [note: 4pm is a safer bet in my own observation] and stay until 9pm providing a dinner break for late night workers. He works another job and mentioned that the purchase of the catering truck was more than a year's wages. He and his school-age son help out when they can, making this business mainly his wife's responsibility. She needs flexible and reduced hours, thus it would be difficult to replace the income if they couldn't operate the truck any more. He seemed grim about the prospects of finding a permanent spot in the neighborhood. What struck me though was that he appeared to be more concerned about his customers' fate than his own, saying, "So many count on us to be here, where else can they get food like this at night time?"
For something this fresh, lovingly prepared, and delicious for only $2, I have no idea either.
East Market Street, west of Sanborn Road
Mayra's Guadalupe Ramirez quoted -
I'm in awe of your vast reportage of Salinas, a town most of us breeze through on 101 with only so much as a gas stop.
Special thanks to your deep coverage of the Mexican restaurants and taco trucks. There is clearly more to Salinas than meets a traveler's eyes. Thank you for opening mine to the possibilities. Can't wait to try this business.
So far, I've only ventured to Guiteirrez Y Rico and the Deli-Mex in the large market on E. Alisal, El Charrito.(?)
Are there other neighborhoods out past that area to explore? Would love to have some destinations as I'm usually travelling with hubby and he is not a "drive around and see what we can see" kind of guy. It does sound as though this town deserves more investigation!
I did follow-up on the "al pastor" vs. "adobada" asking what the difference was between them, and was told that they're the same. So, I ordered one taco of each. [Warning: prepare to drool on your keyboard if you open this photo link.]
Image of two tacos with garnishes -
Both made with pork, they were a bit different in seasoning and the adobada in the foreground was drier. While the meats were not as good as my chicharrones experience, the tortillas were stellar. Handmade-to-order is not something I expect from the trucks, and especially not at a buck per taco. Thick and chewy with real substance and deep corn flavor. And, again, the two salsas en molcajete ---an avocado and tomato blend and an extremely fiery and roasted green chile melange -- were fantastic. Completely greaseless, with the fresh cabbage and radish garnishes, this pair of tacos was as balanced and healthy a meal as I can imagine for $2.
re: Melanie Wong
Ok, this is my tentative list of my planned Salinas taco crawl to be sure to stop by some of these places I always wanted to give a try. I realize hours and location are to be factored in and I’ll be looking for some that haven’t been reported. Food mentioned is only a very general guideline. Does this seem the best order depending on access?
I’m considering putting together one of those Google map thingies for ease of location.
If I do, I’ll post separately on the California Board. NY knows enough to value their street food. IIRC, I believe they even have some sort of awards.
Mexican-style Hot Dog)
- Julio Valdez (and tamales
Taco Trucks and a few recommended items:
- Taqueria Mister Taco truck
Tripas, al pastor, carne asada, cabeza, lengua, al pastor quesadilla de maiz
- Salsa de Molcajete and Gordita @ Mayra's Catering Truck, Salinas
Gordita, "al pastor" preferred over. "adobada" taco
Apatzingan Catering Truck
- Cabeza Taco
- La Daisy Catering Truck
Carne Asada, breakfast burrito made to order with chorizo and eggs.
chicharrones and lengua
Tacos El Grullense truck in Salinas
El Kiosko taco truck
lengua Birria a little better than carnitas which can be skipped. Possible seafood.
Tacos El Jaliscience truck
Carnitas (if available) skip tripas and cabeza
Tamal and Champurrado from Catering 3 Marias
Untried but mentioned:
Tacos el Rigo had the largest selection of meats, including buche, barbacoa de cabeza, sesos, birria, and more.
Splendid, I think the map's a great idea. You might also want to add hours and days of the week as these spots vary quite a bit.
Note that La Perla has 2 trucks, as does El Kiosko. I think that what I had called El Rigo (sic) is actually El Taco Rico
I've been to 21 different vendors so far, including one produce truck. Still lots of typing to do.
Fwiw, NYC continues to try to limit street food, but the vendors are better organized there and have vocal and influential customers to fight back.
re: Melanie Wong
alas, I didn't heed your warning and made the mistake of opening before lunch. There is no taco place or truck by my office (downtown Oakland), and only maybe one or two, if that, near home (in SF, outer Mission no less) that could possible compete with those!
I love the way the salsas are so varied given the really low price: it just really illustrates how vibrant a cuisine these trucks represent. What a loss it would be if they couldn't operate!
Here's my post on the hot dog I had for lunch at the Mayra's truck today.
In the self-serve cubby hole today were two small-size molcajetes, one with the avocado-tomatillo salsa I put on my dog and one that looked like a roasted chili blend. Also available were a thinner salsa verde, salsa fresca, and fiery hot zanahorias y jalapeños en escabeche.