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Mar 10, 2007 03:44 PM

Tacos El Grullense truck in Salinas

Packed up and ready to head out of town, I made one last pass criss-crossing through the industrial area between Abbott Street and the freeway at lunch time. Not finding any more mobile vendors, I resigned myself to nibbling on a couple cookies during the drive and got on 101 at John Street, a few miles south of my usual getaway route. Barely on my way when from the northbound lane into my visual field emerges a taco truck parked below! Exiting at Market Street, I found the Tacos El Grullense truck snuggled up against the freeway frontage. It's parked across from the Aloha Motel, south of East Market Street on Kern Street's motel row.

Image of Tacos El Grullense truck -

Now towards the end of lunch hour, a handful of contractors trucks lined that side of the street, each with one or two people in the cab munching on tacos. I had one customer ahead of me before I could order my al pastor and carnitas tacos. I asked him whether there were any other catering trucks around here during the day. He pointed across the freeway (generally toward Mister Taco's location) and added, "I always come here, haven't tried the other guy." When I informed him of the possibility that mobile vendors such as this taco truck might be banned from the streets, he was visibly upset. "No! That's crazy, I've been eating lunch with El Grullense for years now. It's here every day for me." In the feud between the SUBA merchants and the mobile vendors, there's an important stakeholder that has been ignored in this debate . . . the consumer.

This truck is here from 11am to 7pm, 7 days a week. It is operated by El Grullense restaurant in Acosta Plaza in east Salinas. If the proposed ordinance is passed, it would need to find a spot off the roadway on private property and hours would be limited to 6pm to 6am in order to not compete with brick and mortar restaurants for lunch business.

Something I picked up from this customer was a new truck taco-eating technique. My companion on the pavement was ordering his tacos one at a time, each prepped "a la minute" to be hot and fresh from first bite to last. And, he helped himself liberally the self-serve salsas, carrots en escabeche, sliced radishes, lemon wedges, and soft braised onions. Our taquero had no problem accommodating him.

Image of Tacos El Grullense truck menu -

Instead of standing on the sidewalk, I enjoyed the luxury of a wooden bench for my perch. As you can see in the photo below, it's next to the ice plant-covered strip separated from the freeway by a chain link fence. Here's the lunch I bought for $2.50.

Image of pastor and carnitas tacos -

The tacos are $1.25 each and when you order them “para aqui” are presented on a paper plate with just the meat, reheated on the grill, and a single roasted jalapeño on the side. I chose my own salsas and garnishes from the self-serve trays. The pastor wasn’t nearly as flavorful as Mister Taco’s, however, here the elusive carnitas was juicy and well-browned as well. Besides the choice of good condiments, the other special thing here is the tortillas. While not deep-fried and crunchy, these have a bit of bubbly browning that gives them a roasted quality and a slight crispness. I was glad that I had mine on the spot to taste the difference. Another time we got tacos “para llevar” (to go), carne asada, cabeza, and carnitas, and the tortillas didn’t show nearly as well.

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      1. Thanks Melanie! Wish I had caught this post before my last visit to Salinas a week or so ago...Those carnitas look great, and so many of the trucks in the bay area don't have the carrots, so that is a huge plus! (I love zanahorias! :-)) Will make it a point to try it on my next trip through the area (but I sure hope they are there still!)

        1 Reply
        1. re: susancinsf

          Here's "toodie jane's" post buried in her SF road trip, which basically says that stopping Salinas for gas and tacos at El Grullense was the best eats of her visit to San Francisco.

        2. Next time I go back to the US and to Fresno for a visit, I'm going to make a special trip to Salinas for the truck food. We should take a lot of pictures of the food, cooks, and trucks and do a book.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Researching for our annual visit to California -- we are thinking of visiting the Monterey Peninsula and using Salinas as a base -- I hit the California board, and I don't even have to search. Several recent posts on Salinas, but for a sad reason. I'm pleased to find out that there are taco trucks in Salinas, but hope they'll still be there when we visit. My kids have vivid memories of the ones in Oakland (thanks again to you, Melanie). Let's face it, sightseeing is pleasant, but we come to California to eat. The merchants have to understand that it's not a zero-sum game but a win-win situation. Just because I have a taco snack doesn't mean I won't sit down to a full meal a couple of hours later. Street food is part of a vibrant social ecology, helping to draw people to an area and keep it thriving. --PR

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I would love to collaborate with the renowned Dr. Fujisaka, Food and Agricultural Anthropologist! I've escorted reporters from two different newspapers, maybe it's time for our own tale of the taco terrain.

              Thank you for the suggestion to photograph the cooks. It is important to remember the people behind the food. The trucks do try to differentiate themselves and are quite distinct.

              Closer to your hometown, many of the towns in the Central Valley have or are in the process of getting rid of street vendors. Eternal vigilance is in order.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I would love to do it. The significant stories of the cooks would fill out the human drama. I expect we would not have any language or cultural problems with whoever we encountered.

                The sadness of "progress" extends to the loss of those orange shaped, orange colored orange juice stands we used to have along HW99 up and down the Valley; to the the memory of the produce stands throughout the eastern side that sold stuff in the lug boxes propped up at an angle; to the almost unknown past service of mobile trucks that served (us) fieldworkers good food and cold "pop".

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie, if ever a group wants to take a meandering trip through the central valleys to check out the taco trucks before they become history, be sure to invite out-of-towners as well....I would gladly make the trip there (even in the heat of summer!) to try some of the places you have been describing.

                  I ate some good (home-made) tacos tonight (carne asada) and I'm STILL getting hungry reading your posts!!

                  1. re: janetofreno

                    So far, I've only hit up the Salinas Valley, which is quite cool and foggy during the summer. Same weather as San Francisco, good for growing lettuce and world-class Pinot Noir!

                    Stay tuned.

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    You really should. Indeed, you should take your postings and turn them into a freelance article. I suspect the reporters may be missing the story....I can't imagine they could do a better job of making the food and people come alive for the reader!

                2. Melanie they sound great. Maybe we ought to organize a Salinas Chowhound Taco Truck Crawl and invite the new mayor to join us.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: jaweino

                    Spoken like a true chowhound, willing to go the extra mile to find the best eats no matter what the setting.

                    At the January hearing, it was clear to me from comments that some of the councilmembers made that they'd never eaten at a truck. I have to give Mayor Donahue good marks, as the folks at Tacos Colima told me they had served him.

                    Tacos Colima #1 report -

                    I hope we can rein in SusanC and/or Janet of Reno. Their fluency in Español would be very helpful for navigating some of these spots.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      today at Vik's the conversation was all about your taco truck writings, and how we needed to do a ROAD TRIP! :-) Si, claro que quiero ir........ hubby says he will come along too if he can do a detour to the Steinbeck museum.

                      by the way, we thought the conversation was appropriate to have over chaat. Janet pointed out that in Mumbai the type of food we were eating would commonly be served from trucks and street stands...

                      I was impressed that Cynsa has already reported on our meal at Viks. (on the SF Board). Will add my comments there, but first have to take a little nap! :-)

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        Don't forget that Melanie mentioned that many of these trucks don't operate on Sunday. Saturday would probably be ok, with Friday better.