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Teach Me How to Go to a Taco Truck (moved from L.A. board)

Hi. I'm Mrs. Darcy and I've never been to a taco truck. I'm ashamed of myself. I've always just been a little too shy, and a little too non-Spanish-speaking to have figured it out before now, and IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY.

So here are my questions.

1 -- I live in the Studio City area. Where should I go, relatively nearby, to try a taco truck? Bonus points for a slightly non-dodgy neighborhood -- I'd like to bring my six-year-old with me and feel safe. But I am almost always comfortable in the North Hollywood-Van Nuys nexus.

2 -- What will we order? The hitch -- we def. don't want pork, and I probably don't want beef, though my kid will eat it. Do all the good trucks offer chicken tacos or other chicken entrees?

3 -- Are there every any vegetarian entrees for my husband to try? Quesadillas?

4 -- How do we order? What is the process?

HELP ME, 'HOUNDS!

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  1. Believe it or not, I understand your reticence, but the first thing you have to understand is that these guys want all the customers they can get, so you're on first base already. No taco truck to my knowledge is Spanish-only; even if the folks aren't fluent, they know the English words for anything you might want to order in that language. If it's a good truck there'll usually be enough of a crowd that you won't have to worry about getting mugged.

    To answer #2, just about everyone has chicken. They saw you coming. As for #3, get him an agua fresca of some kind and feed him something before or after, because for the life of me I can't think of anything vegetarian on one of these things, unless you can just order a tortilla or two and work out how to pay for enough trimming items to fill it with a salad.

    #4 - Boy, that's a tough one. Just guessing here, but I'd say (a) look over the menu, (b) step up to the window (usually the front one if they have several), and (c) tell them what you want. Then give them some money and wait for your number to be called. If you're Spanish-impaired they'll usually do it in English.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen

      If you do find a vegetarian item, be aware that it's likely cooked on the same griddle as meat. Even the beans likely have a little bit of lard in them (though if that's okay, they'll probably make you a bean burrito).

      1. re: Bjartmarr

        You can always ask for a plain cheese quesadilla and add salsa, chilies, radishes, etc but I agree, it will be cooked on the same griddle

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Maybe it's a location thing but man I can't remember the last time I saw chicken on the menu of a taco truck.

        Most common items on taco trucks that I frequent are..

        Carne asada (guisada)
        Carnitas
        Lengua
        Cabeza

        7 Replies
        1. re: burntwater

          Translations:

          Grilled beef (or stewed)
          fried pork
          (beef) tongue
          (beef) cheeks, which are amazing

          You can ask if they have chicken ("┬┐tienen tacos de pollo?") but it's not as common as you might think. Often there's a menu -- "tinga" often means chicken stewed with onions and tomatoes though it can mean beef.

          As for how to order, just speak English to them at the window. If their English isn't too good somebody will step in and translate, no problem.

          Concur that you should try the one in the carwash on Vsnowen as described above.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            Huh. I always figured that cabeza was just another way of saying cesos, which always seemed like a good part of the cow to stay away from. Thanks for the correction.

            1. re: Bjartmarr

              Sesos are brains; cabeza is the various meat from the head, mostly the cheeks, which is honestly the sweetest, tenderest meat on the whole critter. Don't shy away from cabeza!

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Right on.

                cachetes=cheeks, cabeza are various parts as you said.

                1. re: streetgourmetla

                  I've never seen a truck with just cachetes... but it's sort of moot because any of the meat from the cabeza is just as tender, sweet and melty.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Pure cachetes are different, and quite common in Mexico. Taco trucks are a very LA thing, tacos in Mexico come from street stands, fondas or taquerias, never from trucks. LA trucks are "tacos varios"(various meats) on wheels.

                    But cabeza is usually a much safer bet from a truck than pastor or asada, and you're right, they are tender, sweet, and melty. Have to get yourself some cachetes one of these days when traveling.

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              Das thanks for stepping in with the translations.

              Cesos to me is brains and cabeza is head or cheeks and it's usually much better then carne asada.

              If you listen to the locals they are usually ordering lengua or cabeza there is a reason for this.

          2. Good luck on your first taco truck run.

            As stated most will understand english.

            Most important, is protocol. State your order, don't wait to get called on."dos tacos de ____" "con todo?"(with everything) "si" If you stand there with that eager look others will jump your order. In spanish we say" me da dos tacos de _______" (give me two tacos).No pleases, just order straight out.

            The trucks are going to be meat intensive. Some stands have nopales , but they are mingled with meats. If you come across a truck that does quesadillas with vegetable fillings like mushrooms, or squash blossoms, or do huaraches with nopales, just ask for the taquero to make you a taco with onions and nopales, or onions and mushrooms. They'll gladly do it. This is not as likely in the Valley unless you go up to Pacoima, etc.

            Take your husband to Breed St. someday for tacos of mexican rice with hard boiled egg, actually one of the most common street tacos in Mexico City. Does he eat eggs?

            1. One confusing thing about ordering at taco trucks is that they often don't expect you to pay until you are finished eating (at least if you are eating there), so if you are expecting them to ask you for money they might just move on to the next person before you realize it. I'm pretty sure this is because a lot of people ask for another taco or two (the famous "dos mas") and they'd rather people pay all at once. Also there is generally just a high level of trust and cordiality, so they're fine with you grabbing drinks or whatever else, and then telling them everything you had when you're ready to pay. Not all trucks are this way but many are. You can always ask to pay right away, there's nothing wrong with that.

              2 Replies
              1. re: QualityMart

                Absolutely.This is the way it's done in Mexico, and most taco trucks in LA practice this.It;s the honor system. Order, eat, relax,tell the money handler what you had, pay as you're leaving. It's standard to have a money handler, but this isn't always the case here in LA.

                1. re: QualityMart

                  That's a great tip. This practice threw me at first -- probably because I'm not an authentic Mexican.