HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

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

m
mrs. darcy Sep 4, 2009 04:20 PM

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Will Owen RE: mrs. darcy Sep 4, 2009 04:38 PM

    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
      b
      Bjartmarr RE: Will Owen Sep 4, 2009 05:25 PM

      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
        r
        RoxyGrl RE: Bjartmarr Sep 4, 2009 07:41 PM

        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. b
      burntwater RE: mrs. darcy Sep 4, 2009 06:00 PM

      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
        Das Ubergeek RE: burntwater Sep 4, 2009 08:27 PM

        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
          b
          Bjartmarr RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2009 08:47 PM

          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
            Das Ubergeek RE: Bjartmarr Sep 4, 2009 10:28 PM

            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
              streetgourmetla RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2009 11:07 PM

              Right on.

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

              1. re: streetgourmetla
                Das Ubergeek RE: streetgourmetla Sep 4, 2009 11:31 PM

                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
                  streetgourmetla RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2009 11:56 PM

                  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
            b
            burntwater RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2009 09:19 PM

            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. streetgourmetla RE: mrs. darcy Sep 4, 2009 11:26 PM

          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. q
            QualityMart RE: mrs. darcy Sep 5, 2009 12:03 AM

            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
              streetgourmetla RE: QualityMart Sep 5, 2009 12:08 AM

              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
                a_and_w RE: QualityMart Sep 5, 2009 09:47 AM

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

              2. budsoftaste RE: mrs. darcy Sep 5, 2009 12:12 PM

                I'm not a truck person, but re: non-meat options, I always thought that a lot of (or some) trucks offered potato tacos, i.e. Papa Con Rajas? Is that not true? And/or do you think those might be made with some lard anyway?

                6 Replies
                1. re: budsoftaste
                  streetgourmetla RE: budsoftaste Sep 5, 2009 12:19 PM

                  These are available more in taquerias, but I would imagine that trucks should have these, too.

                  1. re: streetgourmetla
                    b
                    Burger Boy RE: streetgourmetla Sep 5, 2009 01:25 PM

                    I have never seen them on trucks. I have seen some mixed veggie type of things or mushrooms.

                    1. re: streetgourmetla
                      Das Ubergeek RE: streetgourmetla Sep 5, 2009 02:55 PM

                      I've never seen this at a truck. Most tacos de papa in LA don't have rajas (that's strips of roasted chile pepper, sometimes with thin sour cream, to you English speakers) and are dorados (at least nominally crispy). Most truck aren't set up to do tacos dorados (mmmm, boiling oil at 40 mph).

                      The usual vegetable tacos I see are calabacitas (small zucchini-like squash) or hongos (mushrooms) but only in ELA. One truck down in Santa Ana (Saint Anne) had nopales (cactus paddles) and flores de calabaza (zucchini flowers) but it's years since I was there.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek
                        m
                        mrs. darcy RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 5, 2009 03:55 PM

                        Wow -- thanks so much everyone . It seems simple -- and yet it's c omplicated, too! I can't wait to get started. Will prob. go with my kid but without my husband -- we'll search for the veggie-friendly stuff once we get acclimated.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                          streetgourmetla RE: Das Ubergeek Sep 5, 2009 06:18 PM

                          Yes these are out of the Valley.Any truck that does huaraches will have vegetable options.

                          1. re: streetgourmetla
                            Das Ubergeek RE: streetgourmetla Sep 5, 2009 09:07 PM

                            Sorry, I'm trying not to be pedantic but the OP hasn't been to a truck so I'm hoping people can translate things for newbies.

                            Huaraches, which literally means "sandals", are sandal-shaped, large tortilla-like objects that are normally stuffed or spread with bean paste and topped with things. They're very much a Mexico City snack. I love them topped with nopales (cactus paddles) but sometimes you get them with mushrooms or fava beans and they're good that way too.

                    2. s
                      sel RE: mrs. darcy Sep 5, 2009 08:29 PM

                      mrs. darcy, all I can say is keep it simple! You can listen to the other's good advice about protocol, best trucks etc. but don't forget that if you see a truck that looks good and you have time and are hungry, stop for a couple of tacos to try. If you like em buy more tacos or other items, if they arn't great continue on your way. Tacos are usually around a buck apiece so no great investment is wasted even if you stop at the 'wrong' truck.
                      Oh yea, if you find any real gems, please let me, er us all know where you found it!

                      1. j
                        Jwsel RE: mrs. darcy Sep 5, 2009 09:14 PM

                        The best truck near you is the Tacos La Fonda truck at Vanowen and Vineland. It parks in a car wash and has great carne asada. I think they have chicken. The tortillas are made by hand and the meats are good. They also have quezadillas (I think it's spelled like that), which use corn tortillas and are actually fried. Usually, you order them with meat, but I think you can just get a cheese one.

                        The process is simple. There usually is a woman standing next to the truck who will take your order (in English or Spanish). You can also pick from the sodas which are on ice, or order an horchata (a rice drink) or an agua fresca (fruit drink in pitchers on a nearby table). When your food arrives, you can top the tacos and quezadillas with a choice of salsas that are on the ledge of the truck. They have a good pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers), salsa roja and salsa verde, along with a selection of pickled vegetables and, sometimes, roasted jalapenos.

                        Then you eat, standing in the parking lot. (You can either eat there or take it to go.)

                        Another recommendation I would make is to go to a taco stand before you try a truck. El Taco Llama at Magnolia one block east of Cahuenga is a stand set up at a car wash, and it is not that different from a truck. They have a lot of choices, including wonderful carne asada and birria which is roasted and either lamb or beef (I've been told both), as well as chicken. They also have some seafood and more options for vegetarians. There, you order at the window and wait for the food. They have salsas in small plastic containers and picked veggies. The salsa roja is spicy, but phenomenally tasty. Seating is on a little patio with a few tables.

                        (There also is a good El Taco Llama on Sherman Way that has an indoor sit-down area and has pico de gallo. Not all El Taco Llamas are alike.)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jwsel
                          streetgourmetla RE: Jwsel Sep 6, 2009 01:59 AM

                          Tacos La Fonda is a perfect place for Mrs. Darcy's first taco truck experience.

                        2. mrshankly RE: mrs. darcy Sep 8, 2009 12:52 PM

                          Step up to a truck, any truck, and order up a carne asada taco with all the fixings (I recommend the truck in front of the Comfort Inn on Colorado Blvd just west of Eagle Rock Blvd... aka "Fred's Truck"). Eat the beef and get a taste of what taco trucks do best. Otherwise, you're wasting your time. Not trying to be mean here... just trying to save you the uneventful disappointment that will come after ordering chicken from a truck that doesn't make much effort into seasoning or preparing their chicken and pursuing vegetarian in a world that is anything but. The amount of meat in the taco(s) is inconsequential relative to its health impact but the flavor and experience will be exponentially greater than ordering chicken. FYI, Fred's Truck serves non-meat quesadillas and they are fantastic... high quality jack cheese on a large tortilla and his special tomato sauce... can't go wrong. I commend you though for speaking up for help and the willingness to step outside your culinary comfort zone. I wish more of my friends were willing to do that. Let us know what you think after you try it! Enjoy and have fun!!

                          1. DiveFan RE: mrs. darcy Sep 9, 2009 06:07 PM

                            Some other tips that haven't been mentioned:

                            - If you don't like your food soggy and you can eat it near the truck, order it 'para aqui' (for here); it will come on a paper plate. Ordering 'para llevar' (to go) will result in your food items wrapped. The packaging may or may not leak while you are taking it somewhere else.
                            - Re #1, some catering trucks near more upscale locations are VERY gringo oriented; if they don't have a salsa bar and pickled vegetables but have lots of prewrapped stuff, Don't order Mexican style! Fresh salsas are a critical part of the experience.
                            - If your truck has a vertical rotating spit, you may have hit the jackpot. Try the pork 'al pastor' sliced from it onto tacos.
                            - Re #2, as mentioned, don't expect the chicken to be unusually tasty. It is likely stewed or boiled rather than marinated and roasted. I like chicken but rarely from a truck.

                            Good eating!

                            1. k
                              KathyM RE: mrs. darcy Sep 13, 2009 11:11 PM

                              I like my taco meat/quesadilla crispy. What would be the correct way to ask for it? I've looked up Babel Fish Translation and the word for crispy is curruscante. So, should I ask for my tacos "Muy curruscante?" Please help me say the correct phrase.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: KathyM
                                streetgourmetla RE: KathyM Sep 14, 2009 12:34 AM

                                dorado(a)

                              Show Hidden Posts