Restaurants & Bars

San Francisco Bay Area Oakland

Oakland taco trucks: carnitas

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Oakland taco trucks: carnitas

Ruth Lafler | Jun 29, 2007 12:55 PM

I was out "taco trucking" last night with a visitor, and ended up trying carnitas at two trucks.

One was completely new to me truck: El Grullo (which I learned today is a town in Michoacan), which is parked at the Chevron station at the corner of High and Foothill. The carnitas here was very good: tender, moist and redolent of pork fat, with some nice browned bits to add caramelized fat flavor. Very close to my benchmark carnitas taco at El Novillo (Fruitvale and E.12th).

The other new-to-me carnitas was at one of my favorite trucks: El Gordo #2 at International and 42nd (evenings and weekends only). Although I've seen rave reviews for their carnitas, I've never had them: I usually go for their excellent al pastor, with a suardero "chaser," and the one time I went specifically to try the carnitas, they didn't have any. This was a very different take on carnitas: although the meat had a good porkiness, the "star" was the salsa. Most other places use a green salsa with their carnitas, but El Gordo uses a red salsa that has a smoky quality that made me think it included chipotle. However, my companion was a journalist who had arranged to meet and interview the owner of the truck -- the charming Carlos Montero -- and Carlos assured me there was no chipotle in the salsa. Perhaps he was protecting his "trade secret" or perhaps there was something else providing that smoky note, but it was very good. I didn't like it better than the green-sauced versions where the pork is more the star, but it was delicious in its own right.

It was really interesting to meet and talk to the owner of one of my favorite trucks, and hear about his history in the business: his father has a taco cart back home in Mexico, which is memorialized in the mural on the back of the truck (note: after all the times I've been there, I never noticed until I saw it going down the street the other day that El Gordo #2 is actually a trailer, not a truck: Carlos said he switched from a truck to a "wagon" because it's lower and has a plexiglass front, so that people can look in and see the food cooking, which he says appeals to customers. I noted also that at night, with the lights on inside, the interior "action" is clearly visible to cars going by, making it good advertising. He had the wagon specially customized for him by an outfit in LA that specializes in outfitting taco trucks.). Carlos said he started out with a smaller set-up in a nearby parking lot, and that he's going to be opening a taqueria in San Leandro in the next month, demonstrating clearly the important link taco trucks play in the economic upward mobility of the immigrants who run them.

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