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Oakland taco truck tour (5 stops --very long)

Tida | Feb 7, 200209:59 PM

-Mariscos la Costa: Intl btwn 29/30 across from Goodwill
Hours 9-6, daily except Tuesday
-Mi Grullense: Intl btwn 29/30 in Goodwill lot
-La Torta Loca: Intl btwn34/35
-El Ojo de Agua: Intl btwn 38/39
-Guadalajara: Intl at 44

Inspired by Ruth Lafler's past posts re. her exploration of taco trucks along International Blvd in Oakland, a group of us hopped into Ruth's newly purchased patriot colored chowmobile (PT cruiser-easily the coolest chowmobile on wheels) and Juanita Pescadore Wilson's teal "reminds me of an I-Mac" colored chowmobile and hit the trucks.

Ruth led the way with Jennifer and crew in tow. We had been given a map and an itinerary by Ruth and started heading out. We didn't even make it to our first "official" stop when eagle eye Ruth spotted the seafood truck and made a quick u-turn.

First stop: MARISCOS LA COSTA on Intl. between 29/30 across from the newly opened Goodwill Store (more on that later). Here we ordered a small campechanas ($8) and a small agua chile ($7). We were advised by someone who we quickly recognized as a regular to have the agua chile with shrimp only. Other items on the menu include a number of cocktails with seafood combos like shrimp and octopus, shrimp and oysters, shrimp and crab and tostadas with the same combinations atop.

We were given a bag full of crispy corn tortillas that were not greasy at all. They had a great deal of heft, good thickness to support the seafood toppings that would decorate them, and good corn flavor. The campechanas was a mixture of seafood (one huge oyster which all of us save Melanie was scared to eat, shrimp, and octopus) in a tomato based liquid. THis was also chock full of diced avocado, onion, and cilantro. The agua chile with shrimp only was in a spicy tomato base liquid with red onions and cucumber. These came with sides of crackers, limes, and packets of hot sauce.

As we were standing in the rain trying to load up our tortilla chips with seafood, the proprietor gave us 3 tostadas. One was loaded with octopus and imitation crab while the other 2 were loaded with shrimp ceviche.

People enjoyed the agua chile more than the shrimp ceviche because of its spiciness and the texture of the shrimp was less cooked and softer than that of the shrimp ceviche. At the end of this frenzy, we took more time to speak with the man who had given us the great recommendation and he spoke of his own quest to uncover the deliciousness of the trucks. He recommended that we go across the street to try what he considered to be the best al pastor. Though Ruth disagreed, she kindly let the rest of us find out for ourselves so across the street we went. Additionally, before we left the proprietor gave us peppermint candies. So gracious!

Second stop: MI GRULLENSE on Intl btwn 29/30 in the Goodwill Store parking lot. Apparently, this Goodwill store had just opened and there were balloons, etc and all kinds of festivities. We had our own little festivity as Ruth opened up the backdoor of her cool car, pulled down a shelf, and set up an improptu kitchen with a flexible cutting board and knife. We had come prepared! Here we ordered 1 taco de lengua (tongue) and 2 al pastor ($1.25 each). Condiments that came on the side were pickled jalapeno, radishes, and lime. Melanie observed that for $1.25 per taco, these were quite generous on the meat, a good size taco. The soft corn tortillas were good with strong corn flavor. The al pastor didn't knock anyone's socks off (Ruth was right and we didn't listen). The meat was astringent and was reminiscent of BBQ with sauce and all. The salsas were unremarkable. However, the lengua was good. This was my first time partaking of tongue. Jennifer would have nothing to do with it b/c of bad associations from childhood. Though Celery also could recall a bad tongue meal from the past (overcooked tongue with canned peaches) she was game. Those of us who tried it liked it's soft texture, a quality of good tongue I was told. I was also told that it's better if the tongue is skinned. Well, the diced pieces of this tongue taco still had skin on it but that wasn't a detractor. To me, it was just like meat and the butteriness of it was quite nice.

Third stop: TORTA LOCA on Intl. btwn 34/35, # around 3417. This is not a truck but a storefront. Here we ordered sopa de nopales (cactus),($2.75), taco de suadero (beef taken from between the ribs),($1.65), pamboso with chorizo and potatoes ($4.00), huarache de chiccarone ($2.75), huarache de tinga, and champadurro (slightly viscous Mexican hot drink made from hot milk, Mexican chocolate, and finely ground corn flour(?) as a thickener).

The huarache is named so because its shape resembles a sandal of which huarache is the spanish translation. Huaraches and sopas are made from fresh masa and both are supposedly made fresh to order, according to Melanie. The huarache de chiccarone had a layer of salsa verde, queso blanco, and then chiccarones. Reactions to this included: "spicy, good, the meat's not substantial but comes and then goes, crisp on the bottom and soft on top". This was very well liked. But then, if you enjoy fat for fat's sake, what's not to like about crisped pork skin?

The sopa de nopales (cactus) was topped by cactus, queso blanco, onion, lettuce, tomato, salsa verde, and was all binded on to the sopa by refried beans. THis was likened to a tostada with it the crispiness. Limster enjoyed the slightly slick after-texture of the cactus.

The pambaso (a sandwich) with chorizo and potatoes also included lettuce, queso blanco, cilantro, and chopped jalapenos between two crisp pieces of bread. This was very strong and assertive in flavor. The taco de suadera came topped with cilantro and onion.

As a topper, we ordered huarache de tinga which was very smoky from the chipotle chiles in it. I'm not sure what cut of meat this is but to me the texture was like a buttery pulled pork. THis was very very good.

The champadurro we shared was enticingly warm, chocolatey, spicy, and delicious. The warm part at that point of the trip was criticall as we've been eating outdoors, huddling under makeshift roofs for protection from the rain. No matter, it all tasted good despite our dampness.

Fourth stop: EL OJO DE AGUA. Intl btwn 38/39, in the parking lot of the International Produce Market, around 3843. We ordered a cubano tortas ($5.50) which is a huge Cuban-style sandwich, tacos al pastor ($1.25), tacos de cabeza (beef cheeks though translated into english as head), and tamales de pina con coco. This truck also has a number of fruit shakes and aguas frescas. For libations we ordered champadurro and 3 agua frescas: horchata, guava, and strawberry.

When our tacos came out, Melanie first commented on the fabulous lushness of the salsa verde made with tomatillas and avocado. Both sets of tacos were served with sides of lime, radish, pickled jalapeno, grilled onion (like a big grilled scallion), a strip of cactus, and cucumbers. Melanie ordered another side of onions so we could all taste one. The tacos were quite spicy because of the salsa verde and the al pastor was also astringent. The cabeza had salsa verde and a red salsa. The torta cubano was huge! Not the usual panini size cuban sandwiches I'm used to. No, this thing was like New Orleans muffaletta size. It included avocado, grilled cheese, ham, roasted pork loin of high quality(!), grilled onion, lettuce, and tomato. It was quite a sandwich and by that point in the eatfest, I think we were all glad there were six of us to take a portion.

The drinks were absolutely fantastic. The horchata was creamy and redolent of cinnamon. The strawberry agua fresca was slightly acidic and gave nice contrast to the richness of all the food we had been eating. It was my favorite and I thought it was very refreshing. The guava agua fresca was cotton candy pink and very guava-esque. The champadurro was even better IMO than that at Torta Loca. It was more chocolatey and a bit more substantial. It was basically Mexican hot chocolate. So tasty!

Our dessert was the tamale de pino con coco. We kept these wrapped in their corn husk wrappers and they retained their heat. When we removed them, we oohed and aahed over their beautiful caramel color and anticipated what they would taste like. We divided them into 6 portions and all were able to pick them up and eat them by hand, without them falling apart! They weren't too sweet and had some chunks of warm pineapple inside. They were a very nice ending and Celery said she could use about 6 more or so. Secretly I think we all agreed.

Our final stop: GUADALAJARA at Intl and 44. We were pretty much fooded out by this time and encouraged by Ruth to go on. We decided to obtain one more al pastor data point for comparison and we also got another tongue taco. Here, no salsas or condiments came with the taco but there was bottled sauce available. Minced onion and cilantro came on both. By that time, people picked at a piece of meat for flavor and concluded that the al pastor was not as good as the last stop's. But the tongue was not as good as the second truck's tongue. This tongue was not as soft and buttery. The most amusing thing about this truck was the signs around the parking lot where it was stopped. "Por favor No musica y no quemar llanta" or No loud music and no burning rubber. As we exited, both Ruth and Jennifer were careful to heed the sign.

All in all, the fave taco truck was El Ojo for the torta cubano, the salsa verde, the al pastor, the tamale de pino con coco, and those fantastic drinks. Torta loca, the storefront, also got raves for the excellent huarache de tinga and taco de suadero. Finally, the first truck was recognized as something special which Ruth had originally indicated. Most of the trucks have your al pastor, cabeza, lengua, etc but Mariscos La Costa is the only seafood one in the area and the agua chile with shrimp is worth seeking out!

Thank you to Ruth for the inspiration, the cool ride, and the guidance. Thank you to Juanita for organizing the trip and providing handi-wipes (thanks mom!) Thank you to Ruth, Juanita, Melanie, Celery, and Limster for
a great afternoon and a wonderful graze!

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