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Report: Taco Trucks of Oakland, Pt. I (long!)

Ruth Lafler | Aug 26, 200101:28 AM

Amazing how many taco trucks there are on International (E. 14th) if you're looking for them! I started at the corner of 29th/Int., cruised down Int. to High "scouting" them, and realized I'd have to make several trips to check them all. Darn! (g)

I decided to start with the truck at High/Int., as garcon had suggested and as I remembered it had a "rep". As Jennifer noted, though, although the El Zamorano Taqueria is still there, the truck in the parking lot is now "Tacos el Sol". I believe I've seen an El Zamorano truck around, though, so I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

The real point of this expedition was that I was hoping to find some of the regional specialties Melanie has been discovering, but no luck here: standard taco truck menu: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas, with the basic fillings: carne asada, lengua, sesos, al pastor, carnitas, cabazas, pollo. Still, since I was there I ordered one each of the al pastor and asada tacos "with everything" to go. By the way, I didn't find that location particularly "iffy" -- it's a large parking lot with lots of people coming and going about their business. But then the only thing that gives me pause, having grown up in Oakland, is an ill-lit area where I have to walk a distance to my car with only a few characters loitering/skulking around.

I had planned to turn back, but I spotted another truck a tiny distance farther south (44th/Int.). Guadalajara has a much more extensive menu, including tamales, flautas, sopas, tostada ceviche and something called "tacos dorados" (which he couldn't describe for me and claimed to be out of). They had a wider range of fillings, too, including tripe. This site is a tiny vacant lot, where they have put up some benches. Squeeze bottles of red and green salsa are available. I decided to order a tamale (pork, $1.75, with "everything") and pressed on.

Heading back down Int., I realized most of the taco trucks are one the west side of the street. I decided I'd go back to the one on the east side of Int. at 29th and head home with my "research" while it was still warm.

Waiting for the light at the corner of 35th I noticed a tiny pushcart with "Eloteo Tamale" on the front on the southeast corner and a larger unidentifiable cart on the northeast corner. There was also a large cart on the southeast corner of 34th/Int. Three carts in one block sounds worth checking out later (although they may only be out on Saturday night).

Finally, back at 29th/Int. I stopped at the El Paisa truck in the parking lot of the La Bodega furniture store. Their menu is approximately the same as El Sol, and I ended up ordering the same tacos (the better to do a side-by-side comparison) and a horchata (a bargain at $.75). I'm not an expert on horchata, but this struck me as being good, but not creamy enough to be great; the cinnamon was also a little overpowering.

Five minutes later I was home and dug in.

As I opened the bags, the first thing that struck me was the beauty of the El Paisa tacos. The two tacos were snuggled on a small square tray, with the radishes, picked jalapeno and lemon wedge alongside. The tray was filled to the edges and tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. It had geometric look that was somehow Japanese in effect. I never expected taco truck fare to have "presentation," even if it was probably inadvertent. The El Sol tacos came with the identical accompaniments (except the citrus wedge was lime, a point in their favor).

Already ahead on presenation points, the El Paisa tacos pulled away after my first bite. Although the El Sol tacos had salsa on them (green on the al pastor, a green base with some red tomato bits on the asada) and the El Paisa tacos didn't, the latter didn't need any additional flavor: the flavors of the meat with the generous topping of chopped onion and cilantro were bright and fresh compared to the slightly muddy and over-grilled flavors of the El Sol (although these brightened up considerably with a squeeze of the lime). There was also a noticable difference in the tortillas, with the El Sol tortillas lacking in dark griddle marks; when I isolated a bite of tortilla, it seemed a little undercooked and flabby.

Finally, the Guadalajara tamale, which came with a light topping of melted cheese, the same radishes and pickled jalapeno, plus several slices of pickled carrot and two small containers of red and green salsa. This was a disappointment: the masa had a nice texture and excellent corn flavor, but the pork filling appeared to have no seasoning at all. If I had been hungrier, I would have tried to doctor it up with the accompaniments, but having just eaten four tacos, I set it aside for later.

How convenient that the tacos I liked best were the closest to my house! Like a true chowhound, though, I'm not going to stop until I've tried them all and made sure I've ferreted out any specials hidden at the back of a dusty parking lot.

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