Restaurants & Bars

Salinas Street Food

Melanie Wong | Nov 28, 200309:30 PM     21

After some wine tasting this afternoon, I asked my designated driver to take us home via the east side of Salinas, the Alisal district, to see what sights and smells of Mexican food we might find. First we cruised E. Alisal Street which was lively with restaurants, grills, taquerias, panaderias, and grocers. But before I could decide where to stop, I asked that we loop around E. Market St. That's when we sighted the taco truck row. Bingo!

Along the 600-block of E. Market, there were four taco trucks, plus a hot doggero, parked on both sides of the road. This stretch of road is darker at night than Alisal Street a block away. Still mostly commercial, but fewer eating establishments, stationary ones that is.

First, we stopped at the hot doggero, Jaquez Fast Food Service, identifiable by the umbrella over his cart and a sidewalk sandwich sign that offers "Hot Dogs, Champurrado, Elotes". It's next to JJ's Auto Stop and Save lot. There was a small crowd here waiting for their orders. Then a van pulled up, two caballeros dressed in full gear for a mariachi band performance jump out to get a cup of warm champurado. The hot dogs wrapped with a spiral of bacon are cooked and kept warm on a small glass-enclosed flat top. The buns are warmed on the flat top to order. A hot dog "con todos" is dressed with a squirt of mayonnaise, then piled with chopped fresh tomatoes and onions, two pieces of quartered jalapeño escabeche, relish, ketchup, mustard, and finally a squiggle of crema. They're served on a square of aluminum foil to eat out of hand, which we did, wolfing them down on the sidewalk. These masterpieces are $2.50 each. The champurrado has a faint amount of chocolate and is very smooth and creamy with hardly any graininess. A small champurrado is $1.50 and a large is $2.

We window-shopped three of the four taco trucks. Interestingly, they all offer a good selection of mariscos in addition to the meat antojitos. One, El Kiosko, had a sandwich board listing the day's specials which included various kinds of ceviche (e.g., jaiba) and the coctel of the day. Tacos el Rigo had the largest selection of meats, including buche, barbacoa de cabeza, sesos, birria, and more.

I settled on La Perla (701 E. Market St.) parked in front of the insurance office at 600 E. Market St., just down from Freedom Bakery (604. E. Market) because it had a serve yourself salsa bar set up on a TV tray on the side walk with some good looking hot sauces. We tried two tacos - chicharrones and lengua - a buck apiece. The chicharrones was cooked at that moment with a medium spicy tomatillo salsa which kept most of it crunchy in contrast with the meaty bits and parts that were spongy. The lengua was soft and paired well with the smoky roasted pepper red salsa from the bar. The doubled small tortillas were very tender and good quality. We liked both tacos very much. The cilantro and onions for our tacos were chopped to order. While we stood next to the truck eating our food, we noticed that the cook did this for each order. That extra bit of freshness counts. The truck can be found at this location 7 days a week, and on Tuesdays, tacos are 2 for 1.

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