Melanie Wong | Aug 12, 200111:16 PM     17

Sebastopol Road between Dutton Avenue and Stony Point Road in the Roseland district of Santa Rosa is where you’ll find an ever-changing mix of taco trucks day or night. Over the past few months I’ve been working my way along the south side of the street (haven’t even made it to the other side yet) trying to figure out who does what best. I’ve only had a chance to visit each of these from one to four times so keep in mind that these are initial impressions.

Nearly all their customers are Latinos who sit at the couple outdoor tables to eat their meal. I’ve not seen more than a handful of gringos in all my visits and those are to go orders. The taco vendors all seemed surprised when I wanted to eat my food on the spot and not have it wrapped to go. To me the fresh grilled aromas and flavors are ephemeral and demand instant consumption. In general, the salsas are spiked much hotter than offered in the County’s taquerias that appeal to a broader crowd. If you’ve got a delicate constitution, best to ask them to go easy on the hot sauce.

All of them charge a buck per taco and offer a wedge of lime with the order. Some have other accompaniments as well. The tacos are the authentic small-sized ones made with doubled corn tortillas with a little bit of meat of your choice. The soft and chewy tortillas used seem to be uniformly of the same high quality, tasting of corn and on the thick side. Maybe they all use the same brand. Standard topping is chopped cilantro leaves, diced fresh onions, and hot sauce.

The most challenging part has been figuring out the hours of operation for these gypsy trucks. Even if they’ve told me when to find them, they’re not there during that time when I come by again. My experience has been in the summer and things be different when daylight savings time ends. I list what I’ve uncovered, yet , it’s best to not have your heart set on one and be flexible about moving on to whoever’s there at the time.

Starting from Stony Point Road and moving eastward, the first truck you’ll find is El Grullense in the parking lot of Giga’s Sports Bar. This seems to be an afternoon truck which packs up by around 8 pm. It’s run by a couple of animated Latina matrons who get a big kick out of flirting with the mostly male customers. The tortillas here are warmed up on an oiled griddle adding another dimension to the tacos. The lengua taco here is on the stingy side. The meat is not seasoned well and the salsa tastes tinny.

Next as you progress eastbound is La Texanita next to the car wash. This is a day-time truck around for the lunch hour and departing around 6:30 pm. Here they have gulf coast-style seafood offerings. The pretty young ladies who take your order have the best English-language skills of the bunch, and they get some sizeable tips ($10-$20) from the flock of well-dressed young men who congregate here. The taco de pezcado is a bargain at $1 with small piece of battered deep-fried red snapper, tartar sauce, spicy red chile sauce, a dice of juicy fresh red tomatoes, and crisp shreds of iceberg lettuce. While the menu says tartar sauce is included, I’ve found that you need to ask for it. The tostada de ceviche, $2, is very good here. Also looking good, but not tasted yet are the coctels of ceviche or shrimp and the shrimp tostadas. The carnitas are light-textured and non-fatty here and the lengua is rich and tender. Each taco was topped with a kind of salsa, a verde made from tomatillos for the lengua and salsa fresca for the carnitas. They’re accompanied by radish slices and grilled scallion. The tables are set with bottles of hot sauce if you need more heat. On weekends the drinks man sets up his refrigerated dispensers and sells horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica (hibiscus) aguas for $1. The horchata is made from scratch and isn’t diluted by too much ice. When the aguas man isn’t here, I’ll settle for a non-alcoholic sangria soda from Señorial.

Further along is the second La Texanita truck in the Joyeria Angelica parking lot next to the Roseland School. Not around during the day, this one shows up in time for the dinner crowd. No seafood here. The carnitas and lengua tacos are good here as well. What’s special here is cabeza (head meat, such as beef cheeks) with long-braised flavors and not too watery. Pickled veggies and grilled scallions accompany the taco plates. The cinnamony horchata here is packed ahead of time in individual cups with ice and depending on when you show up will be somewhat thinned down.

Next in the line-up is Delicias Elenitas on the west corner of West Avenue in the Lita’s Coffee Shop parking lot. This is an afternoon and evening truck which appears after the coffee shop (serving breakfast and lunch) has closed. The coffee shop’s covered patio offers lots of seating attracting more family groups and the set-back from the street makes it more pleasant. My one visit was on a Sunday evening when a salsa bar was set up offering many types of delicious salsas from mild to incendiary and condiments of chopped jalapenos, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, olives, and more. The horchata man has a small stand and you pay him separately. He seemed to be in command of all things dairy, selling not only horchata but also doling out extra crema and crumbled queso blanco for a charge. His horchata is sublime, much creamier and fuller flavored. I suspect he uses whole milk rather than skim, and didn’t mind the premium price of $1.50 for this drink. The tacos of carnitas, lengua and carne asada were all good and I really liked the avocado-based salsa from the bar. Looking around me though, I noticed that most of the customers were chowing down on huge tortas. These must be the specialty, as the price here is a $1 more than the competition and it’s still the most popular item. Driving by on weekdays or Saturdays, I haven’t seen the same salsa and horchata set-up, so I have yet to revisit. Perhaps Sunday is the best day to drop by.

Across the street on the other side of West Avenue is the second Delicias Elenitas truck. It’s in an abandoned gas station next to David’s Shoe Repair. They say they’re open from 11 to 11 every day but that’s not always true. The folks here are from Guanajuato and offer a change of pace with a more diverse and extensive selection of antojitos. The clientele seems older and more established driving new monster pick-up trucks and packing cell phones. I’ve been here more than the other places and still haven’t sampled all the things that grab my interest. There’s a master at work here who packs a ton of flavor into every bite. The seasoning here is extra hot and salty (the Szechwan of Mexico) but oh so delicious. I inevitably need two drinks here to keep my head from blowing off. Fortunately, they stock my favorite flavor of Jarritos Mexican soda, toronja (grapefruit) which can cut through the chile burn.

The taco de lengua is decent with a very hot red salsa and accompanied by a grilled scallion and radishes. About 5” across, the sopes, $4, are large here. My al pastor sope was topped with real cotija cheese (and not Kraft parmesan from the green can) and the crema tastes pure, fresh and not gummy. The gordita with carnitas, $4, was very salty with crisp brown edges on the carnitas filling and a chewy freshly made fat gordita. The other things that sound great on the menu are quesadilla de masa con patatas y chorizo, huarache, taco de suadero (meat between the ribs), and tostada de tinga. The enchilada plates are popular and look fantastic too.

The best item is the pambazo de tinga, $3.50. Think of a sloppy Joe made with fiery sauce. The beef for tinga is stewed until it’s falling apart into flavorful shreds with carrots, onions and lots of black pepper in a hot chile sauce. This sandwich is made with a big round hamburger-size roll, filled with tinga, crumbly queso blanco, crema fresca, and shredded lettuce and then brushed all over with more chile sauce and heated on the griddle. Not pressed like a panini but browned a bit on the grill. The bread seems like day-old but I think that keeps it from disintegrating instantly from all the juices. The whole thing is wrapped up in paper and cut into halves, otherwise you’d never be able to pick it up. Even so, tackling one of these pambazos is a eight-napkin event.

Finally, Tacos Los Magos is in the Union 76 gas station lot on the east corner of Dutton. Walking up to it, the spicy barbacoa aromas start the juices running. But it must be something else in the air as the taco al pastor turns out to be bland and undistinguished. The lengua is just okay, not as soft and buttery in texture as I prefer. The red sauce is hot with a big kick here. The one unique thing that might bring me back is the scoop of soft and sweet stewed white onion slices that accompanies each plate along with a pickled jalapeño pepper and wedge of lime.

My exploration of the Roseland district continues and I haven’t gotten sick yet. I hope that chowhounds can overcome their fears and will try the trucks for some of the best Mexican food to be found in these parts.

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