We brake for food trucks

foodtrucks2A row of food trucks along a narrow parking lot, wedged between Interstate 95 and an industrial harbor  in New Haven, Conn., was a welcome find over the weekend.

We’ve sped by many times at 55 mph, not paying much attention to the activity along Long Wharf. Paul thought maybe it was a a group of souvenir hawkers or crafters. But when we were casting about in the Elm City on Saturday, disappointed in an art exhibit we drove in for, Paul suggested we park the car and explore before we enter the highway and head home. Wow! It was almost all taco trucks! For-real looking taco trucks, too. Serving up urban realness with a side of grit and a slab on concrete.

There were at least 12 trucks to choose from. Which one is the best? Being caught off guard, without having looked up reviews on Yelp or Chowhound, we had to size up each vendor and gauge the crowd. Just like an Indian restaurant gains credibility when I see patrons who appear to be of Indian heritage, I wanted to see which truck was swarming with “authentic people*”

For gringo tastes, a plain white truck with hot dogs.

For gringo tastes, a plain white truck with hot dogs.

I wasn’t even particularly hungry, but a snack seemed in order. All the trucks were colorful and flamboyant, except for Sweeny’s hotdogs, which looked a little out of place and attracted almost no attention. Some others were, on second glance, more about Cuban or Puerto Rican food. No panuchos or anything else that suggested Yucatán, and believe me I looked.

It came down, in the end, between Ixtapa and Santa Apolonia. At that moment, the line outside the latter food truck appear comprised of a sensible group whose taste I decided to trust. We were not disappointed by our silent influencers.

These people seemed to know what the were doing, so we joined them.

These people seemed to know what the were doing, so we joined them.

We each had a taco al pastor, which in this case came with a small side of potato strips and grilled jalapeños. Garnishes included a mix of beans, which Paul said was delicious. Including a good-sized bottle of water (Poland Spring, not Cristal!) we paid $5.

We looked for a place to eat. We dodged cars to reach the small grassy strip along the harbor, but there were no benches or tables. As the tacos grew cold, and some of the hot sauce sloshed onto Paul’s trousers, we dashed back across the access road to lean against our car. Later, I read on a food blog that you could carry your food under the highway overpass and sneak it into the Ikea cafeteria. That seemed a little extreme to me. I was perfectly happy where I was. If you squinted, the trucks roaring by could have been rides on a carnival midway.

What a wonderful alternative to the typical highway rest-stop serving Big Macs and croissan’wiches. Our money stayed local and the food was delicious, fresh and wholesome.

The mural on the back of the food truck won me over.

The mural on the back of the food truck won me over.

* “Authentic people” is an in-joke. Years ago, when Stop & Shop started selling sushi prepared on-site, the cashier let us know that actual for-real Asians were rolling the sushi by saying that they were made by “authentic people.” Somehow, the public doesn’t mind non-Italians or non-Greeks making pizza, but some of us absolutely demand Asian representation in the kitchen if we’re eating food associated with China, Japan or Korea.

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  1. Would you believe that here in Barcelona we have found 2 decent Mexican restaurants? We love Spanish food but were ready for a break. Last night I had caldo tlalpeño that was better than some I have had in Mexico, and a couple nights before I had very tasty tacos de cochinita pibil!

    • Barcelona sounds like a dream. I’d love to go one day. I’m guessing you have yet to have a bad meal there.

      • Actually, unless you want to spend a fortune to go to the famous gourmet restaurants, I would say Barcelona is no better or worse than any other major city. In the tourist spots there are some pretty bad places. We have had some good meals, and some mediocre meals here. I think that we ate better in Valencia than Barcelona. Our favorite eating experiences in Barcelona were several breakfasts at one of the stands in the Boquería Market on Las Ramblas.

        • Funny, when we went to Italy, breakfasts were most memorable. It’s what you get for going to the cities with the most tourists. For dinner, the less I spent and the less pretentious my ambitions, the happier I was.

  2. Ha! (I’m so jealous!) At the time of our visit, a decade ago, the owner was not selling his salsas; but, as we had come so far, he allowed us to buy two cups “to go” which we coveted and savored till gone.

    We do have a national treasure here in the Buffalo area, called TED’s Hotdogs, which is a local original with several local branches – although there is another in Tempe Arizona, which I assume is a retirement branch, being the only branch outside Buffalo. And there is some rival competition local to Buffalo, called THEODORE’s. apparently due to some family dissension. TED’s charcoal-grilled dogs are worthy of a cross-country trip (although I do wish they would offer an all-pork dog). But they do have an all-pork spicy sausage in natural casing which is excellent. And their fried onion rings are superb.

  3. We once contrived a vacation theme around finding the best hotdogs in the northeast. A memorable vendor who also has a food truck is SuperDuper Weenie of Fairfield CT (Exit 24, off I-95). The owner studied at CIA, and his salsas and relishes are sublime. That stop was the high point of the excursion.

    • Super Duper Weenie is about a mile and-a-half from my house! I remember when it was a food truck on the traffic circle. Of course we never go there because the french fries are impossible to resist. Rawley’s, also in Fairfield, is delicious, too, and like Super Duper Weenie has been on national TV and magazines. I can’t believe I’m talking about Fairfield on my Mexico blog…

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