Amuse-bouche Molly Boyle reviews food truck parks
FOOD TRUCK PARKS
Your pal wants a hot dog, but you’ve got your heart set on some fish tacos. And then your other friend — the one you like to compare to Donny from The Big Lebowski, because he’s always out of his element — pipes up from the backseat that he’s in the mood for a breakfast burrito, even though it’s past noon. Where do you go for lunch?
At a couple of fledgling food truck parks in town, you can choose your own adventure. Last year, both the parking lot at Meow Wolf and the vacant spit of land across from Kaune’s Neighborhood Market began playing host to two or more mobile vendors at a time, allowing hungry passersby to sample a variety of quick and cheap snacks on the go. Our outdoor food courts may have a ways to go before they’re on the level of other cities’ gourmet playing fields, like the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery and its perennially Instagrammable concoctions. But with this summer’s arrival of a few promising newcomers, there are definitely more exciting al fresco eats than ever to be had in Santa Fe.
The always-packed Meow Wolf parking lot is home to the most buzzworthy freshmen on the scene: Trinity Kitchen, which began serving up impossibly delicious Cajun fare in late May. The art collective’s first officially sponsored mobile eatery is run by two childhood friends from Shreveport, and in Louisiana terms, these dudes know how to pass a good time. Everything we’ve sampled here has been standout. The kicky and tender crawfish étouffée benefits from the kitchen’s slow-sweated namesake trinity (onions, bell peppers, celery) in a blond roux over fluffy rice. The fried oyster po’boy is a marvel of great big Gulf bivalves, creamily redolent of the sea and covered in a cornmeal crust, on squishy French bread with arugula and watermelon radishes and accompanied by a tasty tangle of curly fries. The truck’s signature spicy rémoulade, which is at first mouth-watering and then nose-watering, comes on most sandwiches as well as alongside the magnificent crawfish-tail beignets, savory mudbug and veggie hushpuppies that could put to shame this town’s finest and most creative kitchens. With specials featuring fresh ingredients — one day, I had just missed out on a sold-out salad of arugula, goat-cheese stuffed squash blossoms, and pistachios — it’s safe to say that with this truck in town, we’ll be having fun all summer long.
Another Meow Wolf staple, the family-owned Taqueria Gracias Madre, seems to have a perpetual line of customers thanks to its dependably good repertoire of tacos, tortas, burgers, and burritos prepared by husband and wife Enrique Salas and Carmen Martinez. The truck also boasts a sizeable kids’ menu and vegetarian-friendly fare like avocado tacos with quinoa and calabacitas. One busy weekday, we sampled the al pastor and carnitas tacos, each one piled high with green leaf lettuce, cilantro, and lime, and finished with the truck’s zingy tomatillo salsa. The carnitas were salty and slightly crisp, the softer morsels of chilerubbed al pastor studded with delectable bits of pineapple. Across the way, Kebab Caravan’s beef and chicken skewers, falafel, and eggplant are available in a wrap with cabbage, tomatoes, and tzatziki
or on a plate with rice and salad. We opted for the paprika-marinated grilled eggplant wrap, which added a local touch, using a tortilla instead of a pita. A bracing cold brew coffee from the SoCal Mobile Café capped a memorable lunch hour.
The picnic-table seating at Meow Wolf, which could benefit from the shade of several more umbrellas, often features a spirited cross-section of the art installation’s visitors — whiny kids babbling to their guardians about refrigerator portals, lovesick teenagers glued to one another’s lip piercings, and food-seeking flâneuses like me. One day, two twenty-somethings struck up a conversation by comparing the flavors of their snow cones (pink lemon sour and cherry). Soon they were sharing a table, deep in a discussion about grad school, Goya, and being born in 1993. Taking a suggestion from one of them, who said she worked inside, I walked over to Rainbow Snow and requested the sophisticated combo of coconut and French vanilla. The snow cone smelled like expensive sunscreen and tasted like summer.
Over on the southwest corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta, the food-truck customers are mainly locals on their lunch breaks. After a couple postal workers pulled their trucks adjacent to mine one afternoon, we all convened at the shaded picnic tables outside Gerardo’s Andale!, a mobile eatery started last fall by Gerardo Rodriguez, who cooked at Santa Fe Baking Co. for 22 years, and his wife Theresa. The couple serve lovingly prepared traditional Mexican and American items like tacos, burritos, tortas, hot dogs, and burgers. At Theresa’s enthusiastic suggestion, I ordered the carne asada torta, a well-composed strata of robust grilled steak and shredded lettuce, silkily sauced with mayo and perfectly ripe avocado nestled in a soft telera bun. The sandwich was accompanied by a respectable mound of beerbattered french fries.
On an early morning return visit, Gerardo’s hefty handheld breakfast burrito proved a formidable contender in a town that takes this menu item very seriously. It was delivered piping hot from the truck’s grill, complete with buttery eggs, potatoes, green chile, nicely melted cheddar cheese, and piquant sausage. Another breakfast burrito next door at the new Santa Famous Street Eats was a different animal altogether — overstuffed to the point of necessitating a knife and fork and sauced with a righteous red chile, it featured bulky slices of smoky and fatty bacon.
El Sabor Spanish Tapas y Másss is the O.G. of the three trucks parked on Old Santa Fe Trail, having celebrated its one-year anniversary in May. Owneroperator Ever Paz, formerly head chef at El Farol, offers a lengthy menu that combines burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican food items with higherend seafood specials and tapas. A suite of the cod tacos was simply prepared, fresh, and filling, the flaky white fish melding with warm tortilla, lime juice, and large avocado slices under a pile of slivered cabbage. I paired these with a customer favorite, the flash-fried alcachofas — meaty Parmesan-encrusted artichokes under a medley of diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and capers, topped with an expert drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
One illustrious alumnus of the parking lot on Old Santa Fe Trail bears a special mention. Chef Enrique Guerrero, who put his brightorange Bang Bite Filling Station truck on hiatus to open the sparkling new iteration of El Nido in Tesuque last fall, has brought Bang Bite back in a new location this summer. Now situated on West Water Street in an ample parking lot with picnic tables behind Bouche Bistro, Guerrero is supervising a line-up of gourmet burgers, sandwiches, and specials that’s as good as ever. Bang Bite also offers micheladas made with Bloody Maria mix and a rotating cast of local draft beers, as well as Santa Fe Brewing Company canned beers to stay or go. I’m particularly taken with the Who You Calling Chicken, a textural delight of crunchy fried chicken, snappy “trailer-made” pickles, spicy honey sauce, and crisp cole slaw on a floury bun that makes this pioneering lone-wolf food truck a destination all its own.
I walked over to Rainbow Snow and requested the sophisticated combo of coconut and French vanilla. It smelled like expensive sunscreen and tasted like summer.
Alcachofas (fried artichokes) at El Sabor Spanish Tapas y Másss Al pastor and carnitas tacos from Taqueria Gracias Madre
Carne asada torta from Gerardo’s Andale!
Trinity Kitchen’s crawfish beignets and fried oyster po’boy