VIVA LOS TACO WAGONS
(Long Live Seattle Taco Wagons)
by Kirby Lindsay
Originally published in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook, Capitol Hill Times and South Seattle Beacon newspapers, August 5, 2009
Lately, taco wagons have started serving some of the most authentic Mexican food available all over Seattle – even Wallingford has a taco truck. Rancho Bravo Tacos operates at N.E. 45th Street near Thackeray Place, and from the crowd gathered around on a Friday afternoon, Rancho will probably be around for awhile.
Taco wagons, buses and trucks serve tacos the way most customers in Mexico experience them – dining just off the street. The food they serve bears little resemblance to fast food tacos Americans grew up with, and a visit to any of them qualifies as a instantaneous trip to a foreign land.
According to Angel Aguilar, he and his business partner, Johnny Martinez, “always said Seattle needs a taco truck.” Aguilar came to the U.S. from the Yucatan 18 years ago and, “if I really wanted Mexican food I had to leave town.” Since opening Flair Tacos nearly a year ago, on North 36th Street near Phinney Avenue, Aguilar has learned, “Americans love it. They love Mexican food,” but for his native countrymen, “Mexicans eat at trucks because it is the most authentic.”
The Reality of Wagons
No matter how casual and fly-by-night these wagons may appear, Public Health – Seattle & King County requires they have permits just like any restaurant. As Hilary Karasz, a spokesperson, explained, Public Health permits over 10,000 eating establishments around the county, including all ‘mobile food establishments.’The permit granted for a taco wagon is on the vehicle, Karasz explained, and “we don’t really care where they go.” However, they must be in locations with “access to a bathroom with running water.” According to Karasz, Public Health inspectors check each wagon a total of three times a year – twice as surprise inspections and once to educate staff about better food preparation practices.
Certainly, Aguilar didn’t open Flair, his first business venture, on a whim. It took Martinez and he nearly six months to satisfy paperwork and permit regulations for the city, county and state – and that was only part of their journey.
They first bought their truck two and one half years ago, Aguilar explained, and the first task was to find a location. “I really wanted to be on Capitol Hill,” Aguilar proclaimed, but “there is no room on Capitol Hill.” He needed a parking space, but those he inquired about all had pending plans for condominium construction.
According to Aguilar, he also considered street parking, but found a City requirement for a million dollar insurance policy for street side operations too steep. After a year he found a parking space in Fremont with nearby access to a bathroom (for employees) and running water.
The Reality of the Food
Today, Flair offers the delicious, and cheap, cuisine of all taco wagons. Aguilar explained how most tacos served at local wagons use recipes traditional around Mexico, D.F. (Distrito Federal – the capitol of Mexico). Aguilar would prefer to serve food from the state of his birth. “Someday I will open one with food from Yucatan,” Aguilar explained, but now he offers “the hot dogs are Yucatan because I can’t get them here.”
Taqueria Los Potrillos (6230 Rainier Avenue South) also serves great food – flavorful, spicy and varied, especially in their selection of taco fillings. Also, cheap - each taco costs $1.10 each. They serve horchata – a rice milk drink made with vanilla, cinnamon and sugar – and it is scrumptious. Los Potrillos has an associated location - Taqueria El Rincon at 14th Avenue South near Trenton Street.
One additional attraction of Los Potrillos may be their tent covered dining area, like Taqueria La Pasadita (at North Northgate Way between Corliss and Meridian) offers. La Pasadita, located at the extreme other end of the city, offer diners equally high-quality food. In addition, they sell a selection of imported Mexican candies and products. Their horchata also tasted delicious.
Tacos El Asadero, the taco bus located on South Othello Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Way, features indoor seating, so diners enjoy the wonderful smells and feel less transient. The Othello El Asadero sells the ‘real’ Coca-cola, imported from Mexico, alongside their well-made, not too spicy, food. Additionally, the bus looked spotlessly clean.
According to Aguilar, Tacos El Asadero on Rainier Avenue South at South Court Street, has the same owner as the one on Othello. However, this El Asadero has been referred to on the internet by some extremely pleased diners as Seattle’s original taco bus. Inside has been invitingly decorated, although many diners prefer the large tented dining area or to walk up to the exterior window for takeout.
Additionally, check out Tacos Patzcuaro Michoacán on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South at Rose Street and Taqueria el Trompo Loco, on East Marginal Way South near Carleton.
For those still unsure about the safety of dining al fresco, Karasz recommended customers observe first. Cleanliness, she admitted, doesn’t guarantee anything. “You can have a perfectly clean kitchen and still get cross-contamination,” she observed, but a clean establishment “suggests that [the vendors] take care.” Also, demand the correct temperature of your food. “If it isn’t cold, or hot, send it back.” Ultimately Karasz said, “it is all about management.”
“Food borne illness is a big problem,” Karasz insisted, and diligence can help stop it. “Dozens of inspectors are out every day,” Karasz explained, “but we rely on the public.” She asked consumers “report to Public Health any time you get sick at a restaurant” by calling, when sick, 206/296-4774 to speak with an epidemiologist. If you witness unhealthy practices at a food establishment, call 206/205-4394 and check out www.kingcounty.gov/health/foodsafety
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.