Author Archives: tacodrew

Los Guachos Opens Sit-Down Restaurant

That’s right, perennial TTC favorite Los Guachos just opened a brand spankin’ new bricks & mortar restaurant serving all of the favorites (spit-roasted al pastor, anyone?) from their truck and more. To get the skinny, see our write up on alt.eats.columbus ->here<-.

If you haven’t subscribed to the alt.eats feed, we’d encourage you to do so. There are a couple of other trucks poised to make the leap to full restaurant operation, and alt.eats is where sit-down restaurants will be covered.

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HonduMex

3868 Sullivant Ave
614.405.1465
Open every day, 10am – 10pm

Click here to map it!

Weird happenings on the west side: Las Catrachas, until recently our city’s only Honduran truck, moved to a location on Sullivant Ave. across from Otro Rollo, and Hondumex has assumed its original location. What does Hondumex do? Burritos, tacos, and pretty much every Honduran menu item that Las Catrachas carries.

This curious converted RV’s pupusas and baleadas don’t quite live up to the high standards set by Catrachas, but their tajadas de guineo con pollo (a Catrachas specialty) is almost identical… which is to say very good… and, as of our visit, not listed on the menu.

If you crave tajadas or baleadas on a day when Las Catrachas is closed, Hondumex will scratch the itch.

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‘Cantina’ vs Taqueria: The Taco Bell Challenge

We can’t count the number of people who have asked us about Taco Bell’s new ‘street’ tacos.  While admittedly curious, our first instinct was to shrug it off – I mean, how much competition could they really give the real taco slingers? – but the frequency of the question wore us down, so… what the heck, let’s at least give it a google.

On our first click, we found this:

“Our Cantina Tacos are based upon authentic-style Mexican street tacos, which are designed using simple, fresh ingredients, that customers regard as high quality.”

-David Ovens, Chief Marketing Officer, Taco Bell Corp., Irvine, Calif.

Now that right there is some serious smack talk (“Mexican street tacos”, “simple, fresh”) mixed up with some world-class bet hedging (“authentic-style,” and “that customers regard as high quality”).  Furthermore, the news release that the above snippet came from also made hay out of Taco Bell’s new ‘carnitas’ offering. Whoa… carnitas? At Taco Bell?  They’re sure seem to be grasping for authentic Mexican street (food) cred… and, no two ways about it, that’s taco truck territory.

Ah, screw it, we’ve got to check this out.

It just so happens that one of our go-to trucks, Taco Nazo, is located directly across from a Taco Bell.  As Taco Bell only offers steak, chicken, and carnitas (while Taco Nazo offers 10 different meat options) we ordered one taco with each of Taco Bell’s meat options from both locations.

Jim hit the Taco Bell drive-thru while the rest of us ordered at Nazo.  About 15 minutes after we received our Nazo tacos, Jim arrived in the Nazo lot with a sack in hand.  We hadn’t really given any thought to ‘speed of service’ as being much of a differentiator, but it must be noted that from a fast food perspective, the Bell wasn’t particularly fast… against expectations, Nazo clearly won on efficiency.

Upon our initial visual inspection of Jim’s haul, though, the Cantina contingent seemed to be reasserting itself. They definitely had all of the authentic Mexican taco elements with their 2 soft corn tortillas, meat, onions, cilantro, and a lime wedge.  I couldn’t have imagined that Taco Bell would feel obligated to be so bound by tradition… we were beginning to feel just a bit uneasy about things.

The next impression was of the striking size difference between the two.  The Cantina tacos were huge – probably half again the size of Nazo’s, yet they were even with Nazo in price (actually a cent less). Hmmmm… there’s that sinking feeling again.

Nazo swung it back around a bit with their overall presentation, though – the three tacos looked particularly nice on the plate with the bright green cilantro jazzing things up, and the cucumbers and grilled pepper were both appealing and conspicuously missing from the Cantina array. Hard to fault the Bell too much for that, though – perhaps if we were having the Cantina tacos in the Taco Bell dining room, it’d be fairer?

But enough with the window dressing, time to dig in!

Steak Tacos:

Appearance – No contest here, Nazo nails this. The Cantina steak consists of slightly pale and disturbingly uniform rectangular beef chunks, while the competitor’s steak looks like… diced steak. The Taco Nazo onions and cilantro were obviously stored separately, put on the taco separately, and as a result looked extremely fresh while the Cantina toppings looked like they had been mixed together hours prior to use. Their nod to cilantro consisted of small flecks of dull dark green that clung to the diced onion bits.

Taste – Nazo takes it again – theirs actually tasted like steak, and good beefy steak at that. The cantina ‘beef nuggets’, as Jim astutely noted, tasted like they were fished out of a Campbell’s soup can. The Cantina tortillas seemed steamed rather than grilled ‘a la plancha’, and were significantly chewier and tougher as a result. There was no cilantro flavor to be found in the Cantina taco.

Chicken Tacos:

Appearance – This match was much closer than the last.  Nazo’s chicken bits were about the size of pea gravel, and showed obvious char from grilling, while the Bell chicken was cut into larger strips, and had an yellow-orange-ish tint from the seasoning. Neither were particularly appealing or unappealing, though the cantina taco still suffered from the pallid onion-cilantro mix.

Taste – Nazo takes it by our show of hands, though well-meaning people might legitimately disagree on this one.  The rub here is that Nazo’s chicken tasted of grilled poultry – which is good – but the Taco Bell seasoning was quite pleasant as well (though one found it to be overpowering).  The texture of both poultry renditions was well within acceptable range. The Cantina chicken tacos still suffered from the same tortilla and topping issues as found in the steak tacos.

Carnitas Tacos:

Appearance – I still haven’t recovered from the sight of Taco Bell’s carnitas, and have to wonder if it ever, at any point in its processing, even vaguely resembled pork. It didn’t so much sit in the tortilla as stick to it, and looked like the answer to a question nobody (should’ve) asked, like, “What would meat stucco be like?”, or “how do we make this tortilla look like it was used as a diaper?”   Even more disturbingly, the adobe-hued grease stained the onions and further darkened the cilantro.

Taste – On the Taco Bell side of things, flavor matched appearance. There was some mention of it tasting like Bac-Os, but that didn’t seem to quite capture the full scope of the catastrophe.  And, really, why try? All you need to know is that it was just awful. If there’s any justice in this world, the food scientist that helped to bring this crime against humanity (and pig) to market should be peering over the edge of a very tall building and contemplating the worst.  And, should the worst come to pass, honesty compels me to admit that I’d eat the results of it before ever considering putting any more of Taco Bell’s ‘carnitas’ in my mouth.

———————

So, Taco Nazo takes it, right?  Well, sure, but that’s not quite the full story – truth be told, we’ve been putting our thumb on the scales in Taco Bell’s favor all along. As all but the most casual of taco truck touristas know, it’s not a taco without salsa, and Taco Bell’s comedy hour cayenne catsup packets were so inferior to Nazo’s fresh salsa that it wasn’t even funny.

In conclusion – if you want a good taco, go to a good taco truck.  If you want a bad taco, go to a bad taco truck.  If there’s no taco truck around, go to Chipotle.

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El Patacon

552 Norton Road (Sunoco station parking lot)
Open 10am – 9pm (starting August 2, 2010)

Click here to map it!

So lets say that an individual of Mexican origins came to the US and worked in the kitchen of a popular South American restaurant in town.  And lets say that this individual came to really like the food that she was making in this kitchen – the arepas, the patacon, the addictive cilantro sauce – and decided to try her hand at providing such menu items at a taco truck she just recently purchased.

That individual’s taco truck would probably be something like El Patacon, and its menu would be likely to look something like this:

Upon seeing this menu, we’d probably be pretty eager to try a few things… perhaps the pabellon criollo and the patacon.

We’d eagerly dig into the pabellon criollo (below). This dish, consisting of rice, beans, shredded beef, plantains, ‘arepitas‘, and lettuce & peppers as garnish, is generally considered to be the dish of Venezuela. A few squirts of the cilantro sauce later, and we’d comment on how a meal this delicious might justifiably be a cause for national pride.  The tender shredded beef, stewed in a piquant spice mix, plays well with the beans and adds character to the rice, we’d note, and probably sum it up as being a great dish… and a very filling one as well.

*sigh*…having reached the limit of our appetites, the patacon would have to wait for later… so we’d take it with us, and reheat it as a late night snack.  Three of us would try it, and three of us would enjoy it immensely – it may be one of those dishes, we’d think, that improves as it’s allowed to sit.  The patacon itself (a smashed whole banana) would maintain its texture but absorb some of the flavor from the beef.  As the beef would seem to be the same as that used for the pabellon criollo, this would be observed to be a big good thing.

In conclusion, we’d say that the west side just acquired a great new option for Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine, and we’d probably be discussing a return trip soon.

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Yumbambé and Taco Trucks Columbus at the Goodale Park Music Series

This Sunday, the Goodale Park Music Series reawakens from its brief mid-summer hiatus to present the latin-jazz vibe of Yumbambé.  Taco Trucks Columbus, as co-sponsors for this show, will be there too, and we’ll be providing tamales from Taqueria Davanne and Mexican sweets from Taco Nazo.

Now, just how much would you pay to be a part of this?  $250?  $125?  Whoa… hold on!!!

Alright. Are you sitting down?  (Arbitrarily) valued at $375, the Goodale Park Music Series and TTC are providing you with this one-of-a-kind experience for free!

The fun starts around noon (Yumbambe plays from 12:30-2:00), and if the spirit moves you, feel free to bring a street food inspired dish (or really anything) to share, potluck style.

We will have two tasty Taco Nazo cakes from Quicho and Betty owners of one of our favorite Taco Trucks!

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Columbus Food Adventures – Food Tours in Columbus, Ohio

I’m proud to introduce my latest endeavour: Columbus Food Adventures, a company specializing in food tours that highlight the best of the Columbus food scene.

And, with this being TacoTrucksColumbus and all, it goes without saying that great taco truck tours are part of the plan. Actually, in many respects, they’re no small part of my inspiration.

The Taco Trucks Columbus team has thrown quite a few free taco truck tours in the past year and a half – some for charity, some free, all for fun.  They’ve been great – we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet our readers and have been tremendously gratified by the positive responses from both participants and truck owners. In short, putting on these tours led to two important observations – people enjoy participating in ’em, and we enjoy throwing ’em.

Hmmmm… maybe there’s a business in that somewhere?

It felt like a crazy idea, but research suggested otherwise.  Culinary tourism is a growing trend, and food tour companies thrive in cities as small as Milwaukee and Raleigh-Durham.  I signed on for a couple of food tours offered in Chicago, and the takeaway was clear – I could do that.

I’m exceptionally proud of Columbus’s food community, and have put a lot of effort into exploring and chronicling it here, at alt.eats, and at hungrywoolf.  We’ve long believed that Columbus’s food scene is a story worth telling and tasting, and I’m excited to have a new platform for doing so.

If you’d like to take a look at our tours (taco trucks, alt.eats, and more), please see Columbus Food Adventure’s new website – columbusfoodadventures.com

Thanks,

Bethia Woolf (aka Hungrywoolf)
Owner and Operator, Columbus Food Adventures

P.S.: We are still entirely committed to maintaining Taco Trucks Columbus and all of our other blogs.  When a new truck pops up, this’ll still be the place to read about it!

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Pupuseria & Taqueria Usuluteca

987 E. Dublin-Granville Rd (Advance Auto Parts lot)
Open 7 days/wk, 11am-8pm(ish)

614.930.8219

Click here to map it!

Note: Pupuseria & Taqueria Usuluteca is back from beyond, and they’ve upgraded to a new, fully mobile truck.  As the owners, operators, and menu remain unchanged, the vast majority of what we originally wrote about them below still remains true (our taste test today verified it).  Probably the most noteworthy change is the inclusion of both loroco and chicken & cheese options for the pupusas.

Elida and family were eager to inform us that last year, after having posted their truck here initially, they was tickled by all of the people (some apparently coming from as far as Cleveland) who visited after having read about them ‘on the computer’.  If you’re in the mood for trying Salvadorean cuisine, stop by PTA and let Elida whip up some pupusas for you (always from scratch).

There seem to be a couple of set approaches that taco trucks take towards developing their menus – one is to provide as much variety as possible, and the other is to specialize in a small number of offerings done unusually well.  This, of course, is not to say that the ‘jack of all trades’ trucks necessarily provide lower quality items, but rather to observe that it is imperative that the ‘minimalists’ do everything they do to a high level.

Enter Pupuseria Y Taqueria Usuluteca.  With their scant three options: pupusas, tacos, and quesadillas, they epitomize the ‘do a few things and do ’em well’ approach.

IMG_4149

For example, the pupusas – hand made to order, these Salvadorian corn cakes are filled with beans and cheese, grilled till crisp on the outside and served with a side of the traditional cabbage salad (called curtido).  The initial crunch gave was to a soft, chewy inside, and the subtle flavor scored well with all who tried it.  The curtido was dressed with a vinegary, slightly spicy red sauce and paired nicely with the rest of the dish.

IMG_4148

The tacos were equally satisfying, and revealed several differences that may be reflective of the Salvadorian origins of the owners. Unlike almost every other taco we’ve tried, the ingredients were placed on a single (though seemingly thicker than usual) tortilla, and were topped with a freshly made chunky salsa instead of the usual onions and cilantro.  We tried them with asada and pastor, and found all kinds of taco contentment in each.

PTU’s operators are friendly and eager to please, give ’em a visit if you’re in the area.

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