Archive for the ‘Oakland’ Category

Mi Grullense: Interview with Edgar Galindo, owner’s son

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 16, 2010

So after our aforementioned February ride, Edgar Galindo, the son of the owner of the Mi Grullense taco trucks on International Blvd. contacted me, asking why I hadn’t chosen his trucks for the ride. I informed him that we had, in fact, during the original ride back in October. Given that he seemed to know an awful lot about the history of Oakland taco trucks, I thought I’d knock a set of five his way. (I’ve edited his answers for clarity.)

As he writes: “My name is Edgar Galindo, I run Mi Grullense Restaurant and Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave. and my father Enrique Galindo is the owner of the Mi Grullense business in Oakland, with two taco trucks and one restaurant.”

1) How and when did Mi Grullense start operating a truck in Oakland? What was the scene like at that time?

In the early 1980s taco trucks were big in Los Angeles, they had success in San Jose but were banned so everyone in San Jose with taco trucks was forced to close up their truck, sell or move to a different city. My father is from the town of El Grullo and had family members in the original El Grullense out of San Jose. My mother had a brother in Oakland, Tony Muñoz, who was a butcher and had his own business, he saw that Oakland had a growing Mexican community and told my parents he could try to help them by setting up a spot to park a taco truck in the same lot as his business. (Where the Hollywood Video is on MacArthur Blvd., it used to be a market.) My father’s cousin had a taco truck in San Jose that could not be operated there anymore so my father asked to rent it and operate it in Oakland. This was in 1984. At first, my father and mother would drive the taco truck from San Jose to Oakland daily, until we actually moved to Oakland in 1985. There were only, I believe, two or three other taco trucks in Oakland at the time, I believe El Taco Zamorano was the first and had only been around a few months before we came to Oakland.

2) How many trucks do you guys operate now all over the Bay Area? What’s your most popular location? How much money do you guys make (revenue and profit) per day?

We only have two taco trucks, both in Oakland. We have had a few restaurants but for one reason or another have been forced to move or sell. In the early 1990s we started our taqueria across the street from the Wendy’s on 31st Ave. and International Blvd. It took a few years but the place was a great success. Unfortunately at the height of our success the Native American Health Center canceled our lease, and turned the restaurant into offices. We also had a restaurant on 35th Ave. and Foothill Blvd. but due to slow sales we were forced to close it down. We have Mi Grullense Restaurant & Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave., we have owned that since 1997 and are still up and running.

3) What’s your most popular menu item? Have you ever changed the menu in any way? How have your customers changed over the years?

Our most popular menu item is still the carne asada tacos, followed close by the al pastor tacos.

The menu has changed slightly over the years, our recipe has not changed, but we have added a few new items. We did not sell burritos at first, since they’re pretty much unheard of in Mexico. But we adapted to our customers and added burritos in the early 1990s, we also added tortas and quesadillas at some point in the 90s. Just recently we added a few new choices of meat, we added tripa (cow intestine) and buche (pig stomach) both are very popular. We have also added fish ceviche to our second taco truck to accommodate many customers who kept asking for a refreshing summertime food.

Customers have changed over the years, I remember when there weren’t so many taco trucks populating Oakland. Our lines were crazy, sometimes people waited over an hour to try our tacos! We had families that came from Modesto all the way to Sacramento just to have our tacos on a weekly basis. I remember meeting people in Mexico who had heard of us and were also customers. Nowadays since there are so many taco trucks its hard to compete, but we still have our loyal customers.

4) What’s the best and worst thing about operating a truck? Why operate two right next to each other? Are they different at all?

The best thing would be of course being your own boss. Staying close to home, being able to work with family, meeting so many customers. The worst thing about owning a taco truck is that there is so much competition now, its hard to make a profit, also ex-employees taking recipes and opening up their own taco trucks, and having to rent a location to park the taco truck.

We have two taco trucks right next to each other because our number one truck was getting way too busy and some customers are on a schedule and would leave looking for another taco truck or another place to have lunch. Wo we opened up another taco truck right next to it so customers can have faster, better service. Our two taco trucks are the EXACT SAME, although many customers believe that the tacos are different, I assure you that the food is cooked in the same restaurant, the tortillas are delivered by the same company, and our meat is always delivered daily by the same company! The employees are even the same, they rotate between both trucks.

The only difference is that our number one truck did not sell burritos for a very long time due to how long they took to make and our large volume of customers, although our number one truck does sell burritos now. Also, our number two truck sells tortas and quesadillas, we also added fish ceviche and plan to expand our seafood menu. Another thing is that the hours of operation are different, our number one truck opens at 8 am and closes at 1 am during the week and 3 am on weekends. Our number two truck opens at 11 am and closes at 7 pm during the week and 12 am on weekends.

5) What do you make of this new generation of fusion taco trucks on Twitter, like Kogi BBQ (LA) or Kung Fu Tacos (SF)?

To be honest, I’ve never heard anything about those taco trucks.

East Bay Express 2010: Best Bike Tour

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 14, 2010

Wow! I can’t believe it! The February 2010 Tour de Taco won the East Bay Express’ Best of the Bay 2010 award for: Best Bike Tour. (That said, I’m not sure how many bike tours there are in the East Bay, but heck, I’ll take it!)

As the EBE writes:

Sometimes when you hop on a bike, you just want to ride — around the block, through the neighborhood, until you get tired and find yourself lost and in search of a Slurpee. At others, you need a goal, a destination, a mission. And what’s a more worthy mission than obtaining tacos? According to organizers of the Oaklandish Tour de Taco, not much. Billed as a “gastronomical quest on wheels through the Fruitvale district of Oakland,” the annual ride hosted by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Cyrus Farivar of CaliforniaTacoTrucks.com leads participants along a bike-friendly course from one taco truck to the next. This year’s ride, held in February, stopped at four taco trucks along a 2.5-mile loop and then visited an ice cream parlor a couple blocks down the street for dessert. Those looking to tack another 3.5 miles onto the ride then convened at a bar in Old Oakland for refreshments. The date for next year’s ride has yet to be set, but organizers welcome taco truck veterans and “mobile food noobs” alike, as well as riders of all skill levels. The ride’s free, but don’t forget a helmet, $15 or so for food, and an empty stomach.

As it turns out, although I’m currently in Germany, I plan on being back in Oakland next February for about two weeks, and would love to organize another one. Or heck, all you 510ers, why aren’t you organizing your own, informal ride? If you do, send me pix, por favor!

Get Jerked: Interview with Amira Jackmon, co-founder

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 2, 2010

Although it doesn’t get as much play as its brethren across the Bay or down in LA, the East Bay does have quite a number of taco/food trucks: both new school and old school. In fact, my favorite all-time taco truck remains El Ojo de Agua in Fruitvale. Amongst thew new school, we’ve got Jon’s Street Eats, Cupkates, Liba SF and countless others. But Get Jerked is the first truck that I’m aware of to bring flavors of the Caribbean to my beloved East Bay. Amira Jackmon’s, the truck’s founder, gave me the low-down.

1) Amira, you went from corporate law to food? Huh? How’d that happen? And what’s your connection to the Caribbean, anyway? What about your partner?

Yes. I guess you could say that I went from Wall Street to Main Street. That happened when the firm that employed me for eight years let go of about 100 people in March of 2009. I was one of them. Frankly, I’m not sad about it; it’s been a good thing. I’ve always had an inclination to be entrepreneurial and have dabbled in various ventures over the years. I just never had the courage to fully take the leap on my own. I actually purchased the food truck in 2007 while I was on maternity leave with my son, who’s now almost three. It was my intention to manage the truck from home and not return to the firm so that I could stay home with my son. (What can I say…I’m a Pisces. We’re known to be dreamers!) It turned out not to be such an easy thing to run a taco truck while taking care of a newborn. So my plans got delayed a bit. The firm giving me the boot, in the end, was the push that I needed to finally get the food truck up and running. My legal skills are something that I will always have and that I utilize almost every day in my food business. I also maintain a small practice on the side that I might expand in the future as time permits.

As far as my connection to the Caribbean, I am an African-American who loves and claims all African-derived cultures as my own. I consider us the same people; my ancestors just happened to get off at a different port of call. I reconnected with the Caribbean side of my family during my freshman year of college. It happened the moment I went to my first house party. The big crew on campus at the time was the “Queens Posse” a group of freshmen girls who all hailed from the area around Jamaica, Queens, New York. During the reggae set, one of them started dancing, hands on the ground, legs cocked up in the air and feet on the wall, winding and grinding her waist against some dude to no end. Outwardly, being the nice little Christian girl from Fresno that I was, I was appalled. But, secretly, I longed to “get on bad” just the same way. It took me about four years to learn how to do the butterfly (the popular dancehall reggae move from the early 90s) but I persisted and by the time I graduated, I had it down. It’s funny because that same girlfriend, who back then teased me about being so “corny,” has become a close friend of mine. Now, she’s the straight laced, Bible toting conservative, and, while you won’t really find me anywhere dancing upside down, I do consider myself a pretty good “wind-er.” So I think there’s been a nice bit of cultural exchange between the two of us.

2) We have Korean tacos, Chinese tacos and now Jamaican tacos? Why do tacos work so well? Or is it just cause all Californians love tacos? Do you think there’s any cuisine that couldn’t be taco-ified?

I think part of it is definitely a California thing. Every good Californian loves a taco. I’m still shocked when I meet people, obviously non-natives, who tell me that they don’t like tortillas. What’s not to like about a tortilla?

But I also think that, in part, we’re witnessing an evolution of the American taste bud. If you grow up eating tacos, eventually, you’re going to long for something different. I think many of us are, frankly, a little bored with Mexican food. Recently at an event that I did, the Mexican family selling pupusas two booths away from kept coming to my stand all night for more jerk tacos. By the end of the night, they were asking me for tips on how to prepare sorrel (sold in Mexican restaurants as “Jamaica”).

It’s just like with Asian food. I would venture to say that most Americans were introduced to Asian cuisine through the Chinese. But now, I can’t think of anyone I know who regularly goes to eat Chinese. It’s either Thai or Vietnamese or Indian or something more “exotic.” My prediction is that, unless traditional Mexican restaurants step up their game and start to introduce some more complex sauces and spices, like more of the moles and sauces from areas that Americans are not as familiar with, then the Mexican restaurant will be in danger of being relegated to that place you go to when you’re hungry, and it’s late, and there’s nothing else to eat.

3) Do you really have a steel drum in the truck? Where/how do you cook the chicken? Why no roti on the menu? What about ginger beer?

I don’t have a steel drum on the truck. I actually recently did an event where I prepared jerk chicken in a steel drum outside of the truck and I plan to do that from time to time. But serving traditional jerk chicken is not really what Get Jerked! is about. I think there are other good Caribbean restaurants here in the bay to serve that market. (My favorite right now is Coconuts in Palo Alto). I’ve even heard of a jerk chicken cart in San Francisco, though I haven’t tried it yet. What I’m trying to do with Get Jerked! is to capture the attention of those people who would never really venture to try Caribbean cuisine except for the fact that it’s being offered to them in a format that they can understand: a taco, a sandwich, a burger. If I happen to attract the traditionalists at the same time, then all the better.

Roti is on the menu and I have offered it and plan to offer it again from time to time.

I might offer ginger beer in the future when I find a good supplier or find the time to make my own.

4) Growing up in Fresno, what was your favorite thing to order at taqueria/taco trucks? What does your partner make of taco trucks? What’s your current favorite non-Twittering taco truck?

I never really ate from taco trucks growing up. In fact, I can only remember there being one taco truck in Fresno at the time and we never ate from it. We cooked tacos at home. We probably cooked tacos more often than we fried chicken. It was quick and easy. Plus it was something us kids, with a working mother, could handle on our own. I can remember times as a kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, downing like 12 tacos in one sitting.

My first time eating from a taco truck was actually during law school at a truck in East Palo Alto. If my memory serves me correctly, it was called Three Brothers. It’s no longer there but I believe they now have a restaurant that’s doing pretty well.

I don’t really play favorites when it comes to traditional taco trucks. To me, traditional taco trucks are all about convenience. I go to whichever one happens to be closest when I’m hungry and need something to eat that’s cheap and quick.

5) Tell me more about this shark and bake sandwich. Surely you must be able to find it here in some fish store, no? Have you ever tried to make it at home here?

I’ve seen shark in local grocery stores though I can’t say where it was from and I’ve never really researched it for use on the truck. I don’t really see a shark sandwich being in high demand here in the bay area. It’s like my former dance teacher, Carlos Aceituna (of Bay Area group Fogo na Ropa, may he rest in peace) once told me about why his relationship with his Brazilian born girlfriend didn’t work out once he moved her to the U.S.: some things don’t translate well. What may make sense to enjoy on the beach in Trinidad, where shark is plentiful, may not go over as well here in Northern California where there’s more of a concern with issues of sustainability.

Bake is relatively easy to make. But I don’t really see me offering it on the truck any time soon. That’s because what I’m trying to achieve through the truck is more life, not less life. Maybe if I had four or five good friends around me who all had nothing better to do except to sit around in a circle with me and gossip while we all rolled and kneaded bake from scratch then that might be fun. Until that day, I’d rather just go around the corner from my house to Acme Bread and order a high quality roll made locally from organic ingredients that pretty much everyone in the bay area loves and call it a day, which is what I do.

Primo’s Parrilla: Interview with Javier Sandes, El Asador

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on April 22, 2010

Wait, Argentine food in the Bay Area? On a truck? I was curious. I hit up Javier Sandes, aka “El Asador” for the deets on Primo’s Parrilla.

1) What is Primo’s Parrilla? How did you come to start it? What’s your background in food/cooking/eating?

Primos Parrilla is a mobile food truck specializing in slow grilled Argentine style asado. We started Primos after many years of backyard asados with close friends. I missed a part of my culture which took place every Sunday in the backyard with friends and family — an all day asado. We would start late morning with picadas of cheeses, salami’s and olives washed down by Fernet & Coke, Cinzano & soda water — all this while the fire was starting and the meat getting placed on the grill. While the meat was grilling we caught up on the week’s events and kicked around the soccer ball. Early afternoon the asado was ready and we pushed together several tables, sometimes borrowing from the neighbors, and began our feast. This would include- blood sausage, kidney, tripes, sweet breads, short ribs and chicken. We’d wash it down with red wine and beer (Quilmes!) and finish it off with fruit salad or icecream.

A few of my “close primos” and I thought it would be great to bring Argentine asado to the streets of the East Bay. The term “Primos” came after my close Primo “Hammad” called me “primo”- meaning his “best one”. We all began affectionately calling one another primos and primas.

My father taught me to grill when I was young. He taught me the traditional way to slow grill by using natural mesquite and wood — quebracho (wood), I also had to learn the art of patience, you can’t rush asado if you want the meat cooked to perfection. I got better and better at grilling with friends and family back home and started exploring family recipes and began preparing those for everyone. A few of those recipes you will find on the menu at Primos. This and my love of eating, cooking and trying new foods is where I get my experience.

2) I think a lot of Bay Area are going to be familiar with Mexican carne asada. How is Argentinian asada different? Why are you serving up mostly in Emeryville?

Argentine asado is different in that we cut and grill the meat differently. For example- we use the entire rack of ribs when grilling which takes a couple hours. We also grill chickens whole rather then cutting and grilling. We also grill our tripe, rather than making soup with it, we don’t slice our meat thin and flash cook on each side — we like our meat cut thicker. We only season the meat and poultry with salt and pepper as opposed to marinating.

We are serving up mostly in Emeryville to start as that is the first place we are permitted to operate. We hope to move into Oakland in the very near future.

3) What’s the advantage of cooking in a truck versus on a stationary grill? Isn’t it dangerous to have it on a truck? Plus, doesn’t it have to cook for a long time anyway? Do you really do all the grilling in the truck?

I’m not cooking the meat in the truck. I actually have a grill and fire pit outside of the truck (see picture). I fire up the grill about 9:30 am and have the meat ready to serve by 11:30 am.

4) What else in on the menu? What’s your favorite item?

Sweet potato mash (my gramma’s recipe) and a green salad are served on the side. We also make homemade empanadas and serve alfajoes from a local Argentine baker.

5) Schneider or Quilmes?

QUILMES!

There’s more to street food than food trucks on Twitter

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on February 24, 2010

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of posting since the wildly successful Tour de Taco (muchas gracias, amigos!), but I have to call the San Francisco Bay Guardian out on this statement: “In fact, outside of Fruitvale taco trucks and the odd ambitious cupcakers at Art Murmur, I haven’t seen a street food vendor anywhere in the East Bay.”

Robyn, I’m glad that you’re writing about one of my favorite topics, but clearly you haven’t looked much beyond Twitter. Get on a bike, on a bus, on BART, in a car — you’ll find tons of street food in Oakland and the rest of the East Bay.

For starters, try this map of taco trucks. Richmond, Berkeley, other parts of Oakland, Castro Valley, Fremont have loads of trucks. These guys pre-date Twitter by a longshot.

If you want something a little more nouveau, try LibaSF, Seoul on Wheels or Cupkates.

You’re welcome. :-)

Tour de Taco: February 20, 2010 (Fruitvale BART)

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 28, 2010

So after my last Taco Truck Tour, the good peoples at Oaklandish and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition connected with me and wanted to put together a sort of “best-of” taco truck ride for those who didn’t make it the other times, along with some new ones. And they even made this sweet art for it, too!

I apologize in advance for not organizing one in December (holidays), nor January (work). But I hope I can make up for it, as in a way, this one will sort of be the grand finale of my taco truck tours. In late March 2010, my wife and I will be moving to Bonn, Germany — where there is sadly, a great dearth of taco trucks. I’ll do my best to update the blog remotely as best as I can.

So why would I forsake my beloved tierra de tacos? I’ve just taken a job at Deutsche Welle English (German public radio), where I’ll be the new host of Spectrum, a weekly science and technology show. (Maybe I’ll organize a döner kebab bike ride or something over there.) If any folks are interested in organizing future rides here in Oakland, let me know, and I’ll put you guys in touch.

Thanks again to all who’ve come out for the previous two rides and have made them as fun and delicious as possible!

Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meet: 11:00 am at Fruitvale BART (Oakland)

1. El Ojo De Agua – 12th St. & Fruitvale Ave.
2. Tamales Mi Lupita – 34th Ave. & Foothill Blvd.
3. El Gordo – International & 42nd Ave.
4. Tacos Guadalajara – 10th St. & Fruitvale Ave.

This should all be wrapped up around 4 pm, but as with the previous rides, feel free to arrive/depart as you please.

5. (Bonus) Cinco de Mayo Ice Cream – 3340 E 12th St & 33rd Ave.
6. (Bonus) The Trappist – 460 8th St (& Broadway)

Bring: Bike, helmet, camera, $10-15 for tacos, maybe $5-$10 for ice cream/beer.

RSVP: Facebook event page

If even half of the 115 people that have RSVPed as of now show up, this will be the largest taco truck ride to date and we’ll definitely need to go in shifts so we don’t totally overwhelm the taqueros. But we’ll figure that out later.

Questions? Leave ‘em in the comments, or email me: cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks.com

Wrap-Up: Taco Truck Tour Numéro Dos: Foothill Blvd. Edition

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 23, 2009

Just like the first taco truck ride, everyone (a high of 45+ riders!) enjoyed a fun, fantastic, safe, ride through East Oakland! We had mainly new people, which is even more awesome!

Still, despite the chilly weather, it was a great day for tacos. And really, what day isn’t?

I personally had a pastor taco, carnitas taco, fish taco, shrimp taco, bites of a tamal de queso and a tamal de puerco and ended up with a sope de pastor. Oh, and a hearty scoop of mango and pitaya ice cream.

By the end, about 10 of us ended up at The Trappist for a few drinks.

If you have any more photos to share, please email me: cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks.com.

Joel’s set is pretty sweet, and even includes this good-looking dude:

Anyone got any recs for Taco Truck Tour Tres? Here’s the Oakland map.

I’m thinking maybe the High St. area ones? December 27, 2009? Leave suggestions in the comments.

Taco Truck Tour #2: Foothill Blvd. Edition (Nov. 22, 2009)

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 9, 2009

After the success of October’s taco truck tour, it’s time for another!

Taco Truck Tour Numéro Dos:

When: Sunday, November 22, 2009
Meet: 12:30 pm, Lake Merritt BART station (9th and Oak St., Oakland).
Start: ~ 12:45 pm
End: ~ 3:30 pm ish, Fruitvale BART station
Twitter: @catacotrucks / #tacotrucktour

Itinerary (follow along at Oakland Taco Truck Map 2007)

1) Tacos Alonzo at Foothill Blvd./27th Ave.
2) Tacos El Mazatlan at Foothill Blvd./Fruitvale Ave.
3) Tamales Mi Lupita at Foothill Blvd./34th Ave.
4) Tacos El Tio Juan at Foothill Blvd./41st Ave.
5) Nieves Cinco de Mayo (ice cream) at 3340 E 12th St.

When it’s all said and done, feel free to bike or BART home. Anyone is welcome to join up or leave at anytime, obviously.

Afterwards, I might even be up for a beer at The Trappist (8th/B’way, downtown Oakland).

Bring: bike, helmet, $10-$15 for tacos+ice cream, camera if you want to document the deliciousness

RSVP: Email me cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks [dot] com. Put “Fruitvale taco truck bike tour” in the subject line.

All are welcome!

Taco truck photo contest winners!

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 4, 2009

First prize in the taco truck photo contest goes to Aurelio Jose Barrera of East Los Angeles. Congrats Aurelio!

He writes: “This was shot Halloween night 2009 on Whittier Blvd in front of Kmart in East Los Angeles.”

He’ll win a copy of Scott Wilson’s new book: Tacos: Authentic, Festive & Flavorful.

Second place goes to Gwen Harlow of Oakland.

She says that this is her favorite shot of a taco truck that she’s ever taken. It’s of the El Novillo Taco Truck in the Guadalajara parking lot at Fruitvale & E. 10th St. in Oakland.

She wins five bucks to go buy tacos with!

Thanks to all those who entered!

Veni. Vidi. We ate a ton of tacos. (I personally had six tacos plus a tostada de ceviche.)

Man, what a ride! Thanks to all who came out! I don’t know what the total number was, but someone told me that at its peak we had 35 riders and taco aficionados! Wow! I’m stoked that so many people were out to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, biking y muchos tacos! (Scope the pictos, here.)

Also thanks to CouchSurfing, Thrillist, 7×7, FuncheapSF and mybart.org for helping me get the word out!

If I did talk to you, I’m glad to have met you! If I didn’t, make sure to come chat with me the next time around — for future reference, I was this guy.

Jennifer Webber and Ryan Morris sent me some photos. Email me if you have any more: cfarivar [at] cfarivar [dot] org.

We even rocked a proudly used Twitter hashtag: #tacotrucktour. BTW, you can find the Twitter account for this blog @catacotrucks, or my personal account @cfarivar.

Dudes, I can’t express to you adequately how fun this was. I really thought that only three people were going to show up, which would have been fine. I didn’t anticipate being the “taco boss,” as someone called me. I’m just a guy who likes to eat tacos. And ride bikes.

I mentioned that there’s a Google Map of Oakland taco trucks. As you can see, we only made a small dent in the trucks here. I’d definitely like to explore more of what Oakland has to offer, and then perhaps do an SF version and maybe Richmond, too?

I’m thinking Sunday, November 22, 2009 for the next one? Again, Fruitvale, but this time, different trucks? I’m open to ideas. Feel free to leave ‘em in the comments. I’ll post once it’s finalized.

Stay hungry, and ride safe!