Finding a good taco truck, one that you trust, isn’t unlike being in a relationship. There’s the discovery, the passion, the long summer nights wiled away in loving embrace, and of course, inevitably, the moment when they take off the emergency brake and drive away, leaving nary a trace. I have loved and lost, readers. I have, but I am not a cynic. I seek out love still.
So it was with this quixotic spirit that I approached Tia Julia, a taco truck at 91st and Roosevelt, in Jackson Heights, Queens. The lunch rush was pretty much over, but there were a few stragglers munching on tacos and sipping horchata. The horchata looked cold and delicious. My hopes picked up, love radar cautiously humming to life.
I ordered a pollo con papas (chicken with potatoes) taco from the man in the window. A woman was preparing the food off to his right. I couldn’t see where the horchata was coming from (I didn’t wanna get stuck with some store bought swill) but I took a chance and ordered it anyway.
There wasn’t really anywhere to sit so I stood and waited for my food. After a moment, the man produced a heaping taco of beef and potatoes. It wasn’t what I ordered but I accepted it gratefully anyway. He followed that with a cold glass of horchata. I grabbed it with my free hand. The taco came naked. He indicated the salsa and the pico de gallo on the metal counter in front of me. The pico de gallo looked good. So did the salsa verde. I took my creation and sat down on the sidewalk.
The horchata was good, thankfully, although not transcendent. The taco, unfortunately, left me wanting.
The meat was undistinguished, just your average run of the mill ‘bistec’ which I’m starting to realize means whatever the truck owners can get for cheap. Sometimes when I order bistec it’s ground beef. Sometimes it’s thin, hard, chewy pieces. Sometimes it’s big, moist, flavorless hunks. I have really no idea what bistec means other than to say it isn’t carne asada. See rant here.
The potatoes were interesting (there were also some grilled onions mixed in just for the hell of it) and the pico de gallo was deliciously tangy with just a little kick. They also had pickled jalapenos in a jar which were free for the taking. It took me a while to work up the courage to eat these back home in LA, but once I did I was rewarded with a really incredible flavor. Cut them into strips and put them in a burrito. Put them in your pockets and never go hungry.
The thing that struck me most about this drag in Jackson Heights was that the Mexican flavors seemed to be blending with the other Latin American traditions. The two places I tried that espoused their Mexican-ness (Tia Julia and HNS Rodriguez) were also serving the quac salsa verde that was compulsory at Tacolandia and Tacos Quicho’s. It’ll be exciting to see what happens when these flavors blend more completely. Maybe it’s possible that Jackson Heights could have its own brand of taco altogether.
My passion for the taco truck may have not been realized, but I was still satisfied. The experience of food this way is hectic. The 7 train rumbles overhead. The streets are crowded with people and dotted with men and woman handing out flyers. Tacos are fast-paced food though, so this setting suits them. The taco truck itself, the fact that it can pick up and drive off at any moment, seems to suit the taco as well.
Truck at 91st and Roosevelt Ave.
Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC