Taco Truck Parks Itself Permanently in Hoboken

Biting into a new food for the first time is always an emotional experience for me: a mix of taste sensations, environmental cues, and emotional, gut reaction to the food– which explains why my first bite of the Taco Truck’s Carnitas Michoacan sandwich sent my taste buds reeling, my eyes widening, and my heart sinking. In the deep flavor of braised pork, the late kick of smokey chipotle heat, and the light, sweet flavors of onions, avocado, and jalepeno, I knew that I would now have to eat this sandwich on (at least) a weekly basis. With a sadness for the future of my wallet,  I knew a food craving–no, addiction–was born.

The Taco Truck is known for breeding addictions. Since its opening last fall in a literal truck, typically parked along the waterfront on Sinatra Drive, Hobokenites have developed a serious love for the cheap-ish, fast, fresh tacos and Mexican sides served up in cute little take-out boxes. Lines back out of the truck’s window and halfway down the block at peak lunch and dinner hours, as three or four cooks packed into the truck’s small kitchen serve up anywhere from 200-500 meals a day, according to the owners.

Now, Taco Truck Fans–measuring in the 2000s on Twitter and Facebook–can get their favorite tacos and classic Taco Truck experience and eat them at tables and chairs, in air conditioning. It’s like a little Mexican-themed gift from God.

Last week, founder Jason Scott, his wife Shachar, and their partners opened their first “brick-and-mortar” taco shop, as they call it, on Newark Street right off Washington. Inside, diners will find a recreated truck structure made out of recycled sheet metal. Around them, more recycled materials were built in to fill out the store’s mission of complete sustainability– from recycled-tire floors to pressed paper tabletops and LEED-certified lighting.

The total effect of the earth-friendly store is a sleek, cool (literally, the materials keep the store cooler) place to eat fresh, sustainably-grown authentic Mexican food. Chef Paris Retana, a Mexico City native who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and cooked at Michelin restaurants in Spain, searches local farms and distributors for pasture-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free pork and chicken. The produce is grown locally when in season, and flown in from organic California farms in winter months, and then incorporated into recipes Retana and menu developer Roberto Santibanez remember from the food trucks of their shared home city.

This home-cooked approach was Scott’s biggest goal–one he started developing more than three years ago.

“After trips to Mexico and California, we really saw the culture that develops around these food trucks, and we couldn’t find the same authenticity or culture here,” said Scott’s wife Shachar, as Jason served up orders to a waiting line behind the “truck” facade. “Jason really wanted to open a taqueria, and was intent on being environmentally conscious,” she said.

The fresh produce, attention to sourcing, and traditional recipes pay off. In an expanded menu from their truck offerings, the retail location offers high-quality pork, steak, chicken, and fish tacos, in addition to traditional Mexican torta sandwiches, sides like spiced rice and beans, plantains, rice pudding, and Mexican sodas and beverages.

On Shachar’s recommendation, I ordered the al pastor (pork) tacos, carnitas michoacan torta, and pescado (fish) tacos–more food than any one person needs, but it doesn’t stop me.

I start with the al pastor tacos, which are nothing like the carnitas variety I happened to have had from the truck earlier in the week (hey, I am a Hoboken resident, after all). The pork is marinated in adobo chile sauce–spicy yet tinged with cinnamon and cumin–diced into bite-sized pieces, and then topped with onions, pineapple and cliantro. The flavors ripple through my mouth: the smokey pork and a back-of-the-throat hit of chipotle spiciness, both cut by the sweet, fresh flavors of pineapple, onion, and corn tortillas. The portions are small–you get two fist-sized tacos per $4.50 order–but the flavors are big and interesting. This is not your Taco Bell taco, folks.

I move on to the Carnitas Michoacan torta ($6), where braised short ribs are pulled to pieces, slathered with a hot chipotle sauce, and then piled atop a soft Portuguese roll.  The heat of the pork is tempered by the soft bread and a thick spread of black beans and queso fresco, and a touch of sweetness is added with onions, jalapenos, and avocado. To bite into Carnitas Michoacan, frankly, is to begin a lifelong affair with torta sandwiches (and the pricetag for this generous helping of slow-braised short ribs makes this, frankly, a worthwhile affair). Hyperbole aside: this is one really good sandwich.

Finally, I bite into the fish taco (one for $4.50), one of my staple, go-to Mexican foods. The Taco Truck makes theirs with catfish– I’m used to cod– because that’s what Mexicans use. The fish is fried in a Ritz-crack crust, and topped with a Mexican slaw of red cabbage and spicy sauce. It’s served up in a flour tortilla, and stands out from the fish tacos I’m acquainted with– no goopy, all-encompassing white sauce, and a mix of 4-5 light, fresh flavors to complement the fish. It stands above the competition.

I’m too full to finish my three meals, so the extras are packed up into the same take-out boxes as that truck offers. They are headed home, where they are consumed the next morning for breakfast. I have to stop myself, out of embarrassment,  from stopping by the place for lunch the next day, and as I walk by longingly, my only hope is that The Taco Truck refuses all reality show deals that might come its way (ahem, Hoboken bakeries), keeping lines to a minimum and my direct access to Carnitas Tortas ready and open–for all times of day, multiple days a week.

Colleen Curry is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Hoboken where she’s busy trying every restaurant.   She is also a hyperlocal web editor for the Asbury Park Press, exploring community news and citizen journalism in Freehold, New Jersey.