Taco Time

Testing the fare at the shiny taco wagons of Seattle's South End.



S.W. 112th and 16th S.W. TACO LOCO EXPRESS

S.W. 128th and Ambaum Blvd. S.W. My mission: To find the perfect mobile taco-vending unit or, failing that, a really, really good one. My crew consists of one top-notch designated eater and one hotshot photographer. My jurisdiction: the South End, where industry looms like indigestion after an Arby's meal and Chevy Caprices come in one color—Squad Car Blue. Our first stop is Taqueria La Fondita, situated just off the corner of S.W. 98th Street and 15th Avenue S.W. This particular taco trailer closely resembles the trashy Airstream knock-off that stood in my aunt and uncle's brown-grassed yard throughout the '70s—the biggest difference being, of course, that this one is filled with tacos. Right off the bat, Designated Dave, our eater, looks concerned. He scratches his head and sits for a few moments at one of the trailer's picnic tables, contemplating the menu. Playing it safe—and presumably saving room for the next two carts—Dave orders a shredded beef taco for 89 cents, a carne asada tostada for about two bucks, and a round of horchatas (about a dollar each) for the crew. A quick word about horchata: Although originally made from chufas, or tiger nuts, the more common cup of this sweet, refreshingly light, watery drink is nowadays made from rice milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg or almond—or, in this case, some weird powdery substance. Back at the picnic table, D2 notes that his taco, while juicy and tender, is "irreverently mild" and "overwhelmingly mediocre," as the photographer and I note the Extreme Sweet afterburn of the horchata. This stuff tastes like an unorange glass of Tang. Other problems here include the absence of fish tacos, some suspect cheese, and a fatal design flaw with the tostada: Designated Dave bites into this round, tortilla-mounted thing, a sort of Mexican open-face sandwich, and it cracks into a million pieces, spilling refried beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and various tomato and onion choppings all over the picnic table. "Screw it, that cheese was really freaking me out," Dave says. The custom at taco wagons is that you order as often as you like, wagon staff keeps a running total, and then you pay at the end. We do that now, and then we split. Our next stop is Taqueria El Riconsisto at S.W. 112th Street and 16th Avenue S.W., in a parking lot just next door to the South Side location of Ezell's Famous Chicken. Taqueria El Riconsisto is actually a two-deep mobile taco unit compound, although it doesn't appear that both units are currently operational. Designated Dave has already sensed something that he likes. He stands a ways back from the menu-covered wagon, then respectfully approaches to commence the ordering process. "All I know is, I like this place better than the last one," he says as he returns, lightning quick, with two tacos al pastor—filled with a spiced pork concoction, 99 cents each—a veggie burrito (about $4), and another round of horchatas. Dave notes that the tacos were 10 cents more, but we can't be bothered with dimes at a time like this; the tortilla housing the veggie burrito looks absolutely flawless. Bubbly, perfectly browned, and nearly indisputably handmade, this tortilla looks divine. And it is divine; designations be damned—we're all enjoying it. The tacos, Dave reports, are good, too. "A little more subtle on the horchata," offers our photographer, tossing the cup into an ill-positioned dumpster. Note to wagon staff: Those things would smell better from a little further away. The last wagon of the evening is at S.W. 128th Street and Ambaum Boulevard S.W. As we pull into the parking lot, it appears that a cherry red Pontiac Sunbird is getting a jump from the polished bright taco-vending unit. Or vice versa. Up the street are a Baskin-Robbins and Mario's Sports Bar and Grill, where they offer DJ Dance Music on Wednesday nights. Wheels are already turning with regard to the date possibilities in this neck of the woods: Dining al fresco here at the Taco Loco Express, a double scoop of chocolate chip mint for dessert, and some of this DJ Dance Music stuff. Designated Dave again receives brilliantly speedy service, returning with a chicken taco (99 cents) and another burrito (about $4) for the sake of comparison. "This taco is even better than the last one, but the burrito immediately concerned me," he says. "This tortilla was strictly store-bought." While it'd be nice to report that we found the perfect mobile taco-vending unit or even the perfect taco, we did find a couple really good ones and learned some valuable lessons along the way—so in that sense, mission accomplished. Keep in mind that while taco wagons offer a variety of items (some of which are filled and/or topped with tongue or intestines), it's really OK if you want to just stick with tacos and burritos. Really, it is—and unless you read and speak Spanish or are especially good at pointing, it's also sort of necessary. Additionally, if you're a vegetarian, have a big breakfast; you don't have many options aside from camarones (shrimp). Oh, and one last thing—an horchata sugar high is still a high. lcassidy@seattleweekly.com

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