THERE ARE FEW THINGS in this world I enjoy more than standing outside a taco truck on a warm day, steeped in the scent of carnitas, the sizzle of meat like white noise beneath the sound of traffic. For me, it's uniquely summer—or what I like to call "taco season."
Welcome to Travels in Tacoville: 2010. From now until the last day of summer I will be stalking Portland's streets for taco greatness; scanning parking lots for hand-lettered signs, plastic tables, and menus that include organ meat and broken English. Once a month I will present my findings here. It's a regular taco safari.
This year I'm relaxing the arbitrary "trucks only" requirement, and opening my arms to various carts and trailers that cannot move by their own power.
It's been quite a winter and spring. Across Portland new taco trucks have emerged like meadow wildflowers after a long season of hard rain. The end result? There are even more tacos to explore this year. Come along with me, won't you?
SE 48th & Division
Toluquena is among several carts on what was once an eyesore of a weed-strewn empty lot on SE Division. What Toluquena does best is fish and chorizo. The sausage here is right on, a tad mild on the spice, but tender and juicy as all get out. The pescado taco (most likely talapia) is excellent, holding the line between filling and flaky quite nicely. Standards like asada and pollo are decent, while the pastor is more than lovely with a touch of pineapple sweetness; I have it on good authority the veggie tacos are delicious.
All come standard with onion, cilantro, and lime on the side. Have a couple, but save room for the Torta Cubana, an intense sandwich packed with hot dog, milanesa, egg, beans, jack cheese, mayonnaise, avocado, tomato, onion, pickled jalapeño, and carrot. Oof.
Peace, Love & Tacos
SE 48th & Division
Fri–Wed noon-5 pm
Peace, Love & Tacos shares the lot with Toluquena, but their version of the taco is more Grateful Dead than Guadalajara. Two varieties, turkey and beef
(both sourced from People's Co-Op) [People's Co-Op is an all vegetarian Co-Op and does not sell meat. We regret the error. - Eds.], are prepared much the same way: Grilled meat meets grilled tortilla and is layered with cabbage, cheddar cheese, and onion.
Perhaps it's obvious from the above description, but traditional taco purists need not apply at this little cart. However, if you're in the mood for a hippie-fied American-style taco that has a local and sustainable focus, this is your place. These bites are tasty for what they are, and more than substantial for the $2 price tag. Two would fill you up.
Don't forget to grab a mango on a stick while you're here. Peeled and sprinkled with chili powder, it's sweet and hot, and slightly problematic to eat. But totally worth it on a sunny day.
Taqueria Los Arcos
SE 102nd & Stark
Tues-Sun 10 am-8 pm
In another new pod that has taken up residence on an expanse of parking lot blacktop beside bustling SE Stark, you'll find Taqueria Los Arcos. Arcos is unique for an East Portland taco truck in that they dress their tacos more like a downtown cart. Included with the protein: shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and cheese. In other words, fully loaded. These are big tacos.
While the taco snob might blanch at all the extras, they'll take comfort in the handmade tortillas and some delightful meats. Most notably, the carnitas are wonderfully smoky, and the pastor super juicy with bold, sweet pineapple.
Also of note are Los Arcos' sauces, my favorite being a bright and sweet little habanero salsa with a fine kick that could likely turn even the blandest taco into an absolute delight.
Taqueria Antojitos Yucatecos
SE 102nd & Stark
Alongside Los Arcos in the same lot, Taqueria Antojitos Yucatecos looks downright tiny and lonely. This slightly beat-up orange taco trailer has a small menu, but what it does, it does well.
There's a certain joy in looking through the window to watch your tortillas being pressed to order before your taco is made. The result is a morsel with big fresh masa corn flavor to accompany particularly tender cochinita pibil, topped with soft red onion. The pibil itself, basically marinated pork, is slightly tangy and very juicy—quite good.
Also look toward the carne asada for more tender meatiness, but stay clear of the chicken, which was a bit dry on my visit. Do not steer clear of the lightning hot and lovely sweet habenero salsa that accompanies these tacos. If you like heat you will adore the stuff.
Onions and cilantro come standard. Lime on the side.