I have a friend who stops at a taco truck on her way out to dinner. If the restaurant’s appetizers fall short, she has a delicious backup plan in her purse. Pure genius.
When it comes to tacos in a pinch, a stretch of Lake Street between Hiawatha and Lyndale Avenues approaches heaven. The half-dozen or so trucks found there make up an ideal rambling, self-guided taco tour – complete with a palate-cleansing refreshment stop.
Here are our favorite trucks, sequenced in a recommended route. We also tell you what to get on each stop.
The Best Salsa (Pineda Mobil, 19th Ave. and Lake St.)
Begin at Pineda Mobil, which recently appeared on the scene. When asked if they were new, the young man at the window responded confidently: “No. We’ve been here like four days now. What’ll you have?”
Pineda Mobil is the sister truck to the well-known Pineda restaurant chain, so the obvious answer would be an affordably priced, torpedo-sized burrito.
But this is a taco tour, remember? And Pineda’s are excellent. We favored the steak, with deep, beefy flavor, and their salsas, in red and green, were the freshest we sampled on the entire tour, bright and assertive with the clean kick of having been made that day.
Pineda Mobil also serves “platters” of quesadillas, chimichanga, enchiladas, and more. Thoughtfully, they’ve arranged a few tables and chairs around the perimeter, which feels downright luxurious when it comes to street eats.
The Cheapest (Taco Taxi, 19th Ave. and Lake St.)
Directly next door to Pineda Mobil is Taco Taxi, making this corner a no-brainer. Their compact tacos are three-or-four bite affairs, sometimes arriving with grilled green onions. A juicy lime wedge comes foil-wrapped along with the tacos, making Taco Taxi’s the prototype for the purse tuck.
If you’re dining on site, a ledge at the back of the truck is a great place to do it. Make it snappy, as the guy coming up behind you will be needing that real estate, soon. (For slower missions, the veteran taqueria also has a matching bright-yellow storefront down the street at 1511 Lake Street.)
Steak, pork, beef head, and chicken are your choices, and at $1.50 each (an extra $.25 gets you lettuce and tomato) you won’t go wrong.
The Biggest (Tacos El Primo, 14th Ave. and Lake St.)
Tacos El Primo's tacos are worth a look, not least of all because they operate until midnight Thursdays through Saturdays, otherwise known as: The Hours You Need Tacos The Most.
You'll find the truck parked in the Lake Street Laundromat and Dry cleaning parking lot on the south side of Lake. (Not to be confused with Taqueria El Primo, mentioned below.)
At $2.50 each, theirs are enormous by taco truck standards, and two could easily make a meal. They also do a comprehensive list of unusual cuts like beef head (cabeza), pork skin, and tongue (lengua). Also: quesadillas, elote (corn slathered in mayo, chile, and lime) and mangos with lime and chile. A single table allows you to linger over those hulking tacos.
Very Possibly the Best (Que Chula es Puebla, 12th Ave. and Lake St.)
This newish, bright-green truck, advertising “Authentic cuisine of Puebla,” is impossible to miss. That region of Mexico is known for its hearty sandwiches, called “pelonas” and “cemitas” as well as chalupas, arriving several to an order. Que Chula serves both of the latter, as well as other unique dishes like huraches (football-shaped fried masa) and even burgers and fries.
But if we were to recommend a single taco – a tall order, because there are no losers on this voyage – it would be the carnitas at Que Chula. Big, meaty dice of pork are frizzled until caramelized at the edges, and served piping hot. The tortillas are hot to the touch when they arrive too. The tacos are made fresh to order, and it’s well worth the wait. Additionally, their unique creamy, green hot sauce is the stuff dreams are made of.
The Palate Cleanser (Antojitos Dona Lety, 12th Ave. and Lake St.)
Next door to Que Chula is Antojitos Dona Lety. Antojitos translate literally to “little cravings,” aka “snacks.”
The refreshments served here – the “not-taco” part of the tour – are essential during a long night of taco consumption. At this bright-red little trailer, a pleasant couple serves elote, esquites (just like elote but sliced off the cob and into a styrofoam for your hoovering pleasure), mango smoothies, and liquados (like a smoothie with ice and sometimes milk). On a chilly night you might want champurrado, like hot chocolate thickened with masa and spiced with cinnamon and vanilla. Choose your own adventure, but don’t do too much. There's a final stop, and it’s the finale for a reason.
The Gold Standard (Taqueria El Primo, Kmart parking lot near Blaisdell Ave. and Lake St.)
Taqueria El Primo has saved our lives on too many occasions to count. For this, it is the gold standard of the Lake Street taco trucks. For its near-constant reliable presence, for its cheerful staff, for its general excellence.
Known to many simply as the “taco truck in the Kmart parking lot,” El Primo is the white truck at the westernmost edge of the lot, and is not associated with the aforementioned Tacos El Primo. “We communicate to all the customers that we don’t have another truck of Taqueria el Primo," a sign reads. "This is the only one we had. Thank you from El Primo and his family. Thank you for your preference."
Tacos are available in many of the typical cuts, including al pastor, chorizo, and asada, but also brain (ceso), cachete (head), and “assorted” (surtida). El Primo also happens to have the hottest sauces on all of Lake, both a red and a green to make you hang open your mouth as if that will somehow help. Use with caution, or better yet, don’t. It burns so good.
An ideal opportunity to experience some or all of these options is the fourth annual Taco Tour on Lake Street. Featuring trucks and brick-and-mortar establishments, the tour is Sunday, August 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.