If you haven't visited a Tucson-area food truck lately, you're most likely in for a pleasant surprise. The little do-it-yourself operations have created an entire culinary subculture that's producing utterly delicious eats in unlikely places.
That said, it is not all good eating out there in food-truck land. The vast majority of trucks are well worth checking out, but there are just enough instances of rubbery meat and angry cashiers to warrant a little guidance for the food-truck neophytes among us.
So here's a sampling of some of Tucson's finer food trucks. It's by no means an exhaustive list—there are more than 230 mobile-food operations in Pima County—but it's more than enough to jumpstart a decent adventure into roadside dining.
Also, check out the Tucson Weekly's continuing coverage of all things food-truck related in the Food Truck Diaries on The Range, the Weekly's daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweekly.com.
Planet of the Crepes
The former pastry chef for the Grill at Hacienda del Sol and other local restaurants has taken her show on the road, and the result is delicious. Jessica Kraus' food truck can be found at various locations, including farmers' markets and festivals across town. The crepes come filled with everything from cheese and prosciutto to Nutella, and Kraus introduces new and creative crepes as the mood strikes. Prices are in the $6 to $8 range. Follow the truck on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
Tucsonans got their first taste of this truck's Mexican-Korean fusion food at the Tucson Weekly's fall Club Crawl®, and people lined up for the Korean-barbecue tacos and kimchi quesadillas. Jose Merino says he teamed up with the former owner of the now-defunct Cuban restaurant El Cubanito to open the truck, which will soon be serving a slew of fusion food and traditional Korean noodle dishes and soups. Merino expects to be combing Tucson's streets by mid-November. Check www.mafooco.com for updates.
Jane's Rolling Wok
Jane Lee opened her food truck Jane's Rolling Wok back in 2002 and has been keeping the southside fed with tasty Chinese food ever since. She serves Mandarin and Cantonese items, which can be had as rice bowls or combo plates. Her top sellers are teriyaki chicken and Mongolian beef, but the house fried rice made with shrimp, beef and chicken is quite popular, too. Prices range from $4.75 to $7.25. Check in at janesrollingwok.com for locations and hours.
Los Tacos del George
Some trucks are just about quantity or a quick bite on the go. Los Tacos del George, in the 1100 block of West Prince Road, falls in this category. I've picked up five tacos—four birria, and one bean—for $5 on more than one occasion, and that included an ice-cold beverage from the plastic cooler. The quesadillas, Sonoran hot dogs and other items won't be winning culinary awards, but they hit the spot when the wallet's thin.
Ramon Gonzales sells amazing homemade desserts out of his truck Street Delights. The selection has recently included seasonal fruit cups made from farmers' market fruit; chocolate-mousse cups; strawberry shortcake; and whoopie pies in inventive flavors. He sells Arbuckle Coffee drinks and tea, too. Gonzales has made desserts all over the city, including a stint at La Baguette Bakery, and says making sweets is a life-long passion. He's currently perfecting several new menu items, including crème-brûlée creations and a giant Pop Tart-like dessert called a "street pie." Follow the truck on Facebook and Twitter for locations and updates.
Peddler on the Path
It's hard to say what's more invigorating: A conversation with Jaime Arrieta of Peddler on the Path, or a cup of the strong Italian coffee he sells out of the 1964 Jeep he converted into the mobile café. The operation, which spends weekend mornings behind the Windmill Inn on the corner of Campbell Avenue and River Road, celebrates its fourth anniversary of serving killer coffee drinks this November, and Arrieta says he'll be around as long as the patrons keep coming; www.peddleronthepath.com.
This tiny food trailer on Grant Road just west of Sixth Avenue sells overstuffed fish tacos, seafood tostadas and other dishes. Whether the tortillas are piled high with marlin, or stuffed with deep-fried fish bits or shrimp, everything is enormous—which is sort of ironic, considering that the trailer is the size of a small closet. The prices are small, too, topping out around $4.
Aqui con El Nene
Locate this place by following the plumes of carne-asada smoke near the corner of Wetmore and Flowing Wells roads. It has the best salsa bar in town—and that goes for food trucks and restaurants. Nene even got a national nod when Rachael Ray named it one of the best hot dog joints in the country. Some go for the tortas; others swear by the chicken tacos. I say it's all good. It opens at 10 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and is closed Sundays.
The Rolling Chef
This flame-emblazoned truck, run by the former executive chef of Anthony's in the Catalinas, serves amazing gourmet cheese steaks and grilled-cheese sandwiches starting about 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, outside of The Hut at 305 N. Fourth Ave. Carlos Aponte uses prime rib for his sandwiches, which he tops with flavorful sauces that make every bite memorable. There's typically a nice selection of vegetarian options as well. Aponte says he's considering adding pyrotechnics to the top of the truck, but it's just as easy to find him via Twitter and Facebook.
A gravel lot on the corner of Old Nogales Highway and Drexel Road is home to Baja Mar, where fresh seafood soups, tostadas and other dishes can be had for cut-rate prices. The seafood cocktails are especially amazing and can be had in heat gradients ranging from mild to my-face-is-on-fire hot. It's open from around sunrise to about 4 p.m.
Mexico City Kitchen
This little food trailer was located between a car wash and a window-tinting shop just east of Grant and Country Club roads, but its owners are currently looking for a new spot. It serves flavorful alambre fajitas and other items inspired by Mexico City cuisine. The food often has a gourmet twist—like burgers with Bordelaise sauce, and hot dogs with mango relish and poblano-cilantro-garlic aioli—and co-owner Hebert Perez is always up to something new. Check in via Facebook for updates.
When it's torta time, head over to Molcas on the corner Seventh Avenue and Grant Road. The buns come perfectly toasted; the veggies are crisp and fresh; and the meat fillings are abundant and full of smoky grilled flavor. The other traditional Mexican dishes on the menu are great, too, but the tortas are truly revelatory and easy on the wallet, topping out around $5.