THE STREET FOOD INSTITUTE
Some five years ago, Joslynn Gutierrez drove past a forlorn-looking food truck sitting on an Albuquerque street with a “for sale” sign stuck in the window. Her brother was in the car with her. When she said, “Hey, we should buy that!” he said, “Yeah, let’s get it!” They discussed the truck with other family members that night, then returned the following morning to negotiate the deal. The good-natured young woman, now 30, laughs heartily about how random it all was. In just three short weeks—after a thorough cleaning, a license and inspection, and a few cans of pink and white paint—Joslynn and clan found themselves in the food truck business. They called it Pink Ladies Mexican Diner because, Joslynn says, the color makes people smile. “No one can be in a bad mood looking at a pink truck.” A native New Mexican, Joslynn used her mom’s recipes to prepare local favorites like enchiladas and beans.
Joslynn had a passion for cooking, and that carried her a long way in the business, but she readily admits she was flying by the seat of her pants in other respects. Over the next two years it acquired a good reputation for its New Mexican specialties. However, when the truck broke down, suddenly Pink Ladies was no more. Looking back, Joslynn notes that it was a blessing in disguise. “I enrolled in Central New Mexico Community College and found out about its partnership with the Street Food Institute.”
A recent program of the nonprofit Simon Charitable Foundation, SFI takes on about a half-dozen interns annually for a thorough immersion in all aspects of the food-truck and street-food business. Program director and head chef David Sellers explains it as a way to help young, aspiring New Mexico entrepreneurs who are bigger on enthusiasm than on cash.“Our students get culinary training and experience working on our three roving trucks, but much, much more.” Their mission is to grow the local food economy, continue to invigorate New Mexico as a culinary destination, and take high-quality, reasonably priced food to the state’s food deserts. “I don’t think there’s another program anywhere in the country that is so laser-focused on this micro-business strategy,” Sellers says.
Chef David may be known to Santa Fe visitors and residents for his earlier work in the kitchen of SantaCafé and for his own (now closed) restaurant Amavi. His first group of interns is just now hitting the streets with their own businesses after hands-on opportunities with the Street Food Institute’s three trucks. Two SFI trucks serve Albuquerque. One of the trucks is frequently in the north-side vicinity of CNM and the second near the South Valley Economic Development Center. SFI’s third truck hangs out in Santa Fe, often near Santa Fe Community College, where it has developed another partnership. The menus change, but customers can normally expect creative tacos—perhaps pork, duck, or tofu—and a range of other items, from Thai duck salad to green chile turkey stew.
Graduate Joslynn has learned about foods of the world, expanding her repertoire of dishes tenfold. Her eyes light up when she talks of the trip the SFI group took to Oaxaca, one of the capitals of fine Mexican cuisine, for more hands-on cooking experience. Simultaneously, she studied small-culinary-business management, purchasing, local sourcing, and marketing. Joslynn’s Pink Ladies Mexican Diner will return to the streets and special events of Albuquerque by early summer. She’ll have the New Mexico specialties the truck originally featured, but she will design at least one weekly international special, too. Much of the food will be sourced from local farmers, ranchers, and purveyors, with as many organic ingredients as she can find.
As she fine-tunes her original but drastically overhauled truck and solid business plan, Joslynn muses, “It’s come full circle for me. I can’t wait to get back out there again.”
ABQ FOOD TRUCK HOT SPOTS
Albuquerque’s trucks congregate regularly in specific locales. Look for trucks over the lunch hour at places like Civic Plaza, in the heart of downtown; the UNM Cancer Center area, along University Ave. near Camino de Salud; and around Jefferson St. NE and Masthead St. On Wednesdays, trucks gather at lunchtime in the parking lot of Talin Market, at Louisiana Blvd. SE and Central Ave. On Saturday mornings, you’ll find them at the Downtown Growers Market, near Central Ave. On Sundays, check some out at the newer Rail Yards Market, in the south-side Barelas neighborhood.
NEED TO KNOW
Watch for fun events that round up multiple trucks, like Albuquerque’s annual Great New Mexico Food Truck Festival at the Balloon Fiesta Museum. This year it was held April 11.
Basil’s Home Cooking
(505) 263-8442; foodtruckabq.com; on Facebook; @basilhomecookin
Gedunk Food Truck
(505) 315-3521; on Facebook; @gedunkfoodtruck
Pink Ladies Mexican Diner Reopening soon. (505) 907-4622; on Facebook
Soo Bak Korean Seoul Food (505) 221-9910; soobakfoods.com; on Facebook; @soobakfoods
Street Food Blvd
(505) 633-8226; streetfoodblvd.com; on Facebook
Street Food Institute
(505) 217-2492; streetfoodinstitute.org; on Facebook; @streetfood_nm
(575) 631-1963; on Facebook
(575) 322-2774; on Facebook; @thegreenhausnm
Luchador (575) 650-2078; on Facebook; @luchadorft
Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine (575) 840-7260; cheftoddzilla.com; on Facebook; @cheftoddzillamc
502 Old Santa Fe Trail; bangbitesf.com; on Facebook; @BangbiteSF
Bambini’s Steaks and Hoagies
905 S. St. Francis Dr.; (505) 699-2243; bambinissantafe.com; on Facebook; @bambinissantafe
Taquería La Hacienda
Airport Road at Fields Lane
Chef Toddzilla's Mobile Cuisine holds the number-one place among Roswell restaurants on the influential travel website TripAdvisor.com. Chef Todd isn’t surprised his food is considered the best in southeastern New Mexico. But he never thought, during 23 years in restaurant kitchens—including three formative years at the luxe Arizona Biltmore—that his greatest recognition would come from whipping up out-of-this-world green chile cheeseburgers in a truck parked along a Roswell highway.
The recession battered chefs as hard as it did workers in other fields. Todd was sailing along as executive chef of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, thinking he was then at the top of his game, when, with little warning, he found himself unemployed. Kerry Moore, his partner in life—and now in business—suggested they start up a food truck business. They retrofitted a truck and had a graffiti artist bring it alive with whimsical alien and UFO décor. The Toddzilla moniker, he tells me, “came from a waitress who had previously worked where I was the chef. She found me to be too much of a perfectionist to suit her taste—you know, like a bridezilla. I decided that what she intended as a derogatory name was perfect to bring in customers.”
Food trucks don’t take much capital to get on the road, which is a good thing, because the first half-year’s business was anything but robust. After an unseasonably cold winter that disinclined potential patrons to dine in the open air, curious customers began to stop by. An appearance on the Cooking Channel and a growing number of ecstatic online reviews got Chef Toddzilla’s firmly established. By the middle of last year, business was booming. Todd thinks he made a good strategic decision about his menu. He offers familiar New Mexican flavors but avoids duplicating the usual dishes on local restaurant menus. His own twist on our iconic green chile cheeseburger presents a perfect example. The Zilla Burger is mountainous: two patties of freshly ground New Mexico beef chuck combined with ground bacon, then layered with two flat tempura-fired chiles rellenos and topped with pico de gallo and roasted garlic mayo. If your appetite is slightly short of gargantuan, you can opt for the Zilla Jr., a mere hillock of a meal. Should red chile be more to your liking, Todd offers a five-alarm Chorizo Burger. For this one he grinds together beef, bacon, and pork tenderloin, then mixes it all up with garlic and a generous helping of New Mexico red. When it comes off the grill, Todd pops a fried egg on top. Customers can also order a salad, hand-cut fries, onion strings called Tumbleweeds, or a Grizilla cheese sandwich. Kerry invented their dessert, the Cheesecake Bomb. The size of a linebacker’s fist, it’s a slice of cheesecake wrapped in a flour tortilla and flash-fried. The Bomb might be flavored with Heath bar crunchies and chocolate sauce or sautéed apples and caramel.
WHAT’S DRIVING THE TREND
With Toddzilla’s, Chef Todd is on a road similar to many culinary entrepreneurs these days. You’ve probably noticed the exploding number of food trucks all over the country.
But mobile cuisine is nothing new. Here in the Southwest, I like to think that Charles Goodnight, for whom the Goodnight-Loving Trail that winds through northeastern New Mexico was named, pioneered it in the 19th century. He was the creator of the chuckwagon, the source of rib-sticking on-the-go meals for generations of cattle-herding cowboys.
Today’s hot and haute food truck era kicked off in 2008. The economy tanked, chefs and cooks found themselves out of work, and many entrepreneurs were priced out of starting a traditional business. Diners were looking for good, value-priced meals and were beginning to care more about local sources for their food. Social media was nudging its way into our lives. Roy Choi, proprietor of a Los Angeles truck called Kogi BBQ, revolutionized the meals-on-wheels business with cross-cultural Korean tacos and the use of Twitter. Choi orchestrated food flash mobs by tweeting his truck’s location to his thousands of fans. I first jumped on the Twitter bandwagon during a spring 2009 trip to LA so I could follow the location of Choi and those tacos. He became a genuine star in American food culture and inspired millennials, Gen Xers, and even some baby boomers to hit the streets with unique edible offerings. New Mexican cities have joined LA, Austin, and Portland in slinging bold eats out the windows of kitchens on wheels, often serving Only in NM specialties.
Chef Todd guided me to another good southern New Mexico–based food truck, Rattlers, based in Hobbs, where Monty Randolph and his wife took a specialty they used to whip up for their kids and turned it into a business. From their bright red trailer sporting a cute cross-eyed rattlesnake logo, you can order Rattlesnake Eggs. In this case, the “eggs” are batter-dipped deep-fried red potato rounds covered in local green chile and other garnishes. Kids can have theirs with less bite, with ranch dressing or ketchup on the side. Because Monty is a volunteer soccer coach and president of the Hobbs Youth Soccer Association, the truck can be found at lots of family-oriented events in Hobbs, Roswell, Carlsbad, and Artesia.
Among Las Cruces truck options are Luchador and the Greenhaus. Both can usually be found near Main Street. Luchador’s Ivan Saenz graduated from New Mexico State University’s respected Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management program, and decided a food truck was just the right-size business. His Luchador truck celebrates the iconic Mexican masked wrestling performers called luchadores. All of his tacos and sandwiches are named for noted professional wrestlers. The Carne Asada La Lucha Tacos are the truck’s most popular dish, edging out the Amazing Andy Mexican-Style Torta. Named for Las Cruces wrestler Andy Palafox, the sandwich features chicken, avocado, bacon, cheese, and a side of salsa to drizzle over it. When I ask if Palafox has sampled his namesake, Ivan chuckles and tells me, “Yes, he ate two”—in one sitting.
The Greenhaus rolled onto the food truck scene in late February. Ana Ordaz, another culinary school grad, launched her wheatgrass-green truck with a healthy approach to eating. She uses local produce and grass-fed beef and, as often as possible, works with certified organic ingredients. Kick off the day with her yogurt-and-fruit parfait, layered with local honey and Ana’s homemade granola. Later, snack on green-chile-laced hummus or make a meal of a generous salad or a burger with a side of chipotle sweet potato fries.
Up in Santa Fe, city regulations require food trucks to stay in a specific spot. Enrique Guerrero’s bold orange Bang Bite trailer makes its home across the street from the Capitol Building, in a parking lot at Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail. You can find New Mexican chile in a variety of his creative dishes, perhaps most prominently on the #2 burger. Enrique, an accomplished veteran chef, actually blends five chiles together for a topping on this burger, which also has bacon, pepper jack, avocado, and jalapeño aioli. Morning offerings here are special too, perhaps a bacon-wrapped corn muffin with scrambled egg, Cheddar and asadero cheeses, green chile, and roasted corn. The breakfast torta loads a roll with egg, chorizo, chile,
papitas, pepper jack, and chipotle aioli.
In front of Ski Tech at 905 S. St. Francis Drive, find Chip and Lynsey Pompei-Storm’s Bambini’s Steaks and Hoagies truck. One bite of their Philly cheesesteak will make you feel transported to South Philly. My fave? The New Mexified version, in which green chile mingles with the cheese, and fried onions meld lusciously with seared slices of Angus sirloin. But don’t just take my word for it; I took a skeptical Philadelphia food writer colleague to try it and he gave it two thumbs up.
Taquería la Hacienda sits along Airport Road at the intersection with Fields Lane and serves up Mexican-style corn on the cob, shrimp cocktails, and a Cubano, which includes a hot dog along with the usual ham and sliced roast pork.
In Albuquerque, some 100 trucks are on the go at any time. One to watch for is Patrick Humpf ’s Gedunk Food Truck, famous for its Pickled Chupacabra. This mighty sandwich piles pulled pork, Dijon-cayenne sauce, pickled red onions, and candied jalapeños on a kaiser roll. Consider, too, the Q&A: avocado halves filled with quinoa.
Basil and Elaine Welch operate Basil’s Home Cooking. The pair also tried their hand at a restaurant serving Elaine’s native Filipino food. They decided it was just too much work. The couple still work hard, but on their own schedule. Their trailer serves up some Filipino specialties like lumpia (egg rolls) and pansit (noodles). They have perhaps become even better known for their Green Chile Bacon Cheese Doughnut Burger. Yep, donuts take the place of a bun. If you can’t quite wrap your mind around that one, they serve a plate-size Frito pie, too.
Street Food Blvd offers a mix of Hawaiian and “505” menu items. From the NM side of the menu, Ted Sandoval will serve you items like Blvd Nachos: layers of chips with brisket or red-chile-braised carne adovada, nacho cheese sauce, a fried egg, pico de gallo, and crumbled queso fresco. Or try the Takone Twist, a cone of fried dough filled with carne adovada or a green chile chicken enchilada mixture, plus luscious toppings. If you’d rather skip meat, opt for a quesadilla stuffed with two cheeses and spinach and topped with a tomatillo relish and Chimayó vinaigrette. Lest you think all food-truck food is gut-busting—and it’s not—look for Soo Bak Korean Seoul Food for some of my favorite Far East–meets–Southwest eats. Even vegans can dine well here. If meat is more your thing, try the tacos filled with brisket braised in Marble Brewery Porter.
Speaking of beer, one of the best developments in Albuquerque’s social scene is the regular appearance of food trucks at some of the city’s most important craft breweries. Having a food truck partnership allows the breweries to focus on what they do best. The trucks, of course, contribute to a lively vibe. Tractor Brewing Company, La Cumbre, and both locations of Marble Brewery are some that have a food truck or two on hand nearly every evening. Irrational Pie (pizza), Rustic (burgers), Karibu Cafe (East African food), and TFK Smokehouse are some of the trucks currently on this circuit.
PORK TACOS, STREET FOOD INSTITUTE STYLE
These tacos are a regular item served by the Street Food Institute’s trucks in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The pork for the tacos can be roasted a day ahead, or you can use a similar amount of leftover roast pork from another meal. Dried chiles de árbol can be found in the Mexican section of many supermarkets and at Latino markets, or can be ordered from santafeschoolofcooking.com.
Serves 6 (makes 12 generous tacos)
1 3⁄4-pound section of pork shoulder
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
6 ounces red cabbage, sliced thin
CHILE DE ÁRBOL SALSA
10 fresh medium-size tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
8 dried chiles de árbol
5 plump garlic cloves
Juice of 3 limes
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
12 fresh 6-inch corn tortillas
6 ounces queso fresco or Cotija cheese, crumbled or grated
12 fresh cilantro sprigs
2 limes, sliced into 6 wedges each
Prepare pork. Preheat oven to 425° F. Season meat on all sides with salt and pepper, then arrange fattiest side up in a small roasting pan. Cook for 1 hour. Reduce temperature to 300° F and cook until very tender, with an internal temperature of about 180° F. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then shred meat, discarding excess fat and bone. Refrigerate if not using shortly.
Assemble salsa. Toss tomatillos and scallions in the canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Char them over a hot grill or griddle or a stove burner until well blackened. Tomatillos will just be starting to break down and look like they are going to pop. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. Toast chiles de árbol and garlic in a dry sauté pan until starting to blacken but not burned. They should be very fragrant. Transfer chiles to a bowl of warm water and let stand for 10 minutes. Remove chiles from the water and puree in a food processor with the garlic until it forms a paste. Add tomatillo-scallion mixture and remaining ingredients and process until smooth. If it is too thick to drizzle, thin it out with a bit of the water the chiles soaked in. Season to taste. Salsa should be pretty spicy.
Sauté shredded pork on a griddle or in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until warmed through, with a few crispy edges. Warm tortillas on a griddle or dry sauté pan. Assemble tacos, layering pork, salsa, cheese, and cabbage. Top each with a cilantro sprig and a slice of lime. Serve right away. (Recipe courtesy of Chef David Sellers and the Street Food Institute.)
CUACHALA, STREET FOOD INSTITUTE STYLE
Street Food Institute students typically get an opportunity to travel in Mexico as a part of their studies. This thick chicken stew comes from Tuxpan, south of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco. Chef David Sellers says the vegetables are typically roasted on a comal (griddle) over an open fire to lend a smoky character to the dish. You can get a similar result with oven roasting. Cuachala is traditionally eaten without a spoon, using corn tortillas to simply scoop up every tasty bite.
Serves 8 or more
3 1⁄2- to 4-pound stewing chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, plus 1 whole bone-in skin-on chicken breast, halved
1 large onion, quartered
4 sprigs fresh oregano or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano or marjoram
Water to cover, about 1 quart
1 pound zucchini or other summer squash, cut into bite-size cubes
1-pound eggplant, peeled and chopped into bite-size cubes
About 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 ears corn
8 dried guajillo chiles
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons lard, preferably, or vegetable oil
3⁄4 pound small tomatillos
1 pound plum (roma) tomatoes, toasted on a dry griddle, comal, or heavy skillet until blackened with split skins
3 tablespoons masa harina (corn flour for tortillas), stirred together with 3 tablespoons water to make a paste
Warm corn tortillas
Place chicken, onion, and oregano in a large pot with water to cover and salt to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes. When breast meat is cooked through and tender, remove breasts and set aside on a plate to cool. When dark meat is cooked through and tender, a few minutes later, remove it and add it to the plate. When cool enough to handle, shred breast meat and dark meat separately. Discard bones, skin, and fat. Strain chicken broth. Pour half of broth into a blender and add dark meat. Puree. Pour out mixture into a medium bowl. Reserve remaining broth.
While chicken is cooking, preheat the oven to 425° F. Set aside half the zucchini and half the eggplant cubes. Place other half of each along with corn on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with enough oil to coat lightly. Roast vegetables for about 20 minutes, stirring a time or two, so that they get deeply roasted and browned. Set aside.
Break open chiles and remove seeds and lighter red veins. Discard the veins. Toast chiles and seeds on a dry griddle, comal, or heavy skillet until lightly toasted and fragrant. Reserve seeds and soak chiles in hot water to cover until pliable, about 10 minutes.
Add to blender (no need to wash it) the softened chiles, chile seeds, garlic, and enough broth to easily move blender blades. Heat lard in a stockpot, large cazuela, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Scrape blender mixture into hot lard, being careful of splatters. Sauté several minutes, until somewhat dry and fragrant. Meanwhile, puree tomatoes and tomatillos in blender (again, no need to wash) and pour into stockpot, again watching out for splatters. Add remaining broth, pureed dark-meat-broth mixture, and salt to taste. Slice roasted corn kernels off cobs and add corn to stew.
Dilute masa paste with several tablespoons of broth and whisk it into stew. Continue cooking over medium heat for another 5 minutes or until thickened lightly, with no raw corn flour taste. Add more salt if you wish. This stew should be quite thick. Continue cooking a few minutes longer, if needed. Just before serving, divide shredded chicken breast among bowls and then ladle in stew. Scatter roasted vegetable pieces equally over all bowls. Serve hot with a stack of warm tortillas.
CHEF TODDZILLA’S ZILLA BURGER
This fantastically over-the-top green chile cheeseburger is courtesy of Chef Todd Alexander, whose lucky customers in Roswell have access to it on a daily basis. If you can’t get to the Chef Toddzilla truck yourself, or even if you can, you might want to try your hand at his rendition yourself.
Serves 4 big eaters
ROASTED GARLIC MAYONNAISE
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups mayonnaise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Granulated garlic, for seasoning
PICO DE GALLO
5 fresh jalapeños, diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
1⁄2 medium onion, diced
Juice of 2 limes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Granulated garlic, for seasoning
8 fresh New Mexican green chiles
Vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Granulated garlic, for seasoning
4 large eggs, beaten
8 slices Muenster cheese
2 pounds lean ground beef chuck
8 ounces bacon,
ground Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Granulated garlic, for seasoning
4 hamburger buns, split
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Prepare mayonnaise. Preheat oven to 350° F. Put the garlic cloves on a piece of foil, drizzle with oil, and close foil tightly. Bake until garlic is tender and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Open foil and let garlic cool for 10 minutes. Put roasted garlic in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to make a thin paste. Combine garlic paste and mayonnaise with some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic in a bowl and reserve. Refrigerate if not using shortly.
Prepare pico de gallo. Combine jalapeños, tomatoes, onion, lime juice, and some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare chiles rellenos. Increase oven heat to 375° F. Toss chiles with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, put them on a baking sheet, and roast, turning occasionally, until charred and tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer chiles to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and steam for 15 minutes. Scrape off skin from each chile. Slice open 1 side of each chile and remove seeds.
Heat about 1 inch of oil to 280° F in a large, high-sided skillet. Line a baking sheet or large plate with paper towels. Whisk together flour with some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Beat eggs in another bowl. Open the chiles flat. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the oil, coat both sides in the flour mixture, then in the eggs, shaking off any excess. Fry chiles until lightly golden, flipping to ensure that both sides cook evenly. Drain chiles on paper towels and top each with a slice of Muenster.
Prepare burgers. Heat a grill to high heat. Mix beef, bacon, some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic in a large bowl. Form into 8 patties and grill until done to your liking. Spread some roasted garlic mayonnaise on a bun bottom. Top with lettuce, pico de gallo (remember to add a little pico juice), a burger patty, a chile relleno, another patty, another chile relleno, and then the bun top. Repeat with the remaining three burgers and serve. (Recipe courtesy of Chef Todd Alexander, Chef Toddzilla’s Mobile Cuisine.)
Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. See more of Douglas Merriam’s photography at douglasmerriam.com.