June 4, 2011

Guapos Tacos

I have a love/hate relationship with spring in Philly. It's so beautiful, and after months of freezing, I want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Unfortunately, everyone else has the same idea, and any outdoor event is painfully crowded (slight claustrophobia doesn't help my situation). This past week, we planned a trip down Baltimore Avenue during the first Dollar Stroll of the summer- a series of restaurants and cafes off of Baltimore offering $1 bites and sips. However, as we approached the first "stop" we quickly saw a line at least forty deep, which didn't look too promising. After realizing that EVERY restaurant looked this way, we decided this wasn't going to work.

However, since we were in West Philly, we decided to take advantage of something in the area, and settled on Guapos Tacos- Jose Garces' taco truck, conveniently parked off the corner of Clark Park. Since they weren't offering anything for just $1, the line was very doable. This food truck is typically located in Love Park (although it does do some roaming, and is even available for private events), so we clearly needed to hit it up while we had the chance.

It's a three man operation inside, with two guys doing the cooking and food prep, and one girl taking orders and moderating the pace of orders/output. They all seemed a little stressed, but the speakers on the outside of the truck provided some upbeat mood music. Our wait time was only 5 minutes or so- perfect for people watching and exploring the mini farmers market set up nearby.

J took advantage of a nearby bakery truck and snagged a cookie for a pre-meal snack ($1.75). She chose a wheat-free oatmeal raisin cookie, which was pumped up with dried cranberries and was basically a dried fruit-oatmeal ball. Not my favorite, but the raisin lover of our twosome was happy. The Baltimore Stroll set-up at least gave us a good opportunity to try a few different vendors.

(Half of the huge cookie)

We weren't going for a full meal, so decided to split an order of tacos as well as a small "appetizer." With only two options for a starter, I chose the Esquites ($4), a classic Mexican street food item. A generous serving provided plenty to split between the two of us. Well over a cup of sweet, whole corn kernels was sauteed in butter until just slightly tender, and then topped with lime juice, chipotle chile powder, salt, and some mild, crumbly cheese (maybe queso fresco?). The first bite was HOT, which I appreciated since it was obvious it was freshly prepared. Very salty and smooth, the flavors and textures worked well as a sort of side dish to our main course.

For the Stroll, Guapos had four types of tacos on the menu- green chile chicken, chipotle short rib, carnitas, and hongos (mushroom/vegetarian). Each option is $6-7 and comes with two medium tacos- not the tiny finger-food tacos you find at Distrito (Garces' sit-down Mexican spot), but not enormous like some food truck portions.

I chose the hongos tacos ($6), which start with a base of soft corn tortillas, and are then piled with black beans and a sauteed mushroom, pepper, and onion mix. A little sprinkle of cheese tops it off. The flavors overall were impressive, particularly coming from a food truck; the mushrooms had an almost pickled flavor, as if they were roasted in a vinegar-based marinade. Together with the cheese, it was a salty ordeal, but overall we both agreed we'd order these again.

We also managed to snag a little bite of a friend's selection, the Carnitas tacos ($7). It's hard to go wrong with slow roasted pulled pork, especially with an accompanying spicy-sweet pineapple-habanero salsa. However, she was annoyed with the addition of black beans on this taco as well-- with no description of any of the dishes available, you are sort of at the mercy of the chefs (a modified menu is available online, though).

With the combination of our few food items, we were surprisingly satisfied, so we opted out of hitting up one of the other cheap, ethnic restaurants in the area in lieu of rounding out our meal with a cold, sweet ending- Sweetgreen's frozen yogurt. Conveniently located on the path home, we couldn't pass up our undeniably favorite summer treat. I'm pretty sure the pile of fresh, organic berries made up for the semi-steep $4 price tag!

If you work near Love Park, consider Guapos Tacos for a quick and easy lunch (although not necessarily inexpensive, as food carts go). They still don't rank at the top of our food truck list (definitely still held by Tyson Bee's), but they offer a quality take on what has become Philly's hottest mobile food trend.

Guapos Tacos
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