Category Archives: Taco trucks

Calgary Crispy Chicken Sandwich Hits the Spot

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In the heart of Calgary’s Taiko Canteen is a cool mini-golf course

There’s been a surging interest in fried-chicken sandwiches in Calgary. It no doubt reflects the booming popularity of Popeye’s latest offering at its fast-food outlets throughout North America.

But there are a number of independent Calgary shops with southern-style fried-chicken sandwiches on the menu. I thought I’d survey a few of them. But after just my first stop, I might already be prepared to declare a winner: Taiko Canteen.

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The drinks and kitchen (in behind the window) area

The canteen is a bricks-and-mortar marriage between two food trucks, Taiko Taco and Zilfords Fried Chicken, in a sprawling, darkish space in industrial southeast Calgary. The menu is a mash-up of tacos, hot chicken, poke bowls and local craft beers and cocktails—with a mini golf course and music hall thrown into the mix for good measure. In other words, a lively hangout for young’uns.

But on to the main event: the fried chicken sandwich ($12), with sauces ranging from mild to “lave juice”. The breading here is no afterthought but a main focal point that, once fried, becomes a crispy, crunchy, beguiling cover for tender chicken thighs, all crammed into a toasted brioche bun. Exceptional.

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The fried-chicken sandwich is crunchy nirvana

The $5 tacos range from pork belly to coconut-crusted tofu, stuffed inside a unique, spongy bun that definitely doesn’t fall apart like a traditional tortilla. The contents are certainly flavourful, though I think I still prefer the conventional wheat or corn tortilla wrap.

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Unusual taco wraps, too

Taiko Canteen
107, 3851 Manchester Road SE, Calgary
Tuesday-Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-late, Sunday noon-8 pm. Closed Monday

Seeking Tacos in Cabo

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1 & Only Taco is a delightful little taco stand in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

It’s hard to throw a rock in Mexico without hitting a taco stand, shop or truck. When in Cabo San Lucas every few years, I try to hit a few such taco spots. The challenge is finding the winners among the multitudes.

Tacos Gardenias is always a reliable go-to—a large, shaded space with fine seafood tacos and shrimp molcajetes, It’s fun and flavourful loading up on all the condiments and sauces laid out on the table.

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Tacos Gardenias is always a reliable taco shop in Cabo

But when I can hit a hole-in-the-wall, family operation only a couple of blocks from where I’m staying, I’m all in.

Actually, I walk past it a couple of time before seeing the tiny sign, 1 & Only Taco, tacked onto a much larger Baja Seafood sign. To further obscure matters, the business end of the taco shop is hidden behind a little bar.

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Sarah cooking my lunch in a little kitchen

But it’s all good once I’m inside, greeted by the exceedingly friendly couple that own the shop. I take a seat at a little table and chat with Frederico while Sarah prepares my lunch: lightly breaded fish and shrimp tacos and a beef taco; they’re temporarily out of the smoked marlin.

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Frederico is the engaging front man

Three brimming tacos for $6 US. As fresh and tasty as any you’ll find in Cabo.

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Fish and beef tacos

1 & Only Taco
Camino Real 2506 S/n, Cabo Sand Lucas, Mexico
11 am-8 pm Monday-Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, noon-8 pm, closed Wednesday and Friday

Pictures From a November Road Trip to Southeast Arizona

 

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November is a perfect time for hiking in Tucson

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Hoar-frosted lines on the long, glorious drive down the I-15 in Montana

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Never too soon to promote Christmas: Willard Bay State Park north of Salt Lake City

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Sandwiches for three at Grove Market in Salt Lake City

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Trendy Welcome Diner in Tucson, Arizona

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Feathery cacti at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Wild turkeys in southeast Arizona

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Hole in the U.S.-Mexico fence near Montezuma Pass in southeast Arizona

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Sign in Bisbee, Arizona around mid-term elections

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Wintering sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, northeast of Bisbee, Arizona

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Majestic Gadsen Hotel in the border town of Douglas, Arizona

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Superb, eroded volcanic rock pinnacles in Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona

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My first sighting of a coatimundi in Chiricahua National Monument: Three feet from the car window; never paid attention

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Razor-wire fence surrounding U.S. Border Patrol compound, near Willcox, Arizona

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Can’t visit Tucson without a trip to Ruiz’s for a Sonoran hot dog

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Early-morning red rock driving near Page, Arizona

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Power plant near Page, Arizona at dawn

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“Can I park your yacht for you, sir?”

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The Maverick gas station experience in Fillmore, Utah

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Swans along Highway 91 in southern Idaho

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Hoar frost above hot spring along Highway 91

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The incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho

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Dead great horned owl at a rest stop along the I-15 in central Montana

Great Mexican Tacos in Grande Prairie, Alberta

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Great fish tacos at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta

I keep finding great Mexican food in the strangest of places. Like Idaho, home of my two favourite Mexican road-food stops: the incredible one-woman show in tiny Hamer and the fantastic fare at Morenita’s in Idaho Falls.

You can add to that list El Norteno, way up yonder in the northwest Alberta city of Grande Prairie. As an oil and gas/farming centre, GP is well stocked with steakhouses, pizza places and lounges. But tucked inside a downtown farmers’ market is a little stall churning out tacos.

Now, these aren’t just any tacos, but Ensenada Baja-style tacos, which apparently means corn tortillas, batter-fried fish and no lettuce. The most impressive thing for me is that once you place an order, the sole guy running the show grabs a mound of masa harina (corn dough) and runs it through a tortilla press before flipping the resulting disks on the grill. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

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Fresh-pressed corn tortillas with every order

Meanwhile, he’s flash frying basa filets and charbroiling pork loin, which are placed inside the grilled tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole. Good, flavourful stuff.

At about $12 for three, filling tacos, it’s not Mexican food-truck cheap, but still good value for northern Alberta. And yes, the corn tortillas start falling apart as they are crammed into our gaping mouths. But for me, that’s just a sign they’re truly authentic.

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It’s a little one-man show

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
780-832-8093

Finding Marvelous Mavens to Steer Your Road-Trip Eats

At Sleight of Hand Cellars, dynamo Traci is a wealth of dining and drinking suggestions

At Sleight of Hand Cellars, dynamo Traci is a wealth of dining and drinking suggestions

I tend to heavily research my road-trip food stops. I’ll spend hours poring over Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews and Googling for dining nuggets. I end up with a script that guides me for a month of gorging and guzzling over, say, a 5,000-mile swath of the southwest U.S.

But sometimes it’s nice to just follow my nose and, hopefully, discover gems off the beaten path. It helps tremendously, in this regard, to find a local savant or two, with similar sensibilities, who can steer you to some unpublicized standouts.

So when we’ve got three days to spend in Walla Walla, Washington and no agenda to pursue, I’m happy to solicit and accept spontaneous suggestions. These leads come primarily from two winery servers, who are sharp as tacks and more than willing to be impromptu tour guides. Continue reading

Guerilla Tacos Elevates Food Truck Fare to Spectacular

Los Angeles's Guerilla Tacos elevates the Mexican pocket food to spectacular

Los Angeles’s Guerilla Tacos elevates the Mexican pocket food to spectacular

Guerilla tactics include keeping on the move so folks don’t always know where you are. As a food truck, Guerilla Tacos certainly accomplishes that, setting up outside various Los Angeles-area coffee shop locations (such as Blue Bottle and Blacktop) each week.

But it throws me a curve when the truck is at a special event some six miles from where I’m expecting it to be. Still, I can be persistent in pursuit of search of good road food and soon track this roaming restaurant down.

Another guerrilla strategy is throwing people for a loop. And owner/”professional cocinero” Wes Avila definitely achieves this with taco takes on his daily menu you won’t find anywhere else—a blend of influences from his travels to places like France, Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Guerilla Tacos sets up outside various Los Angeles coffee shops

Guerilla Tacos sets up outside various Los Angeles coffee shops

Take my steaming hot delicacy of thinly sliced summer squash with runny guajillo chile, cashews, queso (Mexican cheese) and herbs. It’s a strange combination that works spectacularly well. Other wide-eyed customers are tackling a cauliflower taco with Medjool dates ($5) or, get this, blue crab and potato with sun gold tomato. For larger appetites, there’s a cheese and tomatillo torta ($11) and a sirloin burrito ($10).

What guerrilla manoeuvre will mad chef Wes spring on his unsuspecting followers next?

Guerilla Tacos
Check the website for daily locations in and around Los Angeles
Daily 10 am-2 pm