Various OC Locations
June 10, 2013
Click here to read about and contribute to Taco Maria's Kickstarter campaign to become a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Contributing to any tier promises a worthwhile reward.
- How and when did you first get the concept for the truck?
- My parents, Carlos and Maria, have owned a Mexican restaurant in Orange for the last 25 years. I grew up there, went to work in the tech industry for a while, and somehow came back to the idea of cooking for a living. After several years in the Bay Area working for some great restaurants and a simultaneous decline in my parents’ business, I decided to come home and work alongside them rather than letting them sell the restaurant at a loss. We looked at several different options, from re-conceptualizing the existing space to moving to a new location with a new menu. In the end we realized that if we were going to make any kind of impact, we would need the ability to reach all of OC’s foodie communities and not be locked down to one spot. Coming from a community of chefs who live and breathe farmers' markets and local foods, I was inspired by what I saw happening in Old Town Orange with the Orange Homegrown Market, at SoCo in Costa Mesa and at The Great Park in Irvine. Mexican food on wheels. It was immediately obvious the route we would take.
- How long from conception to reality?
- From initial concept to opening day was about six months.
- Have you been pretty successful in finding local, organic and sustainable food to use on your truck?
- Coming from the San Francisco, where we were spoiled in terms of access to local produce, fresh seafood, pastured meats and unique varieties, it took some time to find our suppliers here in OC. But things have changed a lot, for the better, since I moved away from Orange about eight years ago. We buy out of the Orange Homegrown market in Old Town, from vendors at the Great Park in Irvine, and from the farmers at SoCo. We’ve been lucky in achieving near fixture status in Costa Mesa. There are some great vendors there and we buy as much as we can. Nicholas Family Farms, Gaytan Farms, and others have provided us with some great stuff while cutting us a deal on volumes. Many of these farms haven’t done much direct sales to restaurants yet, so we’re proud to form these relationships and close the gap with them. We also have a great relationship with Melissa’s Produce out of LA. They take good care of us and help us find the best products coming out of California. Seafood has been a challenge; the market for sustainable fish is very different here. Most vendors sell fresh only to high-‐end restaurants, at higher volumes than our little taco truck can manage. For meats, we’re working with Daniel’s Meatpackers, the same purveyor that serves Haven, Lime Truck, and a lot of other great restaurants in OC and LA.
- Any story behind the name Taco Maria?
- María is the first name of virtually every woman in my family. As a kid, I would sometimes walk into a room at a family gathering, and yell, “María!” just to see all the heads turn. As a chef, after a while you feel compelled to drop the ego, to let go of modernism and cook food that has meaning to you and the people around you. My best food memories are ones created by these ladies, the Marias. Grandma’s mole dulce, my mom’s birthday sopes, birria slow-cooked by aunts for celebrations. I grew into wanting to cook food that was recognizable to my family, that I could share with them and not just with the affluent. I don’t think we spent any time at all questioning or debating the name. It was Taco María from day one.
- Plans for additional trucks? Brick and mortar?
- Sometimes, on a food truck speeding down the 55, pots and pans rattling and vegetables tumbling, you get this feeling of commanding a pirate ship headed into turbulent waters. I don’t know that we’ll add to our fleet anytime soon, but we are definitely considering a physical location for the future. When the time comes, it will be in a slightly different concept. Something in between a taqueria and a sit-down restaurant, and it will remain honest and affordable.
- Are there certain items proving to be popular?
- I could not believe how popular our Bone Marrow Quesadilla became once we opened. We all have cuts on our hands from pushing marrow every day for the two and a half months we’ve been open. The dish was something that we literally pulled out of nowhere, one night. I was talking to my mom about bone marrow, trying to find the translation in Spanish. She said something like, “I think we used to put that in quesadillas.” My jaw dropped and I couldn’t get the image and taste out of my mind for days.
- For years there were Mexican lunch trucks and not much else in the way of other food trucks. When the gourmet food truck craze started the only way you could find Mexican food was if it was fused with another cuisine. But your truck is straight up Mexican while bordering on gourmet. Are people grasping this concept?
- I had a Latino customer ask me the other day, “What kind of food is this? Because, it’s not Mexican. It’s good, but it’s definitely not Mexican. Where is your family from?” This is a true story. I really struggled with that comment. I am US-born Mexican, my parents are both Mexican immigrants, and we’ve been cooking together my entire life. We just cook -‐-‐ using corn, chiles, rice, and beans as the core -‐-‐ same as any other Mexican family. Mostly people digest the concept easily, but a few have tried to force regionalism or even politics into describing what we’re doing. It’s not an attempt to change notions or rewrite Mexican food. I’m just connecting the experiences I’ve had as a chef and as a Mexican kid growing up with two cultures. Another big challenge for us is the inevitable comparison to the ubiquitous 99-‐cent taco. Worse is the claim that that our food is inauthentic because it’s not the cheapest ethnic cuisine a dollar can buy. But, let’s face it: we all know that we can’t keep cooking and eating the lowest-‐cost foods available. A lot of customers have trouble seeing the true cost of those cheap, factory-farmed meats and long-‐stored, world-travelled vegetables. We can’t serve all organic, all local, all sustainable food, just yet. Otherwise, our tacos would be $10 a piece and we’d have no customers. But we can and should make better choices about the kinds of food production we support, and that’s what we aspire to do. We believe that it’s not expensive products or luxury ingredients that make food better. It just takes care, something that costs nothing but is invaluable. So we put as much as we can into our craft, charge what is fair for our labor of love, and put ourselves out there for anyone who’s willing to try.
Thank you to Carlos for graciously and thoroughly answering our interview questions. Here are some other pieces online about Taco Maria:
- Whoa! New taco truck will blow your mind - OC Register: Food Frenzy
- Taco Maria Signals El Return of El Native - OC Weekly
- Irvine: Taco Maria - Looking for Food Trucks
- Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me) - Chronicles of a Charmed Life
- Taco Maria & The SoCo Farm To Food Truck Challenge - The Hessian Chef
Farm II Food Truck Challenge
This is video from South Coast Collection's Farm II Food Truck Challenge held on November 19, 2011. It mostly focuses on Taco Maria's participation in the contest but shows some stuff from other trucks as well.