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The Taco Truck

Periodically, in magazines like “Gourmet,” or “Bon Appetit,” I read about the food vending trucks that spring up around major metropolitan areas. These are the sophisticated cousins of the wagons that issue elephant ears and slushies at county fairs; selling everything from curry to crepes, they provide city dwellers (and some lucky ex-urbanites) with a variety of new culinary experiences on the cheap, and in a deconstructed, almost illicit setting. They are Un Restaurants, found on a street corner, parking lot, or construction site. These mobile vendors of culture are so popular that there is an annual “Vendy” award given in New York City to honor the city’s “best street food.” I have always yearned, here in my Midwestern suburbitude, for the appearance of a truck selling anything, even deep fried hog jowls or smoked eels, and my dream has come true.

It is called “El Oasis,” and it sprung up in a parking lot on the main drag in Lansing, which leads to the Capitol building, the Big Hospital, and the baseball stadium. It is kitty corner from a Quality Dairy convenience store populated by raggedy children with sweaty singles for ice cream cones, and exhausted city employees picking up an overpriced bottle of Merlot and a box of Cheez-Its for post-cubicle decompression. Nearby is what is ostensibly a barber shop, from which we have noticed that all patrons emerge their with hair unchanged in any visible manner, after approximately 3-5 minutes. (I’m just saying). El Oasis is not a garden spot, but the cart itself is beautiful, and clean with its red stripes and immaculate counter, standing like a beacon of light (or an oasis, actually) on a tired strip of badly patched road and “For Lease” signs.

We heard of the truck’s existence nearly a year ago, an apocryphal vendor of tacos, burritos and the freshest of tamales that was somewhere within a 10 mile radius of our house. We doubted, tried to keep the faith, and finally came upon it by accident running a rare, downtown errand. It was closed, of course, and our next several months involved remembering that we wanted to try the taco truck, forgetting that we wanted to try the taco truck, getting to the taco truck five minutes after closing, and finally getting ourselves there in time to join the line of fellow seekers inhaling the mingled scents of grilled meat, cumin, cilantro and corn.

The menu at El Oasis is the real deal, with everything from tacos and burritos Al Pastor, (my personal favorite) to freshly made tamales, lengua tacos, and sopes. At breakfast time, there are breakfast burritos. The Al Pastor (I have mine in burrito form) is full of well-seasoned pork, onions, rice and crumbles of fresh, tangy white cheese. I have not yet managed to stick my head far enough inside the window to allow me to see whether the pork is cooked on the traditional vertical rotisserie, but no matter how its cooked, it is leagues ahead of the chewy gristle I have had in the guise of Al Pastor at other local restaurants.

The tamales and sopes are sublime, with perfectly soft masa providing (am I really writing this?) a gentle, toothsome counterpart to the seasoned beef and fresh vegetables. The re-fried beans are silky with lard, the rice is perfectly cooked and free from funky seasonings, and they provide little plastic cups of hot sauce that I suspect to be a combination of hot pepper sauce and a little crema. There is also a large plastic tub of spicy, pickled carrots and jalapenos which have created such a preternatural yearning that I have taken to buying cans of them at the grocery store to eat alongside everything from scrambled eggs to rice and beans. I am actually hoping to produce some of my own, if I can ever get over my canning-o-phobia.

So now I have my very own truck, and I can stop envying denizens of Manhattan and Chicago. Of course I wouldn’t object to a falafel truck, a truck with fabulous dosas and aloo gobi, or someone selling really fresh African or Caribbean food, but for now I am happy to set off once a week for El Oasis which has no margaritas, no brightly painted furniture and no Corona posters.  It simply has the best Mexican food I have ever eaten outside of Mexico.

El Oasis

2501 E Michigan Ave

Lansing, MI 48933

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

10 responses »

  1. How nice…. as far as know… in little ole Four Oaks NC we have no “street food”…. Now, in the big city of Smithfield NC, we have the Nathan’s hotdog vendor at the Lowes Home Improvement on the weekends…. does that count?
    Christina

    Reply
  2. Ann, this is a very interesting post, we have a weekly periodical that just published its “Best of” series including “street food” and San Francisco lags sadly behind New York in street vendors, although we do have a couple Mexican vendors here that won awards. There is a great Hot Dog stand in front of my hotel that offers the best spicy onions for their hot dogs and I can’t seem to replicate the recipe. Always a line there–they sell those big salty bready pretzels, too. Hi from San Francisco.
    Eric

    Reply
  3. Annie ~ Way up North in the Land of the Midnight Sun, we have our fair share of food trucks and I actually have a favorita Mexican food truck that I have frequented for years. It’s called Benny’s and there is nothing that out of the way special about the food ~ I would definitely not describe it as silky or tender (BTW I Love your expanded descriptors, they make my mouth water!). But Benny’s food comforts me.

    Just the other day when I was out loud wondering why I crave Benny’s food as it is not particularly noteworthy, my daughter reminded me that it was notstalgic for me and for her. She said that I would always take her there when we were both in good moods and we would sit in the car and talk about stuff. She added that she had such fond memories of Bennys because it reminded her of our good times together as mother and daughter.

    Okay enough memory lane for this commentor as my eyes are beginning to mist… Enjoy your food truck, it sounds absolutely DeeLish! junemoon

    Reply
  4. christina, I’m not sure about hotdogs at Lowes…I think, though, that if it makes you feel happy and a little exotic to buy hotdogs at Lowes, them for you it is a food cart experience. i have decreed it to be so.

    eric, I kind of thought SF would have all kinds of fabulous street food – why do you think you don’t? As for the spicy onions; if you really love me you’ll ask them for the recipe, or at least part of it.

    junemoon, that’s lovely!! Now that i think about it, there are a couple of restaurants in my world that are nothing special except that i associate them with happiness and comfort with my family. as for the expanded descriptors…I’m glad you like them because I think they are a form of madness that I can only allow out in this kind of writing.

    Reply
  5. Ann,
    Until I read the article, I didn’t understand why SF doesn’t have tons of street food vendors (aside from the summer street fairs here) but apparently, licensing permits forbid actual cooking so the vendors are really just reheating food and the number of licenses are limited AND there are many small “holes-in-the-wall” type brick and mortar restaurants that compete with the street food and usually outdo the quality that street vendors can offer. Otherwise, I would agree, SF should be hopping with a variety of street food, like New York is. Ah, well. I feel funny complaining. Will try to get the spicy onion recipe for you and for me. It’s wonderful.

    Reply
  6. Eric, that’s interesting – and kind of a good news/bad news story for SF residents. GET THE RECIPE. I know I still owe you garam masala…..

    Reply
  7. El Oasis also has a more permanent location inside Tony’s Party Store on the southwest corner of Cedar Street and Miller Road…

    If you liked El Oasis, you will probably LOVE Pablo’s in Old Town!!! Best Mole’ sauce I have ever had…

    Reply
  8. Corky, thanks so much for both tips! I am always looking for new “really” local places to try.

    Reply
  9. Ann:

    I’m one of your husband’s horological friends. He pointed me to your article about working on the campaign, and I found the link at the bottom of the article that points to your food blog. (By the way, thanks for working on that campaign. We appreciate your hard work!)

    Wanted to say that in Seattle, we have quite a number of Mexican food trucks. The ones I know of seem to be strategically located near interstate off ramps. I have not tried them yet, but your post has made me curious enough to give one a try in the coming week.

    There’s also a peripatetic falafel cart that can be found around Seattle. Read this and try not to salivate: http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/voracious/2007/06/nomadic_hallava_falafel_truck.php. 🙂

    Craig

    Reply
  10. Pingback: …Three Strikes: You’re Out. « Forest Street Kitchen

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