Just the bill, please: food trucks, quesadillas and summer

I’m back, after another, rather on the spur of the moment, in Mexico in June. It was not a gastronomic journey. I was visiting some of my former kitchen workers in the state of Guanajuato. I hadn’t seen these guys since before the pandemic. I had food of course, but it wasn’t some sort of “take a picture of your dinner” excursion. We ate mostly street food and drank lots of beer. The gorditas replaced the tlayudas as a source of fascination. I’ll be leading another food tour of Oaxaca in August, so I’ll talk about food again then.

Meanwhile, back home, I noticed that the food trucks seemed to draw crowds and so, as many of them seem to be run by Latin American people, I saw a transition. You may have noticed that at the west end of Franklin Street there is a circle of food trucks on the Carrboro side of the line. It’s been a while but if I remember correctly, when the Department of Health decided that food trucks would be allowed, Carrboro said ‘Sure, that sounds good’ and Chapel Hill showed up with a portfolio of regulations. Enough said. The upshot is that within walking distance of most music clubs, you can grab a late night supper before or after a show. You can also eat at other times, of course. In fact, Garnachas Rivera across from OWASA on Jones Ferry Road only serves lunch. I have known this place for a while. It always smells of good food when you pass and there are always people. There is a circle of picnic tables around a large tree if you want to eat there. I had the torta milanesa which is a kind of pork schnitzel sandwich.

One night I grabbed a chicken quesadilla from Tacos El Niño. It’s in that parking lot to the left of Al’s Automotive. Quesadillas are my favorite when I eat on the go. They are a little less messy than tacos or enchiladas. Theirs looks like a huge pancake with a side of chopped salad. Just across the small patio from Tacos El Niño is Paco’s Shave Ice. It’s not a food truck, but it has the same vibe. They have a million flavors. It’s like one of those snowball places in New Orleans. It’s refreshing and delicious. Until the heat starts to melt it, it really is like eating a bowl of snow. The patio is cooled by misting blown by a fan.

Carrboro brought back its Latinx Pride Party this year, and among the food trucks was Bon Fritay whose cooks hail from Haiti. I had a splendid fried pork and breadfruit supper. Meanwhile, across the line in Chapel Hill, a food truck has been permanently anchored at Franklin Motors. His name is Rocket. I was there last week for a fundraising dinner for Hidden Voices, an organization here that promotes storytelling, especially by people in the community who might seem invisible or overlooked. The organization was new to me, but I had many friends present. Our dinner was a fresh beet salad followed by carnitas and risotto cakes.

I already mentioned my friend Antonio Jimenez’s Dona Lilia food truck. It’s usually in the parking lot next to Peel Gallery and across from Bowbarr in Carrboro. His quesadillas sometimes contain rice.

One place I just noticed but haven’t had a chance to visit yet is the Latin Grill. They had moved into the parking lot of the Fitch Lumber Company last Saturday afternoon. They too were busy, always a good sign.

Finally, if you look out the back door of my old kitchen in Crook’s Corner, you can see the sun setting over Taco King in the car wash parking lot. Some days they are open for lunch and dinner. I can also recommend their quesadilla.

This month’s recipe isn’t for the faint of heart, given the current price of crabmeat, but here it is anyway:

When I make guacamole, I almost like to turn it into a salad, adding so many chopped vegetables that it might not be a dip anymore. It is an unusual twist on a “botana” or familiar snack commonly eaten in the United States and Mexico. Prepare it with drinks before a dinner party. It will easily feed six to eight people in appetizers.

  • 2 large avocados
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • The juice of a lime
  • ½ small red onion, diced
  • 2 small jalapeños, seeds and all, minced
  • ½ cup diced ripe tomatoes
  • 1 small tomatillo, shelled, washed, diced and lightly salted to sweat.
  • 2 tablespoons canned diced chili
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • A cup of dorsal fin or special crabmeat, collected
  • Pork rinds or, even better, fresh chicharrones

Cut the avocados in half and remove the seeds. Pour the pulp into a bowl and mash it with the oil and lime juice. I like chunky guacamole, but ok with you. Stir in onion, jalapeño and tomato. The pimiento and the tomatillo will need to be drained. Fold them too. Quickly toast the cumin in a dry sauté pan over very high heat. Go by smell to say it’s done. Taste the salt. If you want more, add it with the cumin. Finally, carefully fold the crab, trying not to break it. Coldness. Instead of fries, serve with pork rinds or fresh chicharrones – sold at many Latin American grocery or butcher shops.

“Just The Bill, Please” is a regular column on Chapelboro.com written by a local culinary legend Bill Smith. Born and raised in New Bern, Bill Smith spent 25 years at the helm of the kitchen at Crook’s Corner – and over the years he has racked up accolades to match his unrivaled interpretations of classic Southern cuisine.

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