Habanero Tacos

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https://www.facebook.com/Habanero-Tacos-636831153117512/timeline/
https://twitter.com/habanerotacos
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

Those who are somewhat familiar with my blog my notice a certain peculiarity to my archives, that being, except for a couple rare exceptions, I don’t really do reviews on Traditional Mexican Taco Trucks/Carts. Now the modern, bright, new-business, fusion/twisted, and other sort of taco-based trucks we see on our main downtown streets, sure. But as a general rule, I’ve made the decision to just ignore all the almost nameless, likely family-owned, no-frills and no-social-media-focus taco trucks that are so often seen in various parking lots, on the further outskirts of uptown and south Minneapolis, etc. You know the ones, the ‘taco trucks,’ those businesses that were likely the true precursor to our food truck industry in the US.

Note that this has nothing to do with any disdain or even disinterest towards these businesses; I absolutely adore taco trucks. They use proper masa tortillas, have a whole variety of usually delicious fillings, are NOT afraid to cook things like tongue or cheek or other offal (more people are coming to appreciate, but the rest of you are still pansies. Pansies I say!!), are often very cheap, and sometimes even offer a variety of options to eat with your desired filling; like going to Chipotle. There are reasons these kinds of businesses have succeeded for dozens of years.

But there are so many of them, parked who-knows-where half the time, usually with no online presence letting those unaware find them easily, and as much as I love the kind of truck… the fact is if you’ve been to one you’ve almost been to them all. The experience is rather identical; yes yes, there are little differences in flavor and quality between each, much like BBQ trucks, but it’s even less noticeable than that example, and I’m going to be happy either way. In my personal opinion, if I WERE to track down all the different taco trucks, I feel the only way to properly review them is between each other; or in other words, I’d have to start a whole separate blog, or blog page, devoted JUST to reviewing the aspects of the taco trucks themselves. And I don’t feel like doing that… yet. For now, it’s easier just to focus on the masses of every other kind, familiar and weird, that keep popping up in the Twin Cities.

So it was with much reluctance that I passed by Habanero Tacos at a farmer’s market some months ago, making the difficult decision to ignore it and save some money for other truck visits. The truck certainly fits into the same category as other taco trucks I’ve been to, so they were a no go. That said, of late I’ve taken strong notice of the fact that they’ve been parking in downtown Minneapolis quite a lot, they have a twitter and Facebook handle that gets updated, and are otherwise rather in the public eye just as strongly as some of our other food trucks. So I feel it only right that I give them my full respect and offer a complete review to add into the ranks on this blog for all the effort they’re clearly going through to get known. Plus, I like to think one can then use this as an overall idea on where taco trucks in general rank on the ‘food truck scale’ for each ranking category.

As for some details, the menu offers the chance to get Tacos, Burritos, Enchiladas, Alambres (meat sautéed with bacon, peppers, and onions; with melted cheese, I think it’s on rice or a big tortilla, basically an entrée), each with your choice of filling. One can pick from a list, slightly differing between item, including but not limited to: Al Pastor (Marinated Pork), Carnitas (Roast Pork), Carne Asada (Grilled Steak), Barbacoa (Shredded Beef), Pollo, Lengua (Beef Tongue), and Cabeza (Shredded Beef Head). One also has the chance to get a side of Elote (Mexican Street Corn, on the cob w/ lime, mayo, cheese, and spices) or Tortillas. Not to mention a full line-up of sodas, canned and Mexican bottles and guava juice (gotta love guava juice). That about sums it up, so let’s get down to it.

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Food: 9

                Can’t go to a taco truck without just getting the tacos; it’s a good way to try a couple fillings for cheap anyways. As expected, proper soft masa tortillas, double-stacked for each taco, garnished with onion, cilantro, and a section of lime for each taco. And yes there was a little thing of hot sauce, which I completely forgot to try on top of the tacos cuz they were SO GOOD; I love a proper taco from these kinds of trucks! But I did sneak a taste of the sauce on its own; has a kick, with some of those dried whole spicy chile flavors and some development start to finish.

Decided to go for the Al Pastor, ‘Marinated Pork,’ and the Cabeza, ‘Beef Head,’ for this trip. Both tasted great on their own terms, wrapped in their pillowy tortilla folds and with spikes of herby aromatics and bright crunchy onion. The pork’s marinade shone the most, with that distinctly unique tomato-chile-based (I think, maybe it’s a red mole or similar) sauce providing the most distinction; though on their own, the pork meat WAS a bit dry, luckily everything else balances it out enough to not really impact you. Oh but the head, fall apart tender and rich and juicy… well, not really juicy, in fact almost ‘slimy,’ but in a good way, like certain special Japanese noodle dishes. Bit of that fatty/collagen-y aspects from wherever they took that meat around the cow’s skull. And for those already trying to use excuses to be disgusted, shut up; it’s just like roast beef, amazing and super flavorful roast beef which is perfect like this. I only wish they had even MORE alternative cuts, like chicharrons, pig feet, brains, etc; but oh well.

They might deserve an even higher score, but I feel I’d need to try some other items for confirmation first; which also means it could just as well truly be deserving of lower, even if sticking with the fillings one knows are good. So as always, take these with a grain of salt; especially since I really just like this a general idea for all taco trucks anyways.

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Holdability: 9

                 Tacos are classic street food for a reason, they’re made to be able to pick up with one hand; and that classic double-tortilla design, as I’ve always said, is just so good. Can use it for extra support so none of the fillings fall out, or just use one tortilla first, let as much of that meat fall out as you can, and the leftovers turn into a second taco! Unless you only get one, which isn’t unlikely, one still needs two hands for basket holding. But there ARE options; yet another benefit to the classic taco truck; if one desires portability, the singular Burrito comes into play, not to mention the classic one-handed snack of Mexican Corn.
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Price: 10

                  $2.50 for each Taco, $8 for a Burrito, $7 for Enchiladas, $10.50 or $12 for the bigger entrée that is the Alambres, and $3 to get one of those classic Elote, this place has RANGE to fit exactly what you’re looking for. Whether one’s spending more on a big lunch, looking for a filling but more cost-effective option, or just wants to part with a few bucks for a soul-satisfying snack, or just to sample, these kinds of menus have it all. Yet another notable proof of evidence towards the taco truck’s success in engraining itself as THE classic American street food/food truck operation.

Speed: 8.5

I imagine it technically depends on the item, but most of the proteins/fillings are pre-cooked, may get a TOUCH of griddle time at the most, so they only need the filling time and come out quick. Alambres and Enchiladas will get more attention to cook everything together, I expect average wait on those, faster turn-out on others; they get those tacos out to you quickly! Just like any good street food stand.

The TOE: 9

                  My initial reaction when first seeing the truck a while ago, considering its plain-ish look, wasn’t all that inspiring; as evidenced by the delay in actually ordering from them. But then again, I was judging whether it qualified as one of the ‘modern’ food trucks which I mainly focus on. Truly, this IS a Mexican Food Truck, and it feels like it when you’re there and ordering from it. It seems to measure up just about as much as the others; perhaps there’s been some attempts towards a more ‘attractive’ design pulls it a bit more away from that rather traditional, operating-in-the-parking-lot-down-the-street feel that sort of comes to mind with these, but it’s not so huge. Plus I admit it that feeling in myself may be skewed simply because they’ve been doing a lot of business in downtown with the other trucks.

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Gotta love a good Carne Asada, and if you can find ANY part of yourself to try it, get the Lengua or Cabeza, they’re always so good in tacos. Besides those, I’d say you’re certainly safe with anything else Shredded or Grilled/Charbroiled, then it’s just figuring out what kind of edible packaging you want it in! That variability, versatility, is what makes these trucks perfect for any need: on a budget, grabbing a snack between other things, sampling multiple things, getting a full meal, looking to eat there or move to another location, etc. Chances are you’ll find SOMETHING that fits your needs here, so long as you don’t hate Mexican cuisine (you monster). And definitely give the Elote a chance if you still have yet to try one; it can be a quick, cheap, and satisfying grab-and-go treat that’s worth the minimal spending risk, or can add it onto another order as a ‘side’ of sorts.

At the end of the day, Habanero Tacos delivers their food, for the most part, in the same manner as what we expect to come from these glorious vehicles. I hope you’ve had the chance to experience it or one of the many other classic taco vendors in the cities, or that you do so soon.

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Tatanka Truck

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http://www.tatankatruck.com/
https://twitter.com/tatankatruck
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

The first of two long-awaited and highly-anticipated food trucks to hit the Twin Cities in the latter part of the summer, with articles and interviews and lots of retweeting about them both in the past few months, Tatanka Truck now hits the Minneapolis streets to serve the very anxious street lunch crowd. Brainchild of Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux and owner of the Sioux Chef catering and culinary educational business, he yet continues his journey to spread the true native Ojibwe and Dakota food traditions to as many people as possible. With the recent partnership with Little Earth, he finally got to add a Food Truck to his arsenal, bringing some of these natural dishes developed over the land back to our sight. You can see the truck around Minneapolis rather often, but its mobile nature allows Sean to take his business to various Native American events, businesses, and celebrations in Minnesota.

There’s more that could definitely be said about the owner and business itself, but it seems plenty of other places have been doing enough of that well before the truck even opened, like This and These Guys, so if you’re one of the few who still have yet to get bombarded with that information, those links have some rather intriguing informativeness behind them! (Sean really has been doing some great things, this is definitely the kind of thing I know we all love to see spread)

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Offerings focus on, of course, menu items made with indigenous ingredients and cooking methods developed in the Native American cultures, transformed to best enjoy on the street. The main features are the Indigenous ‘Tacos,’ a corn and bean ‘Bread’ round piled high with Heirloom Beans, Wojapi (a native berry sauce), and your chosen cooked meat topping. Cedar-Braised Bison (Tatanka) with Sunchoke, Smoked Turkey (Mizise-Wiiyaas) and Forest Mushrooms, Sumac-seared Walleye (Ogaawag), and Squash (Wagmu) are the options. Or one can choose similar protein toppings (or not) and pop it on a Manoomin Salad, chocked full of wild rice, seeds, cracked corn, and veggies. On the side one can grab some grilled Corn Cob (Wahuwapa) with Pesto (or not), Cedar Maple Iced Tea, or some Energy Bars: their own Native Granola and Seed Bars or Bison-Fruit Jerky which they get from native Tanka Bars.

Oh! And you can get a ‘hot sauce’ on the side with the tacos. I should have asked what they used, darn those busy lunch periods…

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A basket of Bison with that intriguingly pesto-covered corn

Food: 8.5

                Okay now this was a hard decision, figuring out which protein to get. I’m still playing the ‘what if’ card with the Walleye in my head, but I’m just gonna go with it! Luckily the two I was debating between, Bison and Turkey, had the former bowing out as the guy ahead of me bought the last portion, so I could pick the Mizise-Wiiyaas without guilt! The bison did look good though, especially mixed with sunchokes and, interestingly enough, DRIED bison alongside the braised.

Results of the turkey? Juicy, tender, a nice surprise as I expected the smoked bird to be firm as opposed to these juicy shreds, and seasoned well. The ‘bread’ underneath is really more like a Corn and Bean Cake, soft and moist as one pulls pieces off with your fork (can’t really pick it up). As you pull and mix and scramble everything together, a messy-looking hash of flavors you feel came right out of the backyard, one worries that the soft nature of all the items will lead to a textural wasteland devoid of anything besides mush, but thankfully the shredded greens on the side actually help to contribute, giving just that scoche (yes I used the term scoche, I’m watching Sideways and feeling a bit snooty, but not enough to actually elevate the grammer and writing skills of the review as a whole) of a bite to contrast. I will say I’m glad I got the Hot Sauce, one because it tastes pretty good (love a flavorful semi-hot sauce with a mass of starch an protein) and two because, as good as the ‘taco’ is, there feels to be an overall ‘blandness’ to it (not unseasoned, it’s salted and peppered well). One could say the flavors are all in the same realm, and I wish there was ONE other element, whether it’s a fresh and bright vegetable, that other flavorful sauce, dusting of spices, etc.

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Which, in hindsight, the berry sauce alone SHOULD have taken care of, so either I just skipped over it in my head and didn’t let it shine on the tongue, or it sadly just wasn’t sharp enough, or needed more OF it on top… perhaps the issue was that it blended with all the other tastes TOO much for the good of the dish as a whole.

The Corn was tasty, fully enjoyed the Pesto topping with the distinct herbal-garlic punch, though it did clearly feel like it hadn’t reached the true promise that good, fresh grille sweet corn should get to. Basically, one can tell that it’s grilled ahead of time, as it should be in order to achieve that full color and flavor on the kernels for service, and then kept warm and waiting on the side. Again I don’t hate it or anything, I actually love getting grilled fresh corn as a side like this, just pointing out it’s not heavenly; which is what we’re used to in sweet corn season like now right?

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The Granola, which I got to snack on from a free sample tray, was good; I could totally see getting bars of this for work snacks and lunch! Nothing better than a great one made by hand instead of machine. As for that ‘Cedar Maple Tea,’ it offers a clean, lighter version of your desired sweet tea, very refreshing. The maple and cedar notes ARE there, but one does have to search for them, quite subtle; something I was looking forward to trying, it satisfies my initial craving to grab though isn’t EVERYTHING that I hoped and wished for, sort of like the rest of the food and truck as a whole. Don’t take my thoughts harshly on that however.

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Holdability: 7

               So, here’s the thing. I don’t mind if a food truck uses the term ‘taco’ for something that isn’t really a taco; I understand, it’s a cool and easy way to let people connect to a different food, not to mention emphasizing the street food idea of it. That said, if you’re GOING to use the moniker, I expect to be able to actually pick it up in one way or another, and not only do these little ‘cakes’ not hold in any of the toppings, I doubt one could even lift them on their own without parts of them falling off. As such, I’m gonna have to knock a point or so off, seriously.

That aside, the side items on their own are easily consumable by hand, while the mains really do require a fork for consuming, mixing-and-matching can certainly razz things up depending.

Price: 8.5

                $9-11 for the protein tacos, $8 on the Squash, $5 for the Salad with a $3 upcharge to add your meat of choice. The whole menu has a great range, with the ability to get that side of Corn for only $2, the energy bars for $2-4 depending on type and size, and $4 for the Tea. Though it can definitely add up to a decent total, since it seems hard to get JUST the ‘taco’ bowl.
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Speed: 9

 

It didn’t take too long at all; a quick run across the street to take a picture and feed the meter, and when I got back a couple minutes later (if that) the basket was waiting in the window.

The TOE: 9.5

                Whatever lingering effects from media attention aside, the fact remains that not only is this a unique truck serving distinctive offerings, the goal and focus of it all comes through very clearly. Not to mention it’s colorful, felt surprising and hollow but one has to appreciate a good design at the end of the day.

The Cedar Maple Tea feels almost a Toe Ring, though I myself wish there was some more impact to it; either more distinct maple flavor, a spice mixed in, or just something to really ‘feel’ that clean and natural sweetness. Still good though, don’t get me wrong.

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

For the ideal experience, head over when they’re at the park near the Minneapolis Government center on a beautiful day, grab a the Bison, Fish, or whatever ‘taco’ you might be craving, and sit down to relax and enjoy your meal completely. Also a great stop to pick-up a Grab and Go snack, the Granola or Tanka Bars, or when craving an interesting drink, either to complete some truck lunch thing or just when needing refreshment, whereas the Cedar Maple Tea should be tried at least once if one ever gets the chance.

Filius Blue

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https://www.facebook.com/Filiusblue
https://twitter.com/filiusblue
Main Location: St Paul, Wineries, Etc

Some trucks are always more of a challenge and wait to find the opportunity for me to visit, believe me there are quite a few popped up that have mocked me with their distance (just gonna have to face the fact that certain trucks in Duluth and Bemidji will likely never find their way into one of my review save for freak strokes of luck), so it’s always a welcome pleasure when I can head out of my house before to fully explore one of these usually out-of-reach businesses.

Thus I was led to Filius Blue on a trip to St Paul, where-as the South American and Caribbean-influenced truck was sat in the bright sun, the uniquely designed sides in clear view to roam over as one waits for food. It’s only their second season, so I can safely say that I haven’t delayed too fantastically long compared to a couple OTHER trucks that I’ve hit in the past!

A couple fun facts, the truck itself is named after the filius blue pepper; a tiny little purple pepper that actually gets MILDER as it ages (apparently the only pepper that does that). This particular point hints at another key element to their menu, that being the use of Heat and Peppers in what seems to be their real specialty, Handmade Sauces. From one using the filius blue of-name to habanero, jalapeno, even horseradish, the food (which I’ll break down more in a bit) finds its central focus on which of these latin-american-inspired sauces coats their top.

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Besides that, the truck itself, while focusing on St Paul over Minneapolis, mostly finds itself booked in Waconia over the weekends, along with parking at various wineries and breweries, so look for them at one of those if able. And when you do, take the chance to look along the sides; a friend of the owner’s made all the original artwork, from cutting out patterns in linoleum to make all the animals and pattern stamps along the top and bottom to a Mermaid based on an original artwork the owner had in his basement. And based on the size of those hips, seems she’s quite fond of their food herself…

There are two sections to the menu, Sandwiches and Tacos, both of which basically have the same options for fillings; at least protein wise, all of which are Slow Cooked and/or Grilled, no frying in the truck at all (they seem quite adamant about they, either that or just couldn’t afford a friar). Pork, Grilled Chicken, and Grilled Tilapia are slathered in pre-determined sauces for sandwiches, whereas one gets their choices on the Tacos, like a creamy not-hot Avocado-Buttermilk to the classic Filius Blue, and others depending on season (apparently there’s a Puerto/Costa Rican that is to die for). Tacos did also have two different filling options, a Beef and a Beans for the red meat or veggie minded.

Well I’m all set to dive in, you?

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Food: 9

                We start off with what is basically their ‘signature item’ the Jezebel Pork Sandwich. Slow roasted with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, big chunks of this come out soft, juicy and fatty, it’s like thick dices of delicious beef brisket in pig form, perhaps from the same cut. Safe to say it came as a happy surprise, as if anything one usually expects the ‘pulled’ variety of oinker… and let us not, oh dear god let us NOT, forget this sauce. Apricot jam, horseradish, and who knows what else, all I care about is that it was sweet, savory, filled with lovely horseradish (enough to taste it and provide that signature nose tingle when eaten fast enough, but not enough to turn anyone but the most sensitive off, ideal level in my opinion), and dripping off that meat and onto your fingers. It does NOT hold together in that bun the best, but that just gives one the excuse to pick it up with the chips or just eat the pork straight off your own fingers. The only word I can think of is Delectable. Bun got a happy butter a toastage on it too.
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After that I moved onto a Taco, Grilled Tilapia since it seemed appropriate, and of course I had to try it with the Filius Blue Pepper sauce. The fish itself was cooked well, had some of that nice grill flavor to it and texture, and they actually toasted one side of the tortilla on the grill! Like only using one tortilla for an enchilada and just turning it into a taco, I’m realizing how sad it is that no one I’ve seen has done this yet; sure they warm it up or get SOME grill marks on it, but never take it to the point of having that crispy texture and browning all throughout. Such a good element, it’s a shame that it was partly ruined by the toppings. I mean we end up having some fish in the bottom, but at least half of the taco is composed of shredded lettuce, not-the-best cheddar, and some pico. Basically something reminiscent of what I can get at Taco Bell, though at least fresher; I was sadly hoping for something a bit more unique and complimentary. The pepper sauce itself wasn’t what I was hoping it’d be either, having this little creamy-chunkiness and not much heat at all. Still good in its ways mind you, but after that sandwich I was hoping it’d stand out more, which the taco overall does not outside of the tortilla.

Final note, Salsa was tasty, well-made, with a consistent texture and just a TOUCH of heat for a nice accent, maybe not spectacular (but to be fair, how often do we find a salsa that really is?) but an enjoyable side nonetheless.

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Holdability: 6

                 As I said, that sandwich was quite the monster! Pieces falling out, sauce getting all over your fingers… delectable, but still something that needs some sitting down and napkins for best results. I expect other sandwiches are similar, though likely less messy. Tacos at least increase portability, but loaded with that much lettuce/etc and using only a single shell leaves for fallout (non-messy fallout, but nonetheless).

Price: 8

                  Sandwiches at $8-9, the awesome pork at $8(yay), Tacos at $7-9, dependent on filling and automatically coming with a side, good prices though a little more range would be nice (or, as often is my wishes even if I don’t say it every time, the option to get something on its own for a little less money), but that point is always just a hair splitter when comparing to the ‘perfectly affordable/cheap’ menus.
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Speed: 7.5

Seemed to be an average wait time for grilling and assembly.

The TOE: 8.5

                  Besides the Latin-Caribbean flair, the added ‘theme’ of hot peppers as a focus certainly tickles my intrigue bone… or maybe the capsaicin is screwing with some weird nerve. Either way, it’s certainly the first time I’ve heard of a truck with this sort of edge, and I definitely appreciate it. The truck itself is attractive, maybe not so interesting from a distance but once up close to see the details and personality of the staff and wrap, one finds a truck worth going back to.

Tally: 39/50

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Final Thoughts

With a menu full of things slathered in cravingly pungent handmade sauces, this is not necessarily the food to get when one needs to keep their fingers clean, but also not suited to cart back to an office or other location… since you’ll be too intent on eating it then and there. So definitely a truck to stop by when you have the time to sit and savor.

The best strategy truly is to stick with the sandwiches, you get more impact from the meat and, come on, that Jezebel Pork is just to die for, and should be gotten on everyone’s first visit. But if you want to try something else, or just went back for a second or third time, I’d say the Jerk Chicken and Grilled Tilapia seem to be quite money… though that Gravy Pork piques my curiosity… maybe grab that and ask for one of their other sauces on the side to compliment. Since you’re sticking away from Tacos (you ARE sticking away from tacos), you’ll have to request them on the side to mix into other sandwiches, which I always find fun, sort of like when blending different veggie stews and curries into rice when I go for Indian. Red Pepper Jalapeno and, when they have it, the Puerto Rican (or Costa Rican, can’t remember) are the ones to experience.