Jose Garces' latest project, the Guapos Tacos food truck has only been out and about for two weekends now, but is generating quite a buzz. 22nd&Philly tracked it this Friday night to 2nd and Poplar Streets, thanks to Twitter. Here's how it went down, and why I think the Guapos Tacos Truck is a home run, for now.
The most amusing part of the experience was running into the truck (figuratively speaking) at about 7:10pm, when it pulled out onto 22nd St. right in front of our cab en route to our mutual destination. The truck drives a little slow though, so we arrived at 2nd and Poplar first and got to be the cool kids who informed the small crowd already gathered for the advertised 7pm opening that it was on its way, but apparently running late...
As soon as it arrived and parked just south of Standard Tap, the more zealous Garces groupies made a mad dash to be first in line, only to find out the truck still needed about 10 minutes to get ready. So we waited...
It was somewhat amusing to watch the staff of four open everything up and start cooking (or at least heat stuff up, I couldn't tell). Others in line helped us examine the funky design on the truck's side, which is actually thousands of beer bottle caps glued into hexagonal shapes. No, they are not all interesting Spanish or Mexican beers. Saw lots of Corona caps but also plenty of Bud, Amstel and Miller Lites, too.
The first chick in line was super anxious to get her tacos. She had tried last weekend but said the truck "broke down" by the time she got there and wasn't able to cook. Guess they are still working out some kinks.
The line kept getting longer as we waited for the truck to be ready, but it was a fairly patient crowd. Couple dogs, a few pregnant girls, some vegetarian UPenn kids, a handful of cameras, and plenty of growling stomachs as it started to smell real good...
Think they need a permit? It kind of just pulled up wherever there was space...
Guapos Tacos was finally ready after 15 minutes and the whole order/food pick process seemed to work well. You order from this fresh-faced fellow and pay up front, then they call your name and hand your food out the left hand window. Here's the best shot I got of the menu. They also passed out paper copies of it to people in line - smart move to keep the order process going faster. Bradd was nice and patient until it was our turn. We were probably about 16th in line.
And finally, the food!! We got the Esquites, typically found in Mexican streets or at fairs. It's sweet corn mixed with onions, chiles, salt and a handful of herbs, served warm. Though "spicy" is stretching it, the esquites were the spiciest thing we ate and really tasty as a starter. Bradd ate it so quickly I had a hard time stealing a photo where the container wasn't in motion. Saw others with the guacamole/chips which looked very good too.
We got the Chipotle Short Rib (at right - short rib, white onion, radish, cilantro, crema, queso fresco) and the Carnitas (below - chicken, black beans, and pinapple-habanero salsa) and. Both yummy, I liked the short rib better. Neither totally blew me away on taste, but at least half the reason you go to Guapos Tacos is for the experience, not just the food.
The tacos are served very fresh on hot tortillas, so be prepared to scarf them down right there on the street before they get soggy. They likely won't taste great cooled down.
There are plenty of napkins and utensils available at the truck and Mexican sodas for sale if needed. The tacos definitely will make you super thirsty so buy something or plan ahead for the nearest bar to wash it down with a cold beer.
Analysis: The Guapos Tacos truck from Jose Garces is a home run novelty for Philadelphians and visitors alike. Since I didn't go to college in the city, and I don't work in town, the whole food truck concept is a little foreign to me. This was something different to try on a Friday night and though it doesn't take up too much time (depending on the line), the experience makes for a tasty little dinner and better yet, a good story. I'd be curious to revisit the Guapos Tacos truck late at night to see how big the crowd of drunken sailors gets - and what the truck's max is before running out of food.
Guapos Tacos was a very smart move by the Garces empire, if to do nothing else than generate social media buzz among the Twitter, Facebook and blogger crowds (1700+ Twitter followers already) and attract new fans that don't regularly spend the money a full meal takes at one of his restaurants. Love, love, love them all, but honestly, they aren't cheap.
The food truck concept brings Jose Garces to the people, and I hope he'll make random appearances at the truck to keep it that way. It may not stick around for years before the novelty wears off, but by then I am confident the smart marketers at Garces Restaurant Group will have come up with five more home run ideas, and that Bradd and I will be one of the first in line to try it.