September 27, 2011

Philly Food Truck: Cucina Zapata

The first time we came across Cucina Zapata was at the Inaugural Philly Vendy Awards.  It was my favorite truck and won the People's Choice Award.

Because the Vendy Awards were so crowded, the opportunity for personal interaction with each vendor was minimal. This limited the normal experience you might have with each truck and its owner. My interest in getting to know them more, combined with the quality of the food we tasted, made me want to visit Cucina Zapata at its regular location.

My planned tour of University City food trucks was the perfect time. Cucina Zapata is first in a line of at least 10 trucks located at 31st and Ludlow, a bit of a hidden alley on Drexel’s campus. It is one of the more decorated trucks of the bunch, too.

Cucina Zapata food truck above                                                    Line of food trucks on Ludlow Street at right

The atmosphere around the truck and my conversation with the owner, Robert Zapata, were major highlights of my visit. He made a concerted effort to have a personal conversation with every customer. I overheard conversations about the food truck culture in L.A., interesting taco suggestions, how people heard about the truck and, in my case, opinions on the Vendy Awards.

It was not only good business, but made the experience more memorable. This was the opposite of my encounter at Magic Carpet Foods, where I was the only person in line and the vendor did not go out of his way to strike up a conversation.

The tacos were delicious, too. You can order two for $5 – don’t you love street food prices –  so I went with the thai short rib and chicken satay tacos.

Short rib and chicken satay tacos

The short rib was the better of the two, in my opinion. Both came with just the right amount of meat to complement the sauce, while the avocados and cabbage added a nice touch.

Taking the spice up a notch might have led Cucina Zapata to take top spot of my tour.  The satay sauce was a bit too bland and the short rib sauce could benefit from more punch.

Luckily, I'm sure Robert and his wife Ruk would accommodate my recommendation and add more spice to my tacos next time I visit. I watched regulars walk up and not only get their requests met, but remembered from their last visit.  Cucina Zapata is definitely worth the visit.

Come back Thursday for my favorite truck of the tour. Could the winner also be the leader of Sandwich Quest....

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