Pescado and asado: two tacos, three bucks total
1301 Market Street, San Diego
Arturo's food truck
I’m loping downhill from Golden Hill, heading for the City College trolley stop at Park and Broadway. Then, just before the blue police HQ and the Salvation Army, I spot this lone wagon, a mariscos food truck, parked in the gravel behind hurricane fencing.
Name seems to be “Su Gusto Es…,” like “Your taste is…”
This is five on a Friday afternoon. Was figuring on hitting a food truck at the Quartyard, the East Village block at Park and Market. Sure to find a bite there. On the other hand, a bird in hand… Can’t resist coming through a gap in the fence and crunching round to where this food truck is parked.
I look up at the menu on the wall. Mainly what I’m noticing: “Tacos de pescado, $1.50.” “Carne asada taco, $1.50.” All right!
This is when the guy opens the door and comes down. “Guess I’ll have one of each,” I say. Big investment of three buckeroos.
It’s this lady who has appeared around the truck. “More of the same, Arturo,” she says.
And Arturo writes down the same order I gave. How can you be surprised, with such a deal?
“This truck’s been open in this spot for three weeks,” she says. “And already they’re popular — with the police, the workers around here, my class…”
Her name’s Mayflower. She lectures on cosmetology at City College, which kinda tumbles down the hill right across Broadway. “I come a couple of times a day, because everything Arturo has is fresh and healthy,” she says. “And besides, there’s not a lot of choices around here between East Village and Golden Hill. You should see this at lunchtime. It’s standing room only.”
We laugh because, well, we’re standing. Then Mayflower gets her order and runs.
“It’s cod,” says Arturo as he hands me mine, two tacos with twin corn tortillas each and tomato chunks, cilantro, cabbage shreds covering them. Also a big green log of guac. “The salsas are over there.”
I get a can of Sunkist orange soda ($1) and hand him $4. “Which salsas?” I ask.
He grabs a bottle of “Salsa Huichol” with “spices and hot peppers from the Nayar mountains.”
“And for the fish,” he says, and hands me a bottle of “Mexico Lindo, salsa marisquera 7 Mares.”
I head for the two temporary long tables he has set up on a piece of ground covered in ancient mosaic flooring of a demolished factory. Arturo says he has plans.
Mike, the lobster-truck owner
“We’re new here, but we hope to set up a charcoal burner at night so we can have an olla of beans and onions and leeks and peppers. And on Saturdays we have this campechano, all fish mixed inside a coconut with coconut flesh, $16. Very filling.”
Meanwhile I shake the hot sauces on my fish taco even though it already has a tartar sauce splotted over it, and the carne asada taco has, like, Thousand Island sauce. The carne asada is strong-tasting and burning with those peppers from the Nayar mountains, but it’s the fish taco that takes the prize. Crisp battered, with plenty of pico de gallo and fixin’s. I can’t think of a better way to spend $1.50.
Sabin, one of the two "Cousins" owners
Cut to an hour later. I’m in the Quartyard compound looking up at this awesome black machine. A food truck on steroids. Got a strip along the top showing the logos of every media outlet they’ve been featured on. Katie, QVC, MasterChef, Hallmark Channel, Queen Latifah, New York Post, the Food Network, CNBC, GMA, LA Weekly, Food and Wine, CNN, Fox, Shark Tank. On and on.
“This baby cost $167,000,” says Mike, looking at his truck. “But hey, we’re the #3 food truck on the West Coast, according to the Huff Post. You should see the kitchen inside.”
“Cousins Maine Lobster,” says the truck’s sign. Turns out Mike’s a franchisee. They sell everything from lobster tail to lobster rolls to lobster tacos.
“Guy, your Connecticut lobster roll is ready. Get it while it’s warm!” says this gal’s voice through a loudspeaker.
I check out the electronic menu. Not cheap. A Maine lobster roll (served chilled, with mayo) is $13.50. Three lobster tacos cost $12. Lobster tots are $12, too.
You certainly get plenty of meat
“But check it out,” says this casual young guy who’s socializing with others in front of the truck. “There’s no place like this, where you can get the best of Maine lobster for under $15. Trust me. I’m from Maine.”
This is Sabin Lomac. He and his cousin Jim Tselikis grew up in Maine. “We had this idea. Bring fresh, inexpensive Maine lobster to the rest of the country. Shark Tank picked us up. That helped launch us. Now we have 18 [franchise] food trucks around the country. Cousins Maine Lobster. In three years. It’s crazy.”
I check the funds department in my left pocket. Have to try. Can just do it. I order the lobster tacos (3 for $12), then nip down to the slope to the Quartyard bar, grab a Noble Ale Works stout ($6.75), and get back just in time for “Ed!”
Natch, as I pick up the first taco — flour tortilla — I’m already thinking about my other tacos, the other truck, and, yes, the other price. These also have cabbage, pico de gallo, cilantro lime sauce, and do look beautiful with the red-and-white flesh of lobster tail.
But, if I close my eyes, I can’t really tell the taste difference between these and Arturo’s $1.50 fish tacos.
So choice: lobster or cod? Two bucks or twelve?
Guess it just depends on what su gusto es.
The Place: Su Gusto Es... seafood truck, corner Broadway and 16th Street, downtown
Prices: Fish taco, $1.50; carne asada taco, $1.50; camarón al ajillo (garlic shrimp) taco, $4; octopus cocktail, $7.50 –$10.50; a dozen oysters, $10; shrimp soup “a la diablo,” $13; seafood campechano (Saturdays only), $16
Hours: 9:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday
Nearest bus stop: Broadway at 15th Street
The Place: Cousins Maine Lobster food truck (at Quartyard, Market and Park, East Village around twice a month), 619-452-1375; CouisinsMaineLobs...
Prices: Maine lobster roll, $13.50; lobster quesadilla, $13; lobster tacos (3), $12; Maine lobster tail, $13; clam chowder $7.00 (cup), $9 (bowl); lobster tots, $12; Maine lobster ice cream, $5.50