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Algo Bueno grows in Chula Vista

A restaurant startup flees its storefront for the fresh air of a gastro park

Local rockfish in a Peruvian style ceviche, served with Caribbean-style fried plantain tostones
Local rockfish in a Peruvian style ceviche, served with Caribbean-style fried plantain tostones

Usually, we see this go in the other direction. Somebody with cooking talent tests the market with a food truck, then works to make the dream of a brick-and-mortar restaurant a reality. For Silvia Loya and Rodrigo Rodriguez, however, testing the market with a restaurant started them down a path that now finds them working to establish the Mercado Zona Libre food truck park in downtown Chula Vista, built up around their own mobile kitchen.

It's partly a story of timing and luck: and not always the great kind. In January 2020, the couple was preparing to launch their restaurant, Algo Bueno, out of a small location in downtown San Diego, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like so many restaurants, they made valiant efforts to overcome a year-plus of constantly changing, pandemic food service regulations. When indoor dining wasn’t allowed, they set up a burrito and coffee cart on the sidewalk. When breweries could only serve beer in conjunction with food, they partnered with the neighboring Stone Brewing taproom to keep both businesses in service.

The Algo Bueno mobile kitchen is the anchor for the Mercado Zona Libre food truck park.

But between property disputes and low visibility, their tiny, off-street shop struggled to surmount the persisting challenges. So they switched things up, and shifted the Algo Bueno concept into that a mobile kitchen.

Algo Bueno (which translates as something good) boasts a menu inspired by the partners’ shared, and individual experiences, built on a mix, and sometimes a blend, of Mexican and Latin American traditions. But whereas their little food counter was effectively hidden away, Loya and Rodriguez’s food truck is wide out in the open, with easy parking and only the threat of occasional rain to dampen their ambitions. They secured an empty lot, a block off Third Avenue, just across from Memorial Park, at Madrona Street (354 Church Ave., Chula Vista).

They laid out some turf, framed it with hay bales, and brought in a mix of picnic tables and shaded patio seating. There are lawn games, including corn hole and giant jenga, and a growing series of murals painted by local schoolkids. In the center of the lot is Algo Bueno, their trailer kitchen, fronted by what temporarily served as that coffee and burrito stand. The menu they offer is small, but a lot more robust and interesting than those lean days.

A cubano sandwich made with pulled pork, on a pressed telera roll

I turned up on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and found myself forced to choose among the standout dishes of several American nations. Should I try the chicken arepa ($12), a style of Colombian hot sandwich made on a bread of corn flour? Or go for a unique take on Mexican food, with chicken mole, served not as a plate, but atop a pile of nachos ($13)?

First, I chose to go with Algo Bueno’s other top selling dish. A Cubano sandwich is typically a ham and cheese melt, with pickles and mustard. This one’s a dressed up version, incorporating pulled pork and the Italian cured pork, capicola, made on a pressed telera (Mexico’s answer to French bread roll).

Tasty as it was, it had competition from the daily special: a Peruvian-style ceviche made with local rockfish. It’s dressed with jicama, avocado, black sesame seeds, and microgreens, but the fresh catch drives this dish. Where it obviously stands out, though, is instead of the usual corn tostada, these guys serve ceviche with Caribbean-style tostones. These are fried plantains, which are pressed into the same round disc shape, and just as crunchy. They’re starchy, not sweet, and presented a novel-to-me way to enjoy a stellar ceviche.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, Algo Bueno can probably make a go at this as just one truck, holding it down with tasty meals a few blocks from the brewery scene of Third Avenue. But there’s room for more, so Loya and Rodriguez are billing the lot as Mercado Zona Libre (or "free market zone") and hoping to attract other trucks, and create the sort of momentum seen in Tijuana, for example, by the Telefónica Gastro Park. Something like that could take time to develop, but I get the sense, if these two were likely to back down from a challenge, they wouldn’t have made it this far.

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Local rockfish in a Peruvian style ceviche, served with Caribbean-style fried plantain tostones
Local rockfish in a Peruvian style ceviche, served with Caribbean-style fried plantain tostones

Usually, we see this go in the other direction. Somebody with cooking talent tests the market with a food truck, then works to make the dream of a brick-and-mortar restaurant a reality. For Silvia Loya and Rodrigo Rodriguez, however, testing the market with a restaurant started them down a path that now finds them working to establish the Mercado Zona Libre food truck park in downtown Chula Vista, built up around their own mobile kitchen.

It's partly a story of timing and luck: and not always the great kind. In January 2020, the couple was preparing to launch their restaurant, Algo Bueno, out of a small location in downtown San Diego, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like so many restaurants, they made valiant efforts to overcome a year-plus of constantly changing, pandemic food service regulations. When indoor dining wasn’t allowed, they set up a burrito and coffee cart on the sidewalk. When breweries could only serve beer in conjunction with food, they partnered with the neighboring Stone Brewing taproom to keep both businesses in service.

The Algo Bueno mobile kitchen is the anchor for the Mercado Zona Libre food truck park.

But between property disputes and low visibility, their tiny, off-street shop struggled to surmount the persisting challenges. So they switched things up, and shifted the Algo Bueno concept into that a mobile kitchen.

Algo Bueno (which translates as something good) boasts a menu inspired by the partners’ shared, and individual experiences, built on a mix, and sometimes a blend, of Mexican and Latin American traditions. But whereas their little food counter was effectively hidden away, Loya and Rodriguez’s food truck is wide out in the open, with easy parking and only the threat of occasional rain to dampen their ambitions. They secured an empty lot, a block off Third Avenue, just across from Memorial Park, at Madrona Street (354 Church Ave., Chula Vista).

They laid out some turf, framed it with hay bales, and brought in a mix of picnic tables and shaded patio seating. There are lawn games, including corn hole and giant jenga, and a growing series of murals painted by local schoolkids. In the center of the lot is Algo Bueno, their trailer kitchen, fronted by what temporarily served as that coffee and burrito stand. The menu they offer is small, but a lot more robust and interesting than those lean days.

A cubano sandwich made with pulled pork, on a pressed telera roll

I turned up on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and found myself forced to choose among the standout dishes of several American nations. Should I try the chicken arepa ($12), a style of Colombian hot sandwich made on a bread of corn flour? Or go for a unique take on Mexican food, with chicken mole, served not as a plate, but atop a pile of nachos ($13)?

First, I chose to go with Algo Bueno’s other top selling dish. A Cubano sandwich is typically a ham and cheese melt, with pickles and mustard. This one’s a dressed up version, incorporating pulled pork and the Italian cured pork, capicola, made on a pressed telera (Mexico’s answer to French bread roll).

Tasty as it was, it had competition from the daily special: a Peruvian-style ceviche made with local rockfish. It’s dressed with jicama, avocado, black sesame seeds, and microgreens, but the fresh catch drives this dish. Where it obviously stands out, though, is instead of the usual corn tostada, these guys serve ceviche with Caribbean-style tostones. These are fried plantains, which are pressed into the same round disc shape, and just as crunchy. They’re starchy, not sweet, and presented a novel-to-me way to enjoy a stellar ceviche.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, Algo Bueno can probably make a go at this as just one truck, holding it down with tasty meals a few blocks from the brewery scene of Third Avenue. But there’s room for more, so Loya and Rodriguez are billing the lot as Mercado Zona Libre (or "free market zone") and hoping to attract other trucks, and create the sort of momentum seen in Tijuana, for example, by the Telefónica Gastro Park. Something like that could take time to develop, but I get the sense, if these two were likely to back down from a challenge, they wouldn’t have made it this far.

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