Even in the noncomformist world of food trucks, Dia de los Takos is an unorthodox operation. There’s the name, an intentional misspelling that chef Dominic Valenzuela applied to help set his truck apart from the competition.
And then there are the hours. The truck operates only three days a week during the winter, each time at a different Marble Brewery location.
On Thursdays, Dia de los Takos sets up from noon to 8 p.m. at Marble’s flagship location, at Marble and First NW. The taproom, a two-story structure with steel girders projecting over the rooftop patio, has ample seating, and there’s free parking across the street.
Chef and Southern California transplant Valenzuela has rolled out a focused menu for his second go-round in the Duke City – he ran the truck in 2012-13 before returning to California for a few years. There are five types of tacos, three burgers, and four ways to get french fries.
You order at the truck and wait until a text arrives telling you your food is ready. I hung out in the dark, woody Marble taproom, a handsome space with butcher block-style tables and a row of banquettes along one wall. The room has a coffee shop vibe during the day. I saw more people pecking away at laptops than drinking beers. The staff is hospitable and doesn’t seem to care whether you order a drink. But you might have to hunt down napkins and utensils before you eat.
About five minutes after I sat down, the text arrived and I went back outside to pick up my food.
The three tacos were served almost melded together in a paper basket. They were all well executed, nearly flawless.
The fish tacos ($2), are made from blue tilapia from Peru that provides a thicker cut and firmer meat than the Nile variety commonly offered around here. The mild-flavored fish is matched with tangy cilantro crema and a crunchy Baja slaw made with chopped peppers and cabbage. It was one cold tortilla away from being the best fish taco I’ve had.
Imagine a taco stuffed with bark, the crispy outer layer of slow-cooked pork shoulder where the seasonings concentrate, and you’ll get an idea of why Dia de los Takos’ pork carnitas tako ($3.50) is so exceptional. The addition of moderately spicy guacamole and salsa rojo elevated it further.
The main constituent of chef Valenzuela’s beer-battered avocado takos wears a thick, crunchy armor over its creamy core. The tortilla can’t contain the avocado, slaw and crema. It makes for a wonderful mix of textures that’s a mess to eat.
The beer-battered avocado is also part of the burger menu, along with a Cali burger served with caramelized onions and a Burque burger ($10) with green chile and cheese. The latter contains 3-ounce loosely formed patties of ground chuck smashed down on the grill with a spatula as they cook. The preparation gives the patties a nice crust and lots of nooks and crannies to cradle a “special sauce” that tastes like spicy Russian dressing. Served in a paper wrapper with fat slices of tomato and onion and some mild green chile, it’s a very good burger, but the lower half of the bun was not up to the challenge. It got soggy and fell apart in a few minutes.
Burgers are served with fries. I upgraded to the garlic Parmesan truffle fries for $2. The thick-cut fries were largely successful, the truffle oil registering as faintly nutty and the flecks of Parmesan bringing a welcome sharpness. Some of the fries were a shade undercooked.
Dia de los Takos’ heavy, mostly fried food pairs well with Marble’s thoughtful selection of beers. Consider a dark, hearty Cholo Stout with the burgers or a palate-cleansing Mexican lager for the fries.
There are plenty of places out there serving tacos, but there’s only one, to my knowledge, that makes takos. Chef Valenzuela’s deft touch behind the grill has earned him the right to spell it however he wants.