The warm, dry fall has helped boost patio dining, giving local restaurants a chance to attract some sorely needed business before the cold weather sets in.
Food trucks are benefiting too, judging by a recent crowd at North Domingo Baca Park. The occasion was Foodie Tuesday, a weekly farmers market and gathering of food trucks at the park, a block north of Paseo del Norte.
A festive air suffused the place. Skateboarders weaved around people walking dogs as rap and classic rock blasted out of a speaker set up outside one of the trucks. It was like any other sunny October afternoon in recent years, except that everyone had a mask on.
I went to visit Tikka Spice, Basit Gauba’s popular food truck or, more accurately, food trailer, its side decorated with a graphic of a couple of samosas standing together like pyramids.
Gauba has towed the trailer far and wide in the year and a half since he launched Tikka Spice. One day you’ll find it at High and Dry Brewery in Nob Hill, the next at Ex Novo Brewery in Corrales. Cabezon Park in Rio Rancho and Safe House Distillery Downtown are frequent stops.
With Tikka Spice, Gauba presents a case study in how to launch and grow a food truck business. The truck’s Facebook and Instagram feeds are updated frequently with pictures and videos and announcements, such as the recent news that it would be offering family meals and so-called DIY options that you take home and assemble in your kitchen, complete with spice mixes and sauces.
The menu is pretty varied for a food truck, mixing Pakistani and Indian specialties with American diner fare such as hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Specials come and go, depending on what’s available. In recent weeks, Gauba has been offering a green chile doughnut burger, swapping the traditional bun for a turmeric-glazed donut.
The Original Curry Bowl with chicken ($12), one of the menu’s standbys, exhibits the compelling mix of flavors and textures that draws fans to Tikka Spice. The dish is built on a savory pile of golden-yellow basmati rice infused with turmeric and cumin. The rice shares the bowl with a salad of carrots, cucumber and cabbage. Tomato-based butter curry, creamy and spicy, tops it all off. You can get it with the Indian cheese paneer or chicken tikka. I tried the latter and found the mostly dark chicken meat moist and flavorful. It’s a three-course meal in a bowl, with a good balance of heat, crunch and sweetness.
Samosa chaat ($8.00), chickpea curry draped over two-potato filled samosas, is a twist on a popular street food of the subcontinent. The electric flavors belie the rather unappetizing appearance of the pile of food in the takeout box. The chickpeas, soft but not mushy, are like sponges soaking up three chutneys and pico kachumber, a kind of Indian salsa, for a mix of sweet, sour and spicy. Raita sauce, a popular South Asian condiment made with yogurt, cucumber and herbs, helps temper the heat. The crisp shell of the starchy samosas holds up well under the layer of chickpeas, and a pile of crispy noodles on top add a welcome element of texture.
Tacos made with flour tortillas that resemble small pieces of naan are available, with a choice of four fillings. Prices are $8 for two and $14 for four. The spicy shrimp version (75 cents extra) is fantastic, the handful of plump, juicy shrimp threaded through with a blazing hot aioli, the tortilla stout enough to hold it all together.
Also exceptional are the reshmi beef kebabs. “Reshmi” translates roughly into “silken,” and that’s a good way to describe the kebabs made from running seasoned ground beef through a food processor. Sautéed onions and peppers provide an added punch. The tacos come with cups of raita sauce and a very smoky salsa.
Among the American fare are a grilled cheese sandwich and a couple of double-patty burgers for $13 each. The sandwich, made from thick slices of sourdough nicely browned around a thick layer of mild and sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheese, picks up some South Asian inflection when paired with a tomato curry bisque for $11. The cheese solidifies quickly, so I’d advise eating it right away. Otherwise, warm it in the microwave at home and dip it in the excellent bisque, slightly chunky and with a little bit of fire.
Tikka Spice makes and bottles its own lassi, the yogurt-based beverage that pairs so well with fiery foods. The customary mango and a strawberry coconut version are available most of the time, and some days you might be lucky enough to find pumpkin pie lassi on the menu. The mango lassi ($5) was a credible representative of the form, slightly sour and sweet and spiced ever so slightly with saffron and cardamom.
In an example of food truck solidarity, Tikka Spice sells vanilla chai cake pops ($4) made exclusively for it by the Pop Co., a local truck that shows up at some of the same spots. A dense and moist sphere under a white chocolate coating, it presented an intriguing if steeply priced mix of vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Tikka Spice offers several vegan options. Although some of the items don’t contain gluten, they can’t be called gluten-free because of potential cross-contamination in the fryer and on the grill.
A sign on the truck urges patience, because everything is made to order. My wait was only about 10 minutes. There were markers stuck in the ground to keep the people in line separated, and every staffer I saw was wearing a mask.
Tikka Spice logs a lot of miles to take its fiery creations around the Albuquerque area. Track it down the next time it’s in your neck of the woods: Go to tikkaspiceabq.com and click on “Schedule.”