Taco truck takes tactical territory

by Brian Clarey


In the gravelly parking lot of Krankies Coffee at midday, a queue forms at a repurposed short bus: businessmen in slacks and starched shirts, strollerpushing hipster parents, retirees with big sunglasses, night people out for their first meal of the day.

Patrick Helmick, in a ballcap and shorts, stands beside the bus, which he refitted and named Joaquin’s Curb Cuisine — a taco truck, one of the first food trucks in this city — and it matters not that there is no Joaquin.

Every day Helmick and his crew do the prep: carne asada, barbacoa, vegetables and herbs. Every day he sends out the truck’s lunchtime location via Twitter, and the crowds follow. And most nights he sets up near a bar or wherever there’s bound to be foot traffic in the district.

Today I’m one of the faithful, ordering a carne asada, a barbacoa and a pollo a la tinga, while my sidekick, reporter Eric Ginsburg, opts for a pollo burrito.

I’ve become something of a taco snob in the last few months — believe it or not, I have never even tried the Taco Bell offering with the shell made of Doritos — but the offerings at Joaquin’s look promising.

I will say that these tacos, while a bit more expensive than the ones I’ve been eating lately, have been made with more care and attention to detail. Tacos at my usual lunch fave are all the same, differing only in the meat contained therein. These tacos are individual creations, with variations that play off the protein like different side dishes can complement an entrée.

The carne asada is straight-up grilled and seasoned beef chunks with niceties like sliced radish, cilantro and onion tucked inside the double tortilla. It is as good as any I have eaten lately. The barbacoa — shredded, slow-cooked beef with strong heat redolent of chipotle — is like nothing I can get at my favorite taqueria. And the pollo is seasoned to darkness, with a creamy, fresh slaw to cut the heat.

Normally I like to eat at least four tacos, but today three are enough, though I have regrets about the ones I don’t try, namely Korean barbecue taco and the “gringo,” which is your basic ground beef, lettuce and cheese. But they give me an excellent excuse for a return visit.

Food trucks like this have been on my mind lately, and not just because I think about food quite a bit. I hit one on the outskirts of Greensboro last week, and I noted that 1618 Seafood Grille’s mobile kitchen has been making the rounds in the city where I live. But in Greensboro, food trucks are prohibited from doing business in the center city — where they would have the highest concentration of clientele.

But here in Winston-Salem, there’s a crowd of us enjoying food-truck cuisine in the commercial district, albeit the grittiest end of it. The brick Reynolds smokestacks rise to the sky behind us, and the gleam of the more modern towers are visible above the treeline. It is a distinctly urban exerience, one worth repeating.

There’s even another food truck on the block, servicing a cadre of construction workers on break. Perhaps it is telling that the patrons of this other food truck are mostly Latino, while the ones at Joaquin’s are almost exclusively white. But before I can check out the fare at this other rolling restaurant, it has driven off to another location.


Joaquin’s Taco Truck, Winston-Salem; @joaquinstruck