Calexico Carne Asada: Taco Truck Fare With A Wait


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You would think that when a bunch of guys running a street food cart in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Manhattan get around to opening a restaurant, there wouldn’t be much of a wait for your food.

And yet there we were at Calexico Carne Asada in Brooklyn, mid-afternoon on a recent Friday, waiting for 10 minutes … 15 minutes … more, before our tacos and burrito finally surfaced.

We’re talking carne asada/pulled pork piled onto or wrapped up in tortillas, folks.

Assuming the meats have been prepped ahead of time, shouldn’t these be fairly easy to put together?

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To be fair, the place had been open only two weeks when we swung by — perhaps the three brothers running it had some kinks to work out. Or perhaps the five people in line ahead of us were just more than they could handle — in a timely manner — at any one time.

Sure, Calexico Carne Asada is a rather bare-bones, Starbucks-style operation — you line up at a counter to order and then wait at a table for them to call your name to pick up your food. But you know, maybe that’s just a lot harder to execute than it looks.

Overall, our experience was not unpleasant. (After all, we did have ice-cold Mexican watermelon sodas to keep us occupied — for at least a few of those minutes.)

The three brothers — Jesse, Brian and David Vendley — who started out selling basic, California-Mexican fare from a truck in SoHo have been rock stars in New York’s food cart microcosm. Riding on the huge popularity of their tacos, quesadillas, tortas and burritos, the brothers have appeared on Martha Stewart. Saveur, New York magazine, the New York Times have all done items on them.

It’s not hard to see why they’ve been so sainted.

The food they serve up is basic, filling and tasty — comforting, to say the least.

My tacos — carne asada and pulled pork, which came with a lovely topping of salsa and pickled red onions — barely lasted a minute on the table. The pulled pork was a smidge dry but that, really, was my only quibble with the otherwise incredibly satisfying taco.

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Across the table, Mike, who spent 17 years in the Bay Area and sorely misses California-Mexican food, was practically committing adultery with his carne asada burrito.

I’d never seen the man more amorous with an item of food placed before him. And I’ve seen him get pretty happy with some pancakes in my time.

The rice and beans were another story — nothing special there. And, really, why fill up on barely pedestrian $1 sides when you could use the room for another $4 taco?

While these tacos and burritos weren’t $1 or $2 like some versions you’ll find in California, $4 for a taco and $8 for a burrito isn’t bad for Manhattan.

The bad part about these prices: They inspire thoughts of ordering seconds the moment your firsts have disappeared.

This urge hit us the moment despondence began setting in over our suddenly empty plates. Should we order a pollo asada quesadilla? A tofu torta perhaps?

Then the thought of possibly waiting another 20 minutes to get our food hit us.

We decided to return another day.

Calexico Carne Asada, 122 Union Street, Brooklyn; Phone: 718.488.8226; www.calexicocart.com

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