Downtown is Taco Town?

Jul 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm
If the owners of El Guapo Fresh Mexican Grill could visit City Hall a reported 60 times to secure their permits and persuade the city powers that a downtown taco truck was a good idea, I could walk four blocks in searing heat, wait in line for 15 minutes and another, oh, 10 to get my food.

It was worth it, today, the second day that the El Guapo Fresh Mexican Grill parked its truck at the corner of Randolph and Monroe streets and served up some Mexican favorites: tacos and burritos made with steak, chicken, chorizo or vegetarian-style, accompanied by rice, beans, salsa and guacamole. Wash it down with Faygo soda. End your meal with Pink Elephant cupcakes.

With no real mechanism for the city of Detroit to permit such food vendors — those who cook in the truck and serve on the street — there haven’t been such businesses downtown. A few have operated legally in southwest Detroit.

Symbolically, for progress in Detroit’s livability, walkability, sustainability, entrepreneurial-ability, I’d argue, it’s huge.

Gastronomically, it works too.

I can report the veggie tacos were a bit on the small side of what we Americans are used to for our portions, but that’s not such a bad thing. The $2 price was more than fair for the perfection of the soft tortilla shells, the tender blend of carrots, onions, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower and the uniqueness of the chipotle-ranch Guapo salsa. (It deserved its two hot pepper rating on the menu.)

My side of guacamole was pure velvet on the crispy, salty, mildly greasy tortilla chips.

But what the truck does for downtown is even better than what it did for my calorie counting: It got dozens of us out of our downtown offices for a walk across a few city blocks to stand in line, bond in the oppressive heat and share a messy meal.

Of the 40 or so people I waited with, I saw nametags with the corporate logos of Crain and Quicken Loans. The guy behind me walked over from Comerica headquarters. There were hipsters, suits and a variety of skin tones. A few lunchers looked like they had ridden bikes to work, one guy carried a motorcycle helmet. Most seemed to be office workers.

Assuming most of my fellow taco truck fans were commuters, like me, the newest downtown lunch gathering spot does what only a few institutions here can. It gets us together in a relatively small space where we’re almost guaranteed to interact, respect each other and chat about our commonalities. We talk. We wait. We smell the sizzling tacos, and we share a common experience.

By walking through downtown, gathering at the taco truck, waiting with other eaters and interacting, it creates just a bit of community.

Now, if there was a margarita motorcycle next to it, we’d be a world class city.