Last week, as Texans struggled to stay warm and fed during the blackouts, taco trucks came through. In Houston, Boombox Taco handed out more than 2,400 free tacos at eight apartment complexes; Houston’s Tacos El Morrito and Austin’s Cuantos Tacos and Veracruz All Natural joined the effort, too. With many people unable to leave their homes in the inclement weather, trucks were able to quickly mobilize and go to where the need was the greatest. Now that the immediate crisis is behind us, why not show your gratitude by supporting your local taquero? Even if you’ve never ordered at a truck before, now is the time. There is a little etiquette that first-timers need to know, however. We put together this handy guide for them and as a refresher for food truck veterans.
Be Prepared to Wait
Wait times can last from five minutes to upward of ninety minutes—or for hours, depending on the truck. During the pandemic, some trucks are operating as drive-throughs. There are worse ways in which to wait than in an air-conditioned car or truck with the music of your choice and people you like.
Check Instagram Before You Go
Trucks and trailers tend to favor Instagram lately, though Facebook is a safe bet too. Check food trucks’ social media channels for posts with the most up-to-date schedules and locations. Some trailers, like Cuantos Tacos in Austin, share nightly specials on their social media pages. Following trucks and trailers online helps you keep track of specials and lowers the risk of disappointment if you arrive on the wrong night. Imagine the horror if your favorite taquero moved and you were left unaware!
Know What You Want
Taco trucks and trailers often advertise menus on their exteriors in the form of hand-painted text. You’ll see words like “al pastor,” “carne asada,” “carnitas,” “barbacoa,” and “quesadillas.” Breakfast tacos can be translated in Spanish to “tacos mañaneros” or “tacos de desayuno.” If you’re lucky, you’ll see exciting terms like “tortillas hechas a mano” (handmade tortillas), “tortillas recién hechas” (freshly made tortillas), “huitlacoche,” “pambazo,” “machete,” and “nixtamal.” Menus are also often displayed on the sliding ordering window or on chalkboards. Sometimes, there are illustrations or photographs of the food.
Still unsure what you want? Look around at anyone nearby to see what they’re eating, or pay attention to what others are ordering ahead of you. Carne asada (grilled beef) is an easy order. It’s also widely available. Maybe go for that.
Mind Your Manners
Plugging in a “please” or “por favor” and “thank you” or “gracias” never hurt anyone. Extra points for dropping the slang abbreviation for por favor—“porfa” or “porfas.” Be concise but be polite. If there’s a mistake with your order, do not make a scene. Don’t try to cut the line. Just roll with it. Occasionally, napkins need to be requested. If you want cilantro and onions on the side, no problem. Feel free to ask, but don’t pepper the employee with a plethora of questions, especially if there’s a line of hungry people behind you.
Know the Lingo
The odds that the person who takes your order (the face of the mobile food operation) doesn’t speak English are slim to none. It’s not rude to order in English, especially if your Spanish is particularly egregious. But, just in case, you’ll need to have a grasp of certain words and phrases. Here are the most important.
Antojitos: Snacks/street-style dishes
¿Aceptan tarjetas?: Do you take cards?
Sólo efectivo: Cash only
Un taco: One taco
Dos tacos de pastor: Two tacos al pastor
Tres de asada: Three carne asada tacos
Maíz: Corn tortilla
Harina: Flour tortilla
Con todo: With everything (usually referring to cilantro and onions)
Al lado: On the side
Para aquí: To stay
Para llevar: To go
Algo que no pica: A salsa that’s not spicy
Mediana: Medium spice
Tortillas hechas a mano: Handmade tortillas
Tortillas recién hechas: Freshly made tortillas
Coca Mexicana: Mexican Coke
Coca de lata: Can of Coke
Con copia: Doubled-up corn tortillas
Know Your Spice Tolerance
I once spent a weekend sitting in a friend’s San Antonio kitchen, eating chips and his mother’s blended jalapeño-serrano salsa. I did this to increase my spice tolerance. The weekend began painfully but delectably and ended with my addiction to the salsa. I’m not advocating you put yourself through such a gauntlet of pain and pleasure. That’s my job. Nevertheless, it is important to know your limits. Don’t be ashamed to ask for mild salsa. The reason you’re at the truck is to enjoy yourself, not torture yourself.
Always Carry Cash
Look, I don’t like to carry bills and coins, either, especially during the pandemic. As far as I’m concerned, the fewer surfaces I touch the better. But fact is, some trucks and trailers only take cash.
Wear a Mask
It’s required. It should cover your mouth and nose. Don’t be afraid to ask the person taking your order to properly wear theirs either. Finally, even if you’ve received both COVID vaccination shots, you’ll still need to abide by state mandates on masks and social distancing. I’ve covered this before. Do it for your favorite taquero and his family. Do it for the folks in line with you. Do it for your family. Do it for the tacos.
Preorder if Possible
If a truck or trailer permits advance ordering via phone, social media, or their website, it is worth considering. Don’t think about it as cutting the line. Think about it as being informed and eliminating risks when possible. While you’re at it, tip generously—a full 20 percent or more if you can, even for to-go orders. It never hurts.