Great Mexican Food On The Move
Wednesday - August 03, 2011
Of all the food truck owners who shop, prep, load up, drive and look for parking, then cook, Paul Zaratez is an example of the sheer hard work and dedication it takes to remain passionate, committed and (mostly) cheerful, while working against the odds.
Since starting his roadside taco truck more than a year ago, Zaratez has battled parking hassles, theft and the disconcerting lack of a permanent location. Until last weekend he was somewhat comfortably situated behind Waiola Shave Ice on Kapahulu Avenue, but this week he’s on the move again, relying on Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth to bring customers to his food.
Zaratez was working in radio until 2009 when he realized that “somebody practically had to die” before he’d get a chance to move up. So he started cooking the kind of food he missed.
“I grew up outside L.A.,” he says, “in a family of really good cooks.” Moving to Hawaii he was struck by a singular lack of the kind of food he loved and was used to, so he started making family recipes for his friends. Pretty soon it had turned into a one-man business. The response was encouraging, word started to spread, the menu grew from one burrito a week to two, and before long he’d saved up enough to set up truck. His short menu of tacos and burritos features mostly homemade recipes made particularly good by an attention to detail and seasoning.
Mulita de asada/chorizo, for example, two corn tortillas sandwiched quesadilla style and filled with chicken and chorizo, is served with a homemade salsa that could easily be sold by the jar. A dark reddish brown in color, the salsa bears almost no resemblance to the kind of tomato-ey, spicy, soupy offering most of us use to dip deep fried tortilla chips.
Zaratez roasts his tomatoes instead of stewing or boiling them, and uses locally grown chile to add layers of heat. He roasts and blackens all his spices too, before rubbing cuts of sirloin tips or roasted pork with them and infusing meats with a layer of subtle spice.
“It’s not really what a lot of people think of as Mexican food,” he says, “but that’s the challenge to convince people that Mexican food is not about beans and rice, it’s about corn, fresh condiments and great ingredients. This is what I know and learned how to make, and I enjoy giving people a taste of the kind of food I’m used to eating.”
Prices start at about $2.50 for tacos, with a combination mulita plate the most expensive at about $9.
With an army of devoted fans, many of them seriously hooked on his food, Zaratez is keen to keep his business going, no matter where he has to park his truck.
“The food truck business is very stressful,” he says, “between the preparation, the driving, cooking, parking and all the rest ... but I love to cook. And when people taste the food they seem really happy.”
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