Taco Nirvana by the Truckload: The Glories of Street-side Eats in Southwest Detroit

It's a sunny Saturday afternoon in Southwest Detroit. I'm having a double espresso at the recently relocated Café Con Leche with two travel writers from New York, one a staunch Detroit sympathizer with his very own pro-Detroit blog and the other with the middle name "Rocket," which is just noteworthy in its own right.

We're about to embark upon a taco cart crawl -- a journey through the energetic, bustling neighborhoods of Southwest Detroit for some of the best street-side vendors of movable meats. There is no room for timidity here; this is a culinary adventure and a rarely enjoyed cultural tour, right here in our own urban backyard.

Like carne asada stands so pervasive and revered in south L.A. (read this gushy NY TImes piece from last summer), Southwest Detroit has an impressive array of street-side cart vendors, catering trucks and outdoor grills. They are out there every day, grills ablaze and offering variety of meats blessing traditional (and some not) tacos and tostadas. It's nothing fancy -- a few guys in t-shirts and jeans, some hot coals, meat, a little spice -- but it's taco nirvana.

We start out at Clark Park walking down W. Vernor towards Dix. I am armed with a painstakingly detailed map of areas where such taco trailers have previously been spotted and which we will reference not even once. This is our epic culinary quest; the tacos are our Holy Grail.

It is some time before we stumble across our first destination: El Taquito Mexican Food Taqueria, set up in a parking lot on Vernor near Livernois. We pull out our cash. (Note: All the taco stands are cash only. But the good news: items range from $1-$4.)

Here are all the tradicional taco fixin's, posted on the menu board and complete with English translations: asada (grilled beef), pollo (grilled chicken), al pastor (spicy pork), lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (beef head), tripa (beef intestine), chorizo (Mexican sausage), carnitas (fried pork), and buche (pork stomach). All are served simply with onion, cilantro, and salsa with a wedge of lime on a small, round, soft corn tortilla (Taco Bell this ain't). The verdict?  ¡Delicioso! The pork in the carnitas taco is expertly crisped -- tender, juicy, and flavorful.  The onion and cilantro are fresh and could have easily been picked that day, and their accompanying flavors are a subtle complement to the meat.

Our first stop is a smashing success, but our appetites are only just whetted. We push on deeper into taco cart territory on a search for more crispy meats.

We find an outdoor grill in the parking lot of a gas station at the corner of Vernor, Waterman and Dix. We simply can't resist the salivating smells wafting from the grill.  The 2 Amigos Coney Island grill is serving up tortas, or Mexican sandwiches. These were made with spicy Mexican sausage (chorizo) on grilled bolillos bread with fresh onions, cilantro, and salsa. We sit in the sun-dappled parking lot and feast on the tender, spicy sandwiches (think: a Mexican Manwich) that are delivered to us by another customer after the grillmaster refused payment until we were satisfied. Three gringos traveling by foot and eating chorizo in a gas station parking lot on a Saturday afternoon is likely a rare sight, but we are welcomed just the same. We relax for a bit afterwards enjoying our Jarritos sodas, listening to the salsa music playing on the stereo, and discussing how an experience like this makes Detroit one of the greatest cities to explore. Everything is simply perfect.

Now we turn down the second stretch of Vernor, deeper into the heart of Southwest Detroit. The energy is infectious here; this part of the city is alive. We spot the Los Unicos catering truck, where I decide to try some ceviche (fish) tostadas, as I was told they are a must on any proper taco cart crawl.  

This being the final stop on our search for grilled delights, it seems only appropriate that it is truly Detroit-fabulous. We try a cheese quesadilla with chunks of fresh tomatoes and thick slices of avocado. It is superb. The crunchy tostada loaded up with shrimp, imitation crab, cocktail sauce and ... mayonnaise ... is something you can only find in Detroit (as my two world travelers confirm). Couple that with the sign reading: "Please do not use the parking lot as a restroom -- family neighborhood police restriction," and I am firmly back in my city once again.

We end our tour at the Woodmere Cemetery and call a cab to take us back because, damn, that was a lot of walking. We part ways as new friends, having bonded over a truly unique, epicurious experience.

For more information to help you navigate your own taco cart crawl, visit the official Yelp page for the Taco Trucks of Southwest Detroit. For more on the businesses of Southwest Detroit, click here.

Nicole Rupersburg likes Detroit and eating.  She lives on Facebook and likes new friends.  She also writes this blog: diningindetroit.blogspot.com. Send feedback here.


Taquiria trucks / carts were photographed along W. Vernor.

Multicolored umbrellas spot fruit stands along W. Vernor

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model Contact Marvin here

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Nicole Rupersburg is a former Detroiter now in Las Vegas who regularly writes about food, drink, and urban innovators. You can follow her on Instagram @eatsdrinksandleaves and Twitter @ruperstarski.