The Food Trucks of Santa Fe

TABLE contributor and revered New Mexico food writer Cheryl Alters Jamison examines the delight-on-wheels of some of Santa Fe’s marvelous food trucks.

Dinner on the Move

Food trucks used to have a reputation as a source of inexpensive fast food, and not much more. You can still find cheap eats at trucks, but the quality has increased wildly over more recent years. Santa Fe was a little late to the food truck revolution, relative to Portland, Austin, and other towns also known for good eating. However, these days, our city is a delight for moveable feasting. You can find everything from Native American to vegan Jamaican. Come along with me on a tour around some of my favorites. To further reinforce the quality of these mobile meals, I took them back to TABLE’s photography studio, where our team gave them the glam turn the dishes deserve.

I think the sense of discovery is part of the fun of food trucks, so be sure to look for your own finds. Good areas for spotting multiple trucks include around Meow Wolf, by Santa Fe Antiques on Marquez Place, across from the State Capitol on Old Santa Fe Trail, and along Airport Road from Cerrillos Road to the Santa Fe Country Club

El Chile Toreado

A burrito coated in red sauce sits on a dark plate accompanied by roasted peppers and flower petals. A bottle of coke sits slanted above the plate and another plate can be seen in the top right corner filled with limes.

If you have any doubts about the quality fare of some food trucks, look no further than my first choice. El Chile Toreado garnered a James Beard Foundation Best Southwest Chef semi-finalist nod earlier this year. Father-daughter team Luis and Berenice Medina shared the honor, but they are quick to credit the rest of their immediate family, as well, for the business’s success. Luis started this granddaddy of Santa Fe food trucks in 2003. Berenice worked in the stand growing up, then went off to Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles, and returned. When I asked Berenice whether she changed up any of the dishes after culinary school, she said no, because her dad had already perfected them. She was able to refine their business systems, however.

For many years, the truck sat on Cordova Road near the busy intersection with St. Francis Drive. After an ungainly apartment complex swallowed the lot, the Medina family rebooted and set up shop again in a nearby spot. They’re along Early Street off Cerrillos Road. A second, very recent, outpost sits on Siler Road in the Big Jo Hardware lot. Look for the cute logo of a mustache made of two chiles.

A Burrito for Any Time

Hefty hand-held burritos are a specialty any time of day, from 7:30 a.m. until mid-afternoon. Breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs and other goodies are hustled out the truck’s window by the dozens every morning. My favorites are from the lunch menu, though available all the hours the truck is open. I eat plenty of meat, but I especially like the veggie burrito here. It’s a well-balanced toss-up of sauteed potatoes, pico de gallo, beans, green chile, and more. The accompanying red salsa, fired up by chiles de arbol and Colorado, offers a particularly piquant counterpoint to the rich mixture. All of the fillings can be ordered in soft tacos, too. I switch back and forth most often among the carne asada, ground beef picadillo, pork carnitas, and chicken in adobo.

One of the treats here is the condiment bar. After you order, you’re given a plastic bag to spoon out your choices among a classic pico de gallo, a cabbage-and-cilantro mix, pickled red onions, and the grilled jalapeños that inspired the truck’s fiery name. If you’re a fan of Mexican Coke, it’s available by the bottle here.

Bang Bite Filling Station  

You might never find this truck on your own, in spite of it being New Mexico sunset orange in color. It sits behind the Brakeroom — one of Santa Fe Brewing’s tap rooms — totally hidden by the small brick building, which was once the sleeping quarters for the nearby railroad’s brakemen. Owner Enrique Guerrero came to Santa Fe to be executive chef at La Casa Sena many years back. He went on to work for other high-end properties around town before deciding to be his own boss with this food truck. In addition to the Bang Bite on Galisteo, he has other trucks that cater movie sets.

Bang Bite serves one of Santa Fe’s best burgers, an extravaganza of Certified Angus, combining brisket, chuck, and short ribs. It can be topped in myriad ways. I like the classic green chile cheeseburger, which comes with cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped New Mexican green chile, and more green chile mixed into the mayo. About the most elaborate that I get here, sometimes, is to add a side of the bacon jam, but the burger doesn’t need it for flavor. Top-quality french fries accompany the burger and other sandwiches, like the Cubano or pulled pork. On Fridays, the truck serves first-rate fish and chips, with more of those great fries and seared green beans accompanying a hefty portion of crisply fried fish. Seating is available on the terrace of The Brakeroom or inside the charming space. Of course, you should accompany the meal with one of the Santa Fe Brewing Company beers. I opt for the Nutty Brown Ale. While there, be sure to find the fabulous Frank Zappa quote about beer in the front room. 

Fusion Tacos

Birria tacos from a food truck in santa fe sit on a dark plate on a dark wood counter with a little bowl of Birria broth nearby and a spoon beneath the plate.

Multiple Santa Fe trucks, two Albuquerque locations, and expanding! You can find a bright red Fusion truck in almost every part of town now. To me, Fusion’s all about birria, a juicy stewed Mexican meat mixture. I discovered the dish some dozen years ago while eating my way through Tijuana, and was thrilled to have it show up later in Santa Fe. The stew is typically goat on its home turf in Jalisco, cooked down to shreds in an adobo sauce of chiles, vinegar, garlic, and spices. Here though, it’s made with tender beef. When stuffed into tacos, the tortillas are typically dipped into the soupy liquid before frying up crisp. Then the tacos are served with a cup of the consommé for dunking, bite by bite. At Fusion, the tacos — called quesabirria — also have a thick layer of melted cheese inside, to add yet more delectable texture.

True to its name, Fusion creates a world of other dishes with the birria, too. Check out the ramen bowl made with the savory meat, or maybe the quesa pizza. Fusion offers some nice-looking salads and entrées of seared tilapia, chicken, salmon, and more, but honestly, I’ve never gotten to any of those or to the breakfast pancakes or waffles. Yes, it’s all about the birria to me. With a glass of the rice beverage, horchata, I’m totally content. 

Jesusushi

Raw fish, rice, and sushi from a food truck in Santa Fe is arranged on three different dark plates with sprigs of herbs in between the plates.

Jesus Mendoza’s cleverly named sushi truck sits near bustling Cerrillos Road, but you have to look a little to find it. Jesusushi is tucked into the parking lot surrounding Eclipse Car Wash. Apparently, it’s gotten pretty popular, because someone has painted some of the surrounding parking spots with “car wash” or “sushi.” Jesus used to work at both Kai Sushi and the late Osaka before starting his own business. 

His menu is quite sizable for coming out of a mobile kitchen with a single chef. You can get simple pieces of nigiri or opt for elaborate rolls, including the namesake Jesusushi roll. It’s a tour de force, with shrimp tempura, avocado, cream cheese, spicy mayo, eel sauce, and a topping of torched salmon. I often opt for the salmon skin handrolls, which have the signature crispy skin in small crunchy pieces. The chirashi sushi bowl makes a colorful mix with its raw fish, cooked shrimp, seaweed salad, and tiny tobiko fish roe over rice. In some moods, I order the sashimi or the baked scallop roll, which also includes a couple of tempura shrimp in the mix. Jesus makes rice balls, and a variety of salads, and loads of other specialties. After a dozen trips, I still haven’t made it through them all, but I’m sure having fun trying. 

Craft Donuts & Coffee

A variety of donuts sit on two black plates on a dark wood counter with a bitten donut and coffee cup sitting on the counter.

I’ve gone most of my life without being a big fan of donuts or coffee. The Craft truck, parked across from the State Capitol, helped change all of that. Unlike most traditional donut shops, the donuts are fried fresh for every order before the finishing touches added. You can get a simple cake or raised glazed donut here. I started with those, and then went through a cinnamon roll donut phase. I since have worked up to some of the fancier — and fanciful — combos like cookies and cream with vanilla glaze and chocolate cookie crumbles, and the s’more, with chocolate glaze, graham cracker crumbs, and a torched marshmallow sitting jauntily on top. Sometimes I just get plain silly, with the Homer, topped with strawberry glaze and generous rainbow sprinkles. You can choose to build your own donut extravaganza too, picking from among glazes, drizzles, sprinkles, and more.

Proprietors Craig and Michelle McGregor came to Santa Fe some dozen years ago. They had briefly operated a mini-donut mall franchise in Albuquerque, which wasn’t a great business experience for them. The silver lining, however, was that they became super-proficient at making donuts. Michelle dreams up the many specials they run from month to month. I’m especially partial to the biscochito donut offered in December. Upcoming spring flavors will likely include key lime and strawberry shortcake, among other fun offerings. Red Rock Roasters from Albuquerque supplies the coffee for the truck. I’m always game for the latte. In warmer weather, the many choices of Italian sodas can cool me down. The combination’s a good snack, or a fine finish for any meal. 

Story by Cheryl Alters Jamison / Styling by Keith Recker / Photography by Tira Howard

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