$13: The Taco Trail (A Photo Journal)


WHERE: The four taco trucks between Stevens Pass and my home in Seattle

WHEN: All on the same day, after a long day shralpin'

WHAT DOES $13 GET YOU? Four tacos, a burrito, a drink, a mulito and a sopita.


For most people, I think, the energy expenditure required for a solid day of skiing typically justifies adding a meal into the day?s regular eating schedule. I?m no exception, and as soon as our wheels hit Route 2, my ski partner and I start looking forward to taco truck fare. There are four on our route from the ski area to Greenwood, all of which we?d tried at some point, but never (the challenge!) all in one day.


On your way back to Seattle, if you veer off Route 2 in Monroe at Main Street and take a detour through Monroe?s less big-boxy old downtown, you?ll avoid the trafficky 522 interchange and find Tacos Pihuamo parked in a dusty lot next to a little triangle of green space.


We started there, wolfing down a surpisingly lean cabesa (shredded beef cheek) taco and a pork carnitas taco, both braised to tender perfection and served on fresh corn tortillas with cilantro, onion, and a few radish slices ($1 each). Simple. Traditional. Delicious. My favorite part? No gas fumes. Just nice people, and a flock of geese overhead. Almost scenic by taco truck standards.


Just a mile or two farther down Main, tucked in next to a Chevron station, Tacos El Rey?s service isn?t quite as friendly, and I found the food was a bit disappointing.


I made the mistake of opening the foil on my carne asada burrito ($4), instead of going for the ol? foil spiral, and the whole thing burst open the second I touched it, then exploded when I tried to re-wrap it. (Partner: ?ROOKIE. No matter how they wrap it, the burrito becomes your responsibility once it leaves the truck.?) The meat was nicely spiced, but searingly salty. The salsa was also a bit gringo, sort of flat and tasteless, but a grapefruit Jarritos ($1) washed everything down nicely.


Seven dollars left. After a good 30 minute rest, we spotted Aca Las Tortas?s big red truck tucked into the corner of a Shell station on Bothell Way. (Biodiesel drivers, take note: you can fill all the tanks up at once here.)


I?d meant to stop at Aca Las Tortas for a torta, but at upwards of $5 a pop, I was afraid it would create a budget crisis. We settled on two more tacos: one with moist, creamy chicken topped with crema and a shower of cotija, and one with (pork) abodaba whose spices didn?t taste quite cooked ($1.36 each). Although pretty enough, both were so saucy that the corn tortillas dissolved as we picked them up. We shoved as much in as we could before the sauce dribbled down the hood of the car. Note to self: Not all taco trucks provide napkins.


Metabolically, I was beginning to suffer a bit, I?ll admit, but we were ready for the home stretch. At Taqueria El Carreton, sister to the school bus truck of the same name on Aurora, we picked up a sopito ($1.72), basically a taco supreme?s components (beef cabeza again, along with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans, cream, and cotija) nestled on top of what appeared to be a cross between an English muffin and cornbread. Meh. Messy and boring.


But I also tried my first mulitos ($1.72), essentially a fancy, cheese-smothered Mexican grilled cheese-and-beef sandwich: two corn tortillas, first stuffed with cheese, soft shredded birria, and ripe avocado, then grilled, topped with more cheese, and baked. Jackpot.

Note: The trucks got progressively more expensive as we headed toward Seattle. Big surprise. Next time I?ll stock up at Tacos Pihuamo after skiing, and save the mulitos, the bite I treasured most despite the bulging belly, for trips closer to home. Like maybe dinner tomorrow.

Tacos Pihuamo, 329 E. Main St., MONROE.

Tacos El Rey, Main Street at 171st Ave. SE, MONROE. Closed Tuesday.

Aca Las Tortas!, Bothell Way at 83rd Ave. NE, 425-318-9996, BOTHELL. Open daily.

Taqueria El Carreton, Greenwood Ave at NW 143rd St., GREENWOOD. Closed Sunday.

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