El Camion is el jefe of local taco trucks, if results from 107.7 The End's Taco Truck Challenge can be trusted.
I liked Rancho Bravo's tacos best, but El Camion took the win.
Only three trucks participated in Saturday's inaugural event, which the station's promotions director hopes to repeat annually. Mr. Taco had planned to share the South Lake Union Discovery Center courtyard with El Camion, Rancho Bravo and Flair Tacos, but scratched before show time.
The modest field made for interminably long lines and a fair amount of frustration. I found myself on the receiving end of eater exasperation since I was wearing an event worker's badge, allowing me to secretly judge the entries: "Only three trucks?," a prospective attendee bellowed at me, garnishing his query with the sort of words that occur to someone who's been told the wait for beer is an hour. "What kind of taco truck challenge is this?"
But the vast majority of taco fans apparently weren't bothered by the truck turnout. Hundreds of attendees, thrilled with the festival-appropriate weather, patiently waited for their tacos.
As a judge, I had the tremendous privilege of not having to wait in line, which struck me as a good trade for being cursed at by strangers. All three taco plates I tried were fine, or something close to it, but I'm astounded anyone would invest significant time in obtaining them.
I haven't yet had the opportunity to explore Seattle's taco truck scene, but I'm guessing the same 30 minutes squandered in a Flair Tacos queue could be spent traveling to a neighborhood epicenter of authentic taco culture. None of the trucks produced tacos to rival what I've had in tienda parking lots and at roadside swap meets. I'm confident Seattle has those tacos too: Gorgeously marinated meats, tender and pulsing with flavor, perfectly grilled and nestled in freshly-made corn tortillas. But I didn't find any of them on Saturday.
Admittedly, I'm a purist: I like my taco truck tacos with a squirt of lime, chopped onions and, perhaps, a few radish slices. But I'm not a Luddite: Had the competing taco makers done something really daring with their tacos, I'd have happily bumped up their scores for originality. Instead, the three trucks seemed to be aiming at authenticity and missing by a wide margin.
Flair Tacos was the worst offender: Its over-sauced tacos, brimming with various vegetables, tasted like potluck-ready mini-casserole wraps. To be fair, Flair's tacos had cooled when they were delivered to me, but I'm not sure they'd be much better served warm. El Camion took a similarly heavy-handed approach to its tacos, burying them under hills of cilantro, a trick that failed to revive its bland, overcooked meats.
I preferred the tacos from Rancho Bravo, although its pork was especially fatty. Still, El Camion took the crown, perhaps in recognition of its vegetable taco, which may have been the single best taco I had all day. The grilled squash and onions were terrifically chipper.
Or perhaps El Camion slid to the finish on name recognition: I've since learned El Camion is a major player in the local taco truck scene, and look forward to visiting under more normal circumstances to find out why.
The truck will have a chance next year to defend its title, according to promotions director Joe Hammill.
"We will be doing this again for sure," Hammill writes. "We'll be looking to shut down John Street, and our goal is 10 trucks."