Stevens to Seattle: The $13 Taco Trail

You won't miss a single truck.

Where: The four taco trucks between Stevens Pass and my home in Greenwood

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 sopito

Official tasting notes: For most people, the energy expenditure required for a solid day of skiing typically justifies adding a meal into the day’s dining 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 back to Seattle from the ski area, all of which we’d tried at some point, but never—the challenge!—all in one day.

A driving tip: If you veer off Route 2 in Monroe at Main Street and take a detour through the city’s old downtown, you’ll avoid the trafficky 522 interchange and find Tacos Pihuamo (329 E. Main St.) parked in a dusty lot next to a little triangle of green space. We started there, wolfing down a surprisingly 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. Scenic by taco-truck standards.

A mile or two farther down the street, tucked in next to a Chevron station, is Tacos El Rey (Main Street at 171st Avenue Southeast, Monroe). Its service wasn’t quite as friendly, and I found the food 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 rewrap it. A rookie mistake, claimed my partner, who added, “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 drive, we spotted Aca Las Tortas (Bothell Way at 83rd Avenue Northeast, Bothell, 425-318-9996), a big red truck tucked into the corner of a Shell station. Biodiesel drivers, take note: You can fill up all your tanks at once here.

I’d meant to stop at Aca Las Tortas for a torta, but since they cost upwards of $5 a pop, I was afraid of creating a budget crisis. We settled on two more tacos ($1.36 each): one with moist, creamy chicken topped with crema and a shower of cotija cheese and another with pork adobada whose spices didn’t taste quite cooked. Although pretty enough, both were so saucy that the corn tortillas dissolved as we picked them up. We shoved in as much as we could before the sauce dribbled down the hood of the car.

Metabolically, I was beginning to suffer a bit, I’ll admit, but we were ready for the home stretch. At Taqueria El Carreton (Greenwood Avenue at Northwest 143rd Street, Seattle), sister to the school bus of the same name on Aurora, we picked up a sopito ($1.72). It’s basically the components of a taco supreme—beef cabeza again, along with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans, sour cream, and cotija—nestled on top of a cross between cornbread and an English muffin. Messy and boring. But I also tried my first mulito ($1.72), essentially a fancy Mexican grilled-cheese-and-beef sandwich: two corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, soft shredded birria, and ripe avocado, then grilled, topped with more cheese, and baked. Jackpot.

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 bites I treasured most, for trips closer to home.