Food trucks have been a rapidly growing industry in the past several years. In light of the constrained credit and tighter purse strings brought on by these harder financial times, food trucks provide an outlet for ambitious culinary entrepreneurs with limited startup capital. Most cities have seen some growth in this arena, especially New York and Los Angeles. One would think that it would be the same in Chicago, being the progressive culinary city that it is, and yet legislative restrictions and hurdles obstruct the way, keeping Chicago from experiencing the same level of growth seen in these other major cities.
The most significant obstacle of operating a food truck in the windy city is maintaining fresh food. Chicago prohibits the modification of food from the time it enters the truck to the time it is in the customer's hands. Even the addition of condiments must be done by the customer, so foods that rely on customized orders are hindered by this. Also, this means that all the food that is prepared has to be made and rationed out into individual serving containers before the truck even rolls out for the morning. The longer this takes, the longer the food has been sitting around; depending on when the customer arrives, it could be a matter of hours. Again, the choice of cuisine here will affect how much this matters, but it does eliminate many options from the table. This is drastically different in New York and Los Angeles, where food trucks are much closer to being mobile restaurants, given the authority to prepare food fresh on the site.
Entrepreneurs are campaigning to clear some of these hurdles out of their way to better run their businesses. They remain for now, and in light of that, careful and creative decision needs to be made in terms of what food to serve, how to serve it, and for how long, when they are employing food trucks as their means of distribution.
The most creative minds often shine in restrictive environments. They have to fight harder and employ more of their creativity to accomplish their task, and while it might be harder to accomplish the same task with restrictions, when it is accomplished, it is all the more impressive.
Others though, buckle under restrictions, finding excuses for the fact that their work could be better if it weren't for the restrictions in place. However, time always shows that those who creatively find ways to succeed in the midst of adversity stand out from the rest.
I wish Taquero Fusion fit into this creative category, at least from a business management sense. When I sampled their food, I could tell that they have the culinary talent to pull off delightful tasting meals if the conditions were more in their favor. But predominately, it seems like they let the restrictions interfere with the quality of their final product.
I had been planning to try them out since they opened up a month or two ago. They market themselves as a mobile fusion taqueria. They define that the fusion is inspired by latin cuisine, but one option (the polaco taco) is influenced by polish dining.
The menu works by allowing you to choose one of four taco meals as determined as the primary filler: marinated steak, adobo chicken, vegetables, or polish sausage and potatoes. You then get slaw to put on your tacos, and your choice of salsa and a side. The sides consist of arroz con gondules, jalapeno rice and chorizo and bean soup. You can buy each of these individual components separately, but the menu emphasizes them as a bundle for $8.
My friend and I ordered steak and chicken tacos along with sides of jalapeno rice and the chorizo and bean soup. Everything was pre-wrapped, and each salsa, slaw and side was in an individual container for us to apply. The chorizo and beans styrofoam container had smatterings of soup along its side and lid that were less than appetizing, and they shorted us one of the slaws we were supposed to receive, but other than that, they gave us everything we asked for and the rest of it seemed clean and handled in a sanitary fashion.
The food itself was less than stellar. You could tell though that they suffered from not being able to make the food fresh. Many of the individual components actually had good flavor, but often the texture, moisture or temperature was mediocre or poor.
For example, the adobo chicken taco had already soaked through the tortilla, rendering it soggy. The meat itself though was a little dry, probably from the moisture being drawn away. The soggy tortilla also made it difficult to apply the slaw and salsa easily, due to the tortilla becoming sticky and wanting to tear as I pulled it open. The flavoring itself was decent, but hard to appreciate given its other shortcomings.
Both of the sides came pre-packaged in tiny styrofoam containers. Personally I would like to see more eco-friendly packaging, since it is unlikely that they sell through all their sides, and I can’t imagine that they wash and reuse the unsold containers left in their truck. Also as I mentioned above, the serving size I felt was very small. The containers were small to begin with, and were less than two-thirds full.
The soup tasted good, but it was mostly broth. My biggest complaint is that it was served with soup stains all over the container. This made it seem less sanitary, especially since this was prepared and packaged before the truck headed out to sell its wares. It seems like such a simple problem to fix if there is sufficient time in preparing and loading the food.
The rice was awful. Rice in general is wonderful to prepare because it is simultaneously difficult to over or under season. There is simply one thing that must be done when cooking rice to ensure that it tastes good: control the moisture. If rice is too wet or too dry, the flavor of it has little to no effect on how good it is. And this rice was dry. Not by a little bit either. Now I understand that part of this is a result of taking such a small portion and sticking it in a container to sit there until it is purchased. The smaller the serving of rice the faster it will dry out. This could be avoided by making the rice sides a tad bit larger than the other sides (it’s rice for pete's sake, it wouldn't break the bank and it would definitely help on the freshness level). Another option would be to drop the rice sides in favor of sides that work better within the current regulation system that is set up. Rice isn't the best side to divvy up into small amounts and leave sitting around for a few hours. Some things aren't worth serving if they can’t be served fresh, and that is a key lesson that I think Taquero Fusion would do well to learn as it bides its time waiting for restrictions to ease up in Chicago.
The one thing that shined in quality was the steak taco. The flour tortilla wasn't soggy like the chicken taco's was, and it tasted surprisingly good. If it wasn't made fresh that morning, it sure tasted like it. The steak itself was marinated with lime, seasoned well and cooked thoroughly, definitely inspired by authentic mexican and latin cuisine. The tomatillo salsa and slaw complemented it quite nicely and it was still warm enough to be satisfying.
Another area where Taquero Fusion could improve would be its customer service. Not that the servers were rude, but they were fairly cold, and seemed like they were in a hurry even though there was no one else around, and my friend and I weren't dressed like we were on lunch break either given the business office laden surroundings. Likewise, they also messed up our order and only gave us one of our slaws, leaving the two of us to divide one tiny container of slaw between all four tacos.
All in all, I would have a hard time recommending this food truck as is. I understand that running a food truck in Chicago is a difficult task, and that it would be easier if some of these restrictions were lifted. However, the restrictions that are in place should be taken into account when developing the menu; the choices made in what to serve at this food truck and how it would be served are theirs alone, and for that no one else is responsible. It might be worth a try if you are looking for something different to eat and you happen to work in the area where they set up shop. That being said, for anyone else I would suggest skipping it. There are plenty of better places in Chicago to explore before hitting up Taquero Fusion.