“Taquitos”: same truck, new flavors for Penn Ave.
Story by Andrew McKeon, The Bulletin
ABOVE: Ray Quintanar (left) serves lunchtime customers from the “Taquitos” food truck at N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave. After waiting all year for good weather, Quintanar and his son, Fernando, brought the truck back to Garfield in March to unveil their new look and vegetarian-friendly menu. Read “Neighborhood Focus” on page 8 of the May Bulletin to learn more. Photo by John Colombo.
Garfield – The “Taquitos” food truck and its new paint job – which catches one’s gaze at the corner of N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave. – is not just a run-of-the-mill food truck, and its origin story is anything but ordinary.
When Ray Quintanar, his wife Elizabeth, and their son Fernando emigrated from Mexico in 2000, it was because Ray needed to undergo eye surgery that could not be performed in his native country.
The Quintanars ended up in New Jersey, where Ray’s grandmother lived, for the duration of his medical procedure. As Fernando recalled, “By the time my father was done with the surgery and recovery, we had already been in America for two full years. So it was kind of like, ‘we’re already here, so what do we do now?’”
Nearly two decades later, the Quintanar family is running its own mobile eatery in Pittsburgh. Ray opened up the taco truck last year with his uncle, Edgar Alvarez of “Taco Loco” and “Edgar’s Best Tacos” fame. While operating the truck under his uncle’s well-recognized brand for one season, Ray was able to get to know the local foot traffic and gather feedback on menu items before he re-branded the truck, complete with a whole new menu and paint job, for 2018.
When not stationed at its regular post in Garfield, the truck is set up for shop at various events and festivals throughout the city. Over the last year, while they have been learning how to drive the kitchen rig around town, Ray and Fernando have also been learning how drive more sales in a saturated market. “There are so many food trucks in the city and a lot of the trucks are almost the same thing,” Fernando said. “There’s a lot of taco trucks, so we try to be different.”
The driving force behind their new menu, which features more variety and lower prices, is a shift from six-inch to four-inch tortillas. Hence, the new name, “Taquitos”; the term refers to both a rolled, fried tortilla and also a mere “small taco” – both of which are available at the truck.
“A $3 taco is reasonable for some people, but not for me. I can usually eat six tacos at a time, so that price is too high for us,” Fernando explained. “When we went with a different tortilla size, it changed up the whole concept to help us offer lower prices.”
During an Apr. 21 food truck round-up in Millvale, Fernando and his father served over 500 hungry customers. Although the everyday numbers at their normal spot on Penn Ave. are not usually as robust, the Quintanars credit Garfield and its lunchtime palette for enhancing their business strategies.
“We first started going up to Penn Ave. with the truck on First Fridays. Then, as we became more popular and customers began asking for more, we decided to rent the lot [at N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave.] and it just picked from there,” Fernando explained. “Since then, our menu has changed dramatically because, in the Garfield neighborhood, we serve a lot of vegetarians and people who want to try new things.”
Last year’s menu featured primarily meat options but, after a winter sojourn to Elizabeth’s hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, Ray and his son set out to bring the region’s rustic flavors and classic, meatless dishes to Garfield.
“One of the biggest surprises this year is how much people love the nopales, a cactus salad,” Fernando said. “A lot of people are now tasting it for the first time and loving it.”
As he opens up the taco truck window every morning, Fernando understands the greater importance of his family’s work. “We’re opening a window for people to try what’s outside of their comfort zones,” he noted.
Eventually, the Quintanars will open up their full concept of “Rincon Mexicano,” a little Mexican corner market featuring a dessert truck (think: “churros” and “tres leches”) and a stage for musical performers. “We want to provide an area where people can just come relax outside while they learn about Mexican culture,” Fernando said. “The best way to do that is through food.”
Most customers were not comfortable with the truck’s new look when they saw it for the first time this year. “At first, people thought we were a different truck and they got a little angry. So, we explained, ‘It’s the same truck. It just keeps getting better,’ Fernando said. “Our truck is just like the community here in Garfield. The past was rough, but everybody’s adjusting very well to the changes. We are, too, as we try to give back to our new community.”