“And we’re also going on a taco truck tour in Columbus.” Before I left for my vacation to Columbus and Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, this answer to the question, “What are you doing on your trip?” got the most raised eyebrows, sometimes dashed with a bit of fake enthusiasm or a half-mocking chuckle with an immediate lack of interest.
Prior to departure, we had been trying to fill Sunday afternoon with one more activity. We discovered Columbus Food Adventures and saw that there was space available on a Taco Truck tour. I was curious, and amused, signing up for a taco truck tour… in Ohio, but I was also excited, because the two seemed so incongruous.
There were four other people on the tour, and as our guide gave us a preview of what we would see (and eat) at the different stops, I knew that I was in the right place. In the cool air conditioning of the van, it felt like we were in a bubble experiencing a thrilling well-kept culinary secret. Over the next few hours, I tasted some of the best, freshest, tacos I had ever experienced. Very light on condiments, and long on mouth-watering flavor.
One of the things that was most fun about this tour was bridging my mental disconnection between “Ohio” and “taco trucks”. Our knowledgeable tour guide and the small group atmosphere helped bridge the gap like nothing else could. We got background on the Taco Truck scene in Columbus, which is much bigger than you might think; 45 stationary trucks scattered throughout the city. We went to places that we would never find on our own. Nor would I want to. By the time the tour was over, I still felt like I was in on a secret, one that was so incredible, that nobody would believe me even if I told them about it. At the same time, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How does everyone not know about this?”
Most of the six stops were in nondescript or industrial parts of town; places not on the tourist map. One truck was next to a used car lot and blended so well into its environment, that I thought it too was for sale! That particular place happened to be one of the veterans of this culinary phenomenon, and where we sampled a gordita; a delicacy made with thinly sliced, light tasting pork tucked inside a tortilla that was split lengthwise. The taco practically melted in my mouth, the juices from the meat filling my whole mouth with their flavors. Sitting there, at a picnic table, beside a taco truck, next to a used car lot on a 4-lane major thoroughfare, I turned to JD and said, “I think this is the most fun thing we have ever done.” He heartily agreed.
We also ate tacos whose pork was cooked Al Pastor, which means it is slow-roasted on a vertical spit. This style of cooking pork was adapted by Mexicans from immigrants who had come to their country. This particular taco truck is open late and caters to those who dance the night away at the club next door. After trying their specialty, la gringa, I had no doubt that that they would be out of meat by closing time, especially when I learned that they had been in the running for best taco in the USA.
The next truck’s claim to fame was the tlyuda, a mainstay of regional Oaxacan cuisine, and made with a thin flakey tortilla. Yes, the taco truck scene is so established in Columbus that there is space for regional diversity. One of our final stops was for dessert to taste a nieve, a Mexican water-based ice cream that is made using a wide variety of flavors. It was rich and light at the same time. I had never tasted anything like it. As an ice cream maker myself, this was one of my favorite stops.
This tour was one of the highlights of our trip, because it was so unexpected. It gets to the heart of what I’m looking for when I travel, something that truly opens my eyes and is beyond what I could have imagined about a place. Now I know, “Of course there are taco trucks in Columbus.”