I have a reputation among my friends and family as being a bit taco obsessed. I do not deny this. So when El Charrito, Stamford's infamous taco truck re-opened for business on March 1st after closing for the long cold Connecticut winter, to say I was looking forward to my first taco of the year is a bit of an understatement. Ecstatic is more like it. I was literally counting down the days. Some look for the first crocus popping through the earth as a sign of spring, but for me it may be the arrival of the El Charrito taco truck.
What makes El Charrito such a sought-after foodie destination? It has to be a combination of their traditional and hearty Mexican tacos and the hard-working duo, Carols and Alex who have put it on the Connecticut culinary map. You can count on traditional Mexican style tacos ranging from carnitas, a slow-cooked pork, to Lengua, an even more tender offering of cow tongue. A double tortilla shell envelops each taco topped off with chopped raw onion, fresh cilantro and a few lime wedges. Although they craft some seriously delicious tacos, El Charrito also offers diversity in the form of a daily menu and specials ranging from tamales, moles and huaraches should one ever tire of the taco.
But perhaps the most important part of the El Charrito equation are the owners, Carlos and Alex Terron. If Carlos is the talent behind the delicious food, Alex is the soul of the operation. She warmly greets every customer and remembers the regulars with her friendly banter and a big smile. This hard-working and good-natured couple have been working seemingly non-stop for the past three years on their dream of owning their own restaurant. It's paid off if you count the number of rabid regulars, a booming take-out business drawing a strong downtown contingent, and the recent film crew from TLC who descended on the truck late last year to feature it in a forthcoming special.
So it should go without saying that if I am within a 20-mile radius of El Charrito during lunch, I'm going to have to stop for a taco or two. On a recent and very frigid Wednesday afternoon I arrived at El Charrito just before their lunch rush. With a camera slung over my shoulder, I emerged from my car and made my way over to the truck to weigh my options. Tacos or tacos? Beef or pork? Chicken or tripa? Weighing the difficult decision ahead of me, I walked past the truck and a growing line of customers to snap a few photos. Mistake number one.
Deciding on carnitas and chicken tacos, I strode over to the window to order. Before I could finish placing my order and share my excitement of their reopening (I'm a foodie, but throw in an event like a taco truck reopening and I am full-fledged food geek), my wide-eyed innocence was shattered by a quick interrogation. Why was I was taking pictures of the truck? What was I doing? Yikes, not the way I envisioned my return. I apologized and tried to explain that my excitement and appetite got the better of my manners. I went on to share my reverence for their business (I excitedly wait for their daily specials on Twitter, and hey, I'm a Facebook fan too, doesn't that count?) and that I was eager to get a few photos of the truck for a possible review on CT Bites, ever heard of it?
The "she" that led the interrogation, was Alex Terron, a co-owner of El Charrito with her husband Carlos. Thankfully, conflict quickly turned to detente as she warmly welcomed me and we chatted briefly before tending to the line forming behind me. Ten minutes or so later Alex motioned to me that my lunch was ready so I bounded over, hungry and eager to finish our conversation but since they were in the weeds with their lunch rush I knew our chat would have to wait another day. I thanked them again profusely, paid and promised to see them soon, before finding my way over to a picnic table. Note to self, come back when it's 30 degrees warmer. These tacos are magical but not enough to keep me warm in this frigid weather, so I retreated to my car.
I tucked into my first taco, a lovely carnitas as moist and flavorful as I remember. This taco is the perfect marriage of salt, crunch and acid, the combination of salty slow-cooked pork, crunchy raw onion and freshly chopped cilantro and lime piled into two soft tortilla shells. Alone in my car, I found myself grinning goofily as I demolished said taco. I was mid-bite when I noticed Alex striding towards my car. I looked around to see if there was anything else she might have in her sights, but no, it was definitely me she was coming for and with purpose. I put my taco down and took a deep breath and steeled myself, ready to apologize again. It turns out I didn't need to because she came over to finish our chat. Sitting inside my car, we chatted for 20 minutes or so about tacos, Stamford, starting a business, Mexico and everything in between. I'm fairly certain that if a line of customers didn't beckon and the wind chill didn't make it feel like January, we'd be cracking open a Corona and sharing a few more tacos. That and my second mistake of the day intervened. In the middle of our conversation I somehow managed to spill an entire container of hot sauce all over my lap. Not wanting to break our conversational groove, I ignored it and we continued chatting. It must have looked worse than I thought because Alex insisted on getting me some warm water and paper towels to clean myself and my car. Note to self, hot sauce, when left to saturate your clothing and skin, will actually physically burn. Alex also brought me a cup of Mexican hot chocolate which both warmed me and soothed my bruised ego as I drove home, thighs on fire but belly very happy.
In addition to a memorable lunch, the one thing that resonated on my recent visit, was a proverb Alex shared with me during our chat about the challengea and demands of launching and running a restaurant business, albeit one on wheels. She and Carlos believe that "the sun comes out for everyone." This can mean many things, but in this instance it is clearly testament to the belief that we are each due our moment or moments. It is not easy to launch a business, given the financial and political obstacles that exist, or to remain authentic (I'm talking as much about motives and intentions as I am about food) as well as the need to build followers and in El Charrito's case, build a local movement. The food truck scene is alive and well in many pockets across the country, and even in some cities in Connecticut, New Haven comes to mind, but El Charrito is a trail blazer in Stamford. Whether or not they remain a lone food truck, they have certainly succeeded in becoming one of the best Mexican food experiences in Fairfield County.
If and when you are in Stamford for lunch, take a detour and check out El Charrito. You'll find the truck parked on Richmond Hill Avenue, in front of Beamers Cafe, a quick drive from downtown. The daily menu includes Mexican style tacos including tripa, carnitas (pork), lengua (cow tongue), al pastor (pork with pineapple), carne adobada (spicy pork), cesina (salty steak), chorizo, campechano, bistek, and chicken. If you're not in the mood for a taco, there are Mexican burgers, quesadillas, burritos, and tortas on the daily menu as well as daily specials. In recent weeks the specials included a enchiladas en mole rojo, fish tacos, and menudo soup. More than enough reason to make this a weekly pilgrimage.
If you're on Twitter, follow @ElCharrito for daily specials or become friends with them on Facebook.