"My latest review?” says Justin, “I got — see here? — 71,816 views.”
OMG. He’s right. I’m staring at his phone. It shows stats from Yelp. He’s a Yelper. Has reviewed about 200 places he’s eaten at around town.
“Now I’m one of the elite reviewers at Yelp,” he says. “You get a bunch of privileges, like invites to happenings at restaurants. It’s cool.”
We’re standing beside Tacos El Rorro, this food truck here at Market and 12th. I’ve been listening to him reel off a string of to-go orders to the guy in the window. Fish tacos, gobernador, ceviche de camarón, on and on.
So I had to ask him. “You know this food truck’s good?”
“If you believe Yelp. Check this out.”
And he flips to testimonials, most really positive.“The chicken and carne asada tacos are great!” “Best place to eat tacos.”
Hmm... I’d never intended to end up at a traditional Mexican food truck this night.
Actually, I’d come to East Village to check out Común Kitchen. Happy hour, hopefully. This was chef Chad White’s Baja-Med place at Tenth and J. I’ve always been interested in the Baja-Med idea. But guess what? Común was closed. Permanently. Guess I’m the last to know.
But it’s not the first Baja-Med place to close. I stood there thinking: What has happened to the Baja-Med revolution? The idea is beautiful: Baja veggies and seafood and meat meets Mediterranean olive oil culture meets Asian touches like lemongrass. Basically, you don’t fly stuff in. You use what grows in the region. Catch it in the morning, cook it at night.
But look at Baja-Med’s wreckage: Miguel Angel Guerrero’s El Colegio in TJ? Bust. Chad White’s TJ place in the old La Especial space on Revolución Avenue? Not happening. And now his Común tavern-eatery here in East Village bites the dust.
Why? Too expensive? Too chi-chi for food we’ve been trained to love partly because it’s cheap and cheerful?
The news isn’t bad for everybody: Remember Guillermo “Oso” Campos Moreno’s incredible Kokopelli food cart and now restaurant in TJ? They’re going from strength to strength. And Javier Plascencia’s Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro in Bonita is alive and well. And in Little Italy he’s just opened the ambitious multi-floor Bracero Cocina.
But still, Común’s closure? I’m all shook up. I mean, this region’s biggest food revolution ever, losing its traction?
So, I was making my way back toward Market when I noticed the Tacos El Rorro truck, parked on the gravel in Quartyard’s space, lights blazing, open for business. I suddenly wondered: How different is the traditional tacos and tortas cooking from the new wave of Baja-Med?
And actually, when I saw Justin looking at El Rorro’s, I thought he was Chad White. The beard, the big bluff face looked just like the famous chef.
He was sure picking a lot of items.
“I just eat one meal a day,” he says. “But I make it a good one. Besides, I’m ordering for my lady, too.”
What the heck. I start checking out the menu. Basic deal seems to be tacos, $2.50–$4 each. “Pescado” are three for $8. Grilled shrimp go two for $8. Regular meat tacos, like carne asada or adobada are three for $8. Fish ceviche tostadas $6. A big burro (no wimpy burritos here) goes for $8 or $10, depending on how much you can handle. Same for the chicharrón (pork rinds) burro with chorizo.
Rolando, the guy in the truck, is on the phone when I step up. “Yes, Rorro,” he’s saying. “I’ll call you right back. I promise.”
“That’s my son, Rorro. Rolando. He’s five years old. The truck’s named after him.”
I end up ordering a lot, too, because this is for Carla as well. I get a fried fish taco, a gobernador (with shrimp, cheese, veggies), and camarón a la plancha (grilled shrimp taco). And, heck, a shrimp ceviche tostada. Not so cheap at $8, but it’s a big polystyrene box filled with lemon and spiced chunks of shrimp, plus tomato and other veggies, and three large disks of crackling corn tortilla.
My favorite? All the complex flavors in the gobernador are great, but the grilled shrimp taco wins out. It comes with a nice creamy garlicky sauce and lots of fresh-cut lettuce, tomato, onion. And best of all, the shrimp are fat, juicy, and with an edge of sautéed crispiness.
“Ocean,” says Rolando. “The shrimp are from the ocean, not farmed. And my wife and I made all the recipes. Guadalajara recipes.”
Rolando crossed the border when he was 14. Left his family in Puebla state. Started working for landscaping companies in Fresno. Then began washing dishes in different taco joints, until, just three months ago, he and his wife Martha launched this food truck. And here’s the funny thing I suddenly realized: You don’t see many Mexican food trucks on the move, at least in San Diego County. “I think we’re the only one,” says Rolando.
Now, he’s about to make his next big move, actually buying a food truck. He rents this one. That will mean $20,000 down, $80,000 or more altogether. “That’s if the bank will lend,” he says. “It’s a big chance.”
So, Baja-Med? Well, maybe we had it all along. Because this is fresh, unprocessed, local produce, and the corn tortillas have the roughness of the home-made. Baja-Med? I dunno, but it’s for sure Baja authentic.
Justin’s collecting all his bags of food.
“Gonna write a review on Yelp?” I ask.
He smiles, like “Is there a bull moose in the north woods?”
The Place: Tacos El Rorro, 975 Broadway, Chula Vista, between Arizona Street and Moss Street, where truck’s set up in semi-permanent location, 619-721-0993. Check Facebook.
Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m., daily; Sundays, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Prices: Fish tacos, 3 for $8; shrimp tacos, 2 for $8. Grilled shrimp, 2 for $8; regular meat tacos (e.g., carne asada or adobada), 3 for $8; fish ceviche tostada, $6; burro, $8 small, $10 large; chicharrón (pork rind burro or torta) with chorizo, $8 or $10; gobernador (taco with shrimp, cheese, veggies), 2 for $8; grilled shrimp taco, 2 for $8; shrimp ceviche tostada, $8.00; mulitas, $4.50, 2 for $8
Nearest bus stop: Broadway and Moss