When should a food truck make the transition to a fixed, bricks-and-mortar location? That’s a simple question with a complex answer that may be different for each individual case. In some situations, it happens quickly, within just a few years. Other mobile operations never settle into one place, and once in a while, owners go in the other direction: closing a restaurant and switching to a food truck. With taquerias, however, there often seems to be a middle ground that involves operating in a truck but keeping the vehicle parked at the same location every day.
Taqueria La Hacienda is that type of place. Sure, the kitchen is in a truck with orders taken and served from windows on the side of the vehicle, but it’s always at the same location three blocks east of the planned Buckeye / Central light rail station on the South Central extension. Note to customers approaching on foot: The north side of Buckeye, which is where La Hacienda is found, lacks sidewalks. Until that neglect of pedestrian safety and dignity is addressed, it’s safer, even if slightly more time-consuming, to deviate one block to the north via Tonto Street.
After a slight detour through the Central Park neighborhood, taco-seekers can find a small gate in a chain link fence facing Third Street. That side entry is better entry for pedestrians and bicyclists than the main driveway on Buckeye. The taco truck is situated next to a covered patio with plenty of tables and chairs for on-site dining in reasonable comfort throughout the year. With all these semi-permanent amenities, it’s no wonder that Taqueria La Hacienda has remained in place for over a decade with business hours that run from breakfast until midnight.
The menu is posted on the side of the truck, and it’s pretty simple. Customers choose a meat and a format to accommodate it. Specials and menu additions are noted on handwritten signs. Diners place their orders at a window on the side of the truck and pay with cash (no credit cards here). Once prepared, orders are announced by number — usually in Spanish, sometimes with translation into English if they are not picked up promptly. Although it is not uncommon for Spanish to be the language heard at a majority of tables, ordering in English is never a problem.
The protein choices include carne asada, al pastor pork, carnitas, and grilled chicken as the least threatening choices. Additional options include variety meats: cabeza (head), lengua (tongue), tripa (tripe) and buche (stomach). The meats can be made into tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, tostadas, and vampiros. The last item is similar to a tostada in terms of its flat disc geometry, but it involves a tortilla fried to order rather than a crisp shell. Specials can include shrimp tacos, with diced crustaceans serving as the principal filling on top of corn tortillas.
Another seafood experience to be had at La Hacienda is the ceviche tostadas. This item is priced about the same as a burrito, and it’s just as filling. A copious assemblage of marinated seafood, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions is diced and then served between two or three hard shells. Flecks of cilantro leaves and a few squeezes from half a lime provide added flourishes. The illusion that this creation can be eaten by hand generally lasts for only the first few bites. Thankfully, a spoon is provided for all the messy mouthfuls that follow afterward.
Orders generally come with a few cucumber slices, but anyone in search of a bit more vegetable presence should try La Hacienda’s green chili. To be clear, it’s not the familiar New Mexican stew. Instead, it’s carne asada mixed with poblanos diced in the same size as the beef. The result is a flavorful mix of meat and peppers that works especially well in tacos, burritos, quesadillas. Further spice is available with the addition two salsas provided in squeeze bottles with every order. One is a moderately hot red, and the other is a green avocado salsa.
As one would expect from a taco truck with a limited menu, there’s no liquor license. There are some canned and bottled drinks kept on ice just below the ordering window. During winter, a seasonal special of champurrado is added. This liquid dessert is sort of like hot chocolate, but with a thick mouthfeel and slightly nutty taste from the inclusion of corn flour. With its focused menu and a devoted clientele, Taqueria La Hacienda has a sense of permanence even if it is a truck, and that truck just happens to be perpetually parked along the South Central extension.
254 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix AZ 85004
Buckeye / Central Station (under construction)