By Thomas Pavlik
I’ve driven by The Taco Joint, a food truck located at South Grand Avenue and Second Street, literally hundreds of times and have always made a mental note to stop by and give it a try. Finally, my wife suggested that we grab a friend and head on over for lunch on a warmish weekday. I’m glad she did.
There’s not much to the place. Six picnic benches are located under a covered pergola for those desiring to eat on premises. Other than that, there’s just the food truck where diners line up to order at a window and a broken soda machine. It’s what I like — a food experience stripped down to the bare essentials.
Be warned: Parking is a bit tricky, and it’s not immediately clear which parking spaces belong to The Taco Joint and which to its neighbors. And parking is at a premium — especially when we visited around 12:30 p.m. to find the place very busy.
The ordering process is pretty simple. Pro tip: take advantage of The Taco Joint’s online ordering platform in case you don’t want to wait around for your food. The menu is posted prominently near the window (it changes every six months), and orders are taken quite efficiently. Electronic payment was very simple, and each diner is provided with a pager. Once it vibrates, head on over to the side door and an employee will have your food bagged and ready to go. The day we visited the wait was just about 15 minutes and, per our subsequent test of the online system, that seems to be the wait time for it as well.
Our fellow diners were a good cross-section of the city. Even though it was fairly hot the day we visited, the picnic tables were full. Others (including us) decided to wait in the air-conditioned comfort of a car and go with take-out.
The Taco Joint has a pretty impressive menu for a food truck, and there are some truly interesting combinations. Basically, the menu is broken down into burritos, tacos, quesadillas, chimichangas, some appetizers and a variety of one-off dishes. Tacos come either street style (corn tortilla, cilantro and onion) or “gringo” style (flour tortilla, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese).
We were intrigued by the walking tacos ($7-$11, choice of beef, chicken steak or carnitas and the usual fixings) which are served in a bag of Doritos or Fritos, the choriqueso papas ($9, seasoned fries topped with grilled Oaxaca cheese, chorizo and Taco Joint’s own sauce), and the cheese curd burrito ($13, grilled pineapple pastor, cheese curds, rice, beans, guacamole and a handful of sauces). If you’re in the mood for something truly substantial, you might want to consider the Luchador ($12), which is a wrap stuffed with carne asada, bacon, chile-crusted fries, black beans, cheese, barbecue sauce, guacamole and pico de gallo, served with more fries and cheese dip, of course.
We decided to start out with an order of the street corn ($5). Served in a Solo cup, it was a fun dish made of grilled corn tossed in garlic-lime mayo and topped with queso fresco and chili powder. The brightness of the acid and the salty and tangy taste of the cheese were a nice tease to our palates.
We also decided to start with a small order of the cheese dip ($1). They weren’t kidding when they said small. Still, it tasted better than some of the dips from The Taco Joint’s competitors. And it was proof that cheese really does make most things better.
I decided to go with the Clem Boi Tacos ($6, two tacos — choose from carnitas, brisket and chicken). These were served in flour tortillas and topped with Chihuahua cheese, pico, chipotle barbecue salsa and tortilla chips. I’m usually a traditionalist when it comes to ethnic food, so it was an unusual choice for me. Yet, I’m glad I did, as the flavors all worked together. I’d certainly order it again.
My wife went with the chori-chicken chimichanga ($9, with chicken and chorizo, served with cheese, rice and pico). She promised me leftovers, but liked it so much she decided to eat the whole thing. She found the rice to be a nice replacement for the standard Spanish rice generally seen around town. I did manage to snag a bite and found the combination of chorizo and grilled chicken to be spot on.
Our guest went with the street tacos ($5 for two). She selected the al pastor (onion, cilantro and pineapple) and the carnitas (onion, cilantro and guacamole). The corn tortillas were reported as moist and fresh with the contents hitting all the right flavor notes. She judged the dish a success, much as we collectively judged The Taco Joint to be a success.
Address: 230 South Grand Avenue East, Springfield
Hours: Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Credit Cards: Yes