Street fight: Taco trucks battle for taste buds

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by Eric Ginsburg

The guys slinging tacos out of the Bandito Burrito food truck might not appreciate being called hipsters — not a whole lot of people do — but with a bearded and tattooed white dude taking orders in a face-off against the more weathered crew at Taqueria El Azteca, the term is hard to resist.

As the premièr event of the season, Center City Park in Greensboro unveiled a duel — possibly unintentionally —between two food trucks with wildly different takes on tacos. Taqueria El Azteca, somewhat of an institution in the city as a longstanding restaurant known for its cheap Taco Tuesdays, squared off against relative newcomers Bandito Burrito, each truck bringing different weapons to the fight.

Azteca dished out authentic morsels on corn tortillas, mostly comprised of seasoned meat, laced with cilantro and topped with radish discs and onion. 

A peak inside Azteca's truck
A peak inside Azteca’s truck

But the banditos competed on a different plane. Despite using primarily conventional ingredients in its Baja tacos — save the flour tortillas — these tacos came across more like mini burritos, stuffed with an array of toppings including pico de gallo and black bean-and-corn salsa. The shredded purple cabbage added to the lively look.

Somehow Bandito Burrito’s carne asada taco recalled the taste of seafood, while the chorizo version was reminiscent of a breakfast snack. Most of its fare focused on its namesake rather than tacos, but two Asian-style tacos with chile soy chicken and pork spoke to Bandito’s identity.

Bean sprouts, Thai peanut sauce and jalapeño turned the meal into something entirely different. Both were delicious, but the pork came out on top, tasting akin to moo shu. In a way, the loaded Asian tacos hardly fit in as street food and would more appropriately compete against a joint like Crafted a few blocks away.

Not that Azteca doesn’t move beyond traditional tacos — there’s Dos Equis beer-battered fish tacos and shrimp tacos, too. Of its authentic offerings, the carnitas shone brightest, a heavily-seasoned pork option with more ingrained flavor than the its chicken or beef siblings.

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Azteca’s traditional tacos

Besides the more obvious distinctions, more subtle variances emerged between the two trucks’ approach to the hand-held meal. Azteca tacos came stocked with more meat and a generous wad of cilantro, while Bandito’s versions were fuller overall.

Azteca added a lemon wedge with a flight of three, Bandito a small lime corner with each (which are increasingly difficult to come by this year). Azteca chose radish chips, while Bandito plied matchstick radishes. Bandito’s Asian tacos built in more spice, though still mild. Each let tacos go for a similar price, though Azteca for slightly less.

It wasn’t coincidental that the showdown took place on Cinco de Mayo, a fitting backdrop despite the pleasant lack of drunken college bros who undoubtedly played cornhole, pounded Coronas and flaunted their cursory knowledge of Spanish later that evening. Instead the event allowed people to passively celebrate with their dish of choice hailing from different canons — or is it cannons? — of the cuisine.

Bandito slingin'
Bandito slingin’

The predominantly white streetfight attendees — myself included — still gravitated towards the more experimental fare of Bandito Burrito. It’s not just because Bandito would qualify as the more hipster option, but these dudes are doing something interesting and the food is killer.

Bandito Burrito won this battle, but the joust doesn’t qualify as an actual war — and who would want to see Asian tacos replace Mexican ones anyway?

Taquerias and trucks like Azteca aren’t — and certainly better not be — fading. Nothing against Azteca, but the abundance of old-school options makes it challenging to stand out. As long as the avant-garde experimentation of Bandito Burrito doesn’t eclipse what places like Azteca are providing, we all win.