Tag Archives: food truck

Venezuelan Street Food

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most common misunderstanding new customers have when approaching El Arepón is that they’re going to walk away with a platter of tacos or some other Mexican fare.

“South American food is not the same as Mexican food,” explains Richard Mendoza, the Venezuelan food truck’s co-owner. “It’s not spicy—we focus on the flavor base and not on how hot it is. Our food is fresh and tropical rather than spicy.”

Mendoza doesn’t mind needing to educate customers about Venezuelan food; in fact, he’s happy to do it. “We have to teach people that not every food truck in Omaha is a Mexican food truck,” he says.

Customers who walk up to the truck expecting tacos typically walk away with a dish of empanadas or pabellón criollo (Mendoza’s favorite) with a side of fried plantains—and they usually wind up coming back. “It starts with curiosity and then they become faithful customers,” he says.

Arepas are a popular South American dish of ground corn flour patties topped with various ingredient options: meat, eggs, tomatoes, salad, cheese, and more. Arepas give Mendoza’s food truck its name, and the dish is a cornerstone of the diet in his native country. Arepas in Venezuela could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack in between. At least they used to be—until the country’s food shortage became a full-blown crisis in recent years. 

  The food truck is Mendoza’s gift to the Omaha community that welcomed and embraced him upon his arrival in 2000 from Venezuela. It’s his hope that offering Venezuelan cuisine will help Omaha understand that Venezuela is “full of good people,” he says, adding a political opinion about the nation’s crumbling economy: “The government in Venezuela is a joke. It’s not who we are as a country, and we deserve better.”

Mendoza says that the people currently living in Venezuela—including his friends and family—are all at risk. “Nobody is safe there. My people suffer every day. They don’t even have basic necessities like toilet paper,” he says.

Venezuela’s ongoing food crisis inspired his food truck’s launch in May 2017. Mendoza wants to show his adopted home that Venezuela should be known for more than just Miss Universe; there’s also “the good culture and food and traditions that we can bring to people. This is what I can do to offer to our city’s diversity.”

Although he dreamt of opening a restaurant or food truck upon arriving in the United States, it was a trip to Venezuela with co-owner and business partner Jose Miguel Garcia in 2013 that put the plans solidly into motion. Originally from Mexico, this was Garcia’s first trip to Venezuela.

“He found Venezuela beautiful and fell in love with the people and the food,” Mendoza says. “He said that if we sell this food in the United States people will love it.” Since they didn’t have the budget to open a restaurant, they opted for the food truck instead. They figured a food truck was a safe investment and less expensive than opening a restaurant.

What he didn’t realize is that the food truck would become a mutual meeting ground for various South American populations within the city. “I didn’t know there were so many South American immigrants in Omaha!” He says that the food truck provides a place for the South American community to meet and socialize. “Some of my Colombian customers meet up at the food truck and organize outings together.” He’s pleased that his food truck helps bring people together.

He attributes the success of the food truck to a few different aspects: the people of Omaha have taken to the Venezuelan food eagerly, the food is delicious and carefully prepared while fresh, and Mendoza’s motto for the food truck: “The food has to be great, but the service has to be the greatest.”

The food served at El Arepón is authentic and fresh. “It’s all made from scratch,” Mendoza says. “Inside the truck there are no cans and nothing from preservatives.” He says everything is gluten-free and there are vegetarian and vegan menu options available, making it a welcome addition to Omaha’s food truck roster for Omahans with dietary restrictions.

For now, the El Arepón food truck can be found in the Kohl’s parking lot on South 72nd Street, right across from Nebraska Furniture Mart. The truck is also available for special events. As the days grow shorter in the colder months, their operating hours will vary. Their Facebook page (@elareponomaha) provides updated hours.

“Omaha is my home,” Mendoza says. “I’m thankful for Omaha, and I’m grateful to America. It’s the home I was looking for. I’ve learned so much from this city. This is what I can offer to them and give back a little of what I received from Omaha.” 

Visit elareponomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Taco ’Bout Delicious

September 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.

With mobile food trucks all the rage, Omaha’s lucky to have several standout vehicular victual ventures. While the origin of the food truck is rooted all the way back in the Wild West chuck wagon, the modern food truck era in Omaha rebooted with the humble taco truck helming the fleet.

That’s right, from gourmet pizza to award-winning barbecue to divine, locally sourced chicken sandwiches, the current boom of local food trucks has its lineage in that flavorful wonder on wheels—the once lowly taco truck.

A visit to Taqueria El Rey’s taco truck at the southeast corner of 27th and Leavenworth streets proves a very worthy stop, whether for a quick work lunch, an on-the-fly snack, or a portable weekend picnic. If you’ve seen this truck parked near the Supermercado Nuestra Familia—the store at 29th and Leavenworth streets with the moustachioed jalapeño pepper mascot—you’ll now find it just two blocks east. According to a super-friendly woman working the window, who totally let me practice my nascent Spanish skills, the truck started rolling to a stop at this slightly different location in early December 2014.

We visited fresh off a weeklong trip to Mexico and ready for some food so authentic it might transport us back south of the border.

Diners choose from tacos, tortas, burritos, and quesadillas—all $5 or less. Options include asada (steak), pastor (seasoned pork), pollo (chicken), chorizo (Mexican-style sausage), carnitas (fried pork), cachete (beef cheek), and more. Vegetarians can be accommodated with rice/bean/cheese/ veggie-based configurations of menu items—just ask.

Part of the fun of the taco truck is watching the diverse neighborhood pass by as you await your chow. The college students ahead of us patiently laugh away their wait, a pair of teenage joggers dash past, cars stream by, an older Spanish-speaking patron orders in a smiling exchange with the pleasant woman at the counter, a toddler rides to the order window on her father’s shoulders.

They call our name, handing us a tightly tied bag which nonetheless emits a delightful aroma—deep and rich from spices and simmered meats, yet light and zesty from fresh garnishes. Inside we find our pastor and cachete tacos, the flavorful, tender meat topped with finely diced onions and ample cilantro, each served traditional style in two small, layered corn tortillas accompanied by lime wedges. The carnitas torta, with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and a dab of mayo is served on bread that’s alternately soft and crusty in all the right places. The chorizo quesadilla, served with lettuce, tomato, and crema Mexicana (akin to sour cream), bursts with flavor. Sides of yummy red and green sauce accompany all dishes. Both are fresh and piquant, but not overwhelmingly spicy. It’s hard to choose a favorite.

Like a perfectly placed dash of hot sauce, the El Rey taco truck brings just the right spice to this urban neighborhood.

Taco El Rey

The Perfect Cuisine for El Día de los Muertos

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

El Día de los Muertos is right around the corner, and what better way to celebrate the Day of the Dead than with food? Keep an eye out for sugar skulls as you sample some of the best Mexican cuisine in Omaha along 24th Street.

La Michoacana (24th and E)

José Gaytan, owner of the small café La Michoacana, is hard-pressed to choose just one favorite from his menu but finally narrows it down. “For me,” he says, “the nachos are wonderful. The pico de gallo on them is made fresh every day.” As are all the meats. But if you’re looking for La Michoacana’s standout contribution to the South Omaha Mexican cuisine scene, skip the hot bar and go straight to the frozen cabinet by the cash register. A sign requests in Spanish that patrons allow an employee to open it. Ask for a mango paleta, or popsicle. It costs $1 and is made with milk, fruit, and not much else. The texture is smooth rather than icy, and the taste is creamy and not as shockingly sweet as frozen treats you’ll find elsewhere. It also melts with surprising speed the instant you step into sunlight, so plan on eating it quickly. No wonder they don’t want you standing over the freezer with the lid open.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Dos de Oros (24th and G)

“¿Cambio para el veinte?” One of the regulars at the Dos de Oros food truck taps another customer on the shoulder to remind him to get his change. There’s always a small crowd milling around the truck, patrons chatting as they wait in line or wait to order, so you’ll have plenty of time to study the menu on the whiteboard. If you’re okay with a bit of heat, try the chorizo burrito, a flavor you won’t find at a fast-food joint. Ladle some salsa verde over your plate, and grab a Mexican Coke from the cooler in the front of the truck. A bottle opener specifically for the sugar-cane soda swings in the breeze. These burritos are about half the size of the monsters at Chipotle or Qdoba, but for $3 and a great spicy flavor, who’s complaining?

El Ranchito (24th and H)

As tiny as its name suggests, El Ranchito keeps only a few picnic-cloth-covered tables in its café. Its menu has some standard lunch prices of $8 or $9 an entrée, but you can make a cheaper meal out of the tacos at $1.35 or the zopes (also known as sope) for $1.75. These soft, corn flour (or masa) tortillas are fried and then served open-faced with savory meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. If you’re feeling brave, order the lengua zope. The seared beef tongue is tender, salty, and smoky. But consider ordering it for carryout—the telenovelas on that small TV in the corner can get loud.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Jacobo’s Grocery (24th and L)

The queue by the deli counter at the back of Jacobo’s Grocery is long but steadily moving. Kerry Hoiberg waits patiently for two quarts of what she calls the best salsa in town. She drives down regularly from the Field Club neighborhood to stock up on the grocery store’s salsa and homemade chips. “I like supporting local, but at a farmers market, a pint would cost about $5,” she says. “Here, it’s made fresh every day, and a quart is $3.25.” She also buys a small cup of hot sauce for 40 cents, saying she’ll mix it in later to spice up the mild pico de gallo.

The deli also serves an array of hot lunches, such as empanadas and chimichangas, but it just might be the pastry case at the end that will capture your attention. Order something at random, and you’ll be fine. The guayaba pastry, for example, costs 70 cents, is unbelievably flaky, and filled with guava jelly. You’ll make a mess eating it, but you won’t care.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo's Grocery on 24th Street.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo’s Grocery on 24th Street.

El Rinconcito (23rd and N)

El Rinconcito translates roughly into “the little out-of-the-way corner,” and it certainly is off the beaten path. However, it’s worth leaving South Omaha’s main drag of 24th Street for a place that serves breakfast all day. For around $9, you can have two huevos estrellados (fried eggs), a few strips of tocino (bacon), a caramelized plantain, refried beans, cheese, and three tortillas served in a tablewarmer. A little extra gets you coffee.

Most of these places don’t take credit or check, so no matter where you intend to observe el Día de los Muertos, come properly prepared with cash. That and an empty stomach are all you need to enjoy the flavors of South Omaha.

Dishcrawl

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you haven’t heard of Dishcrawl yet, you’re in for a treat (here you can use the word “literally” unironically). The San Francisco-based organization leads restaurant scavenger hunts so locals can check out the awesome food in their own cities. Thanks to local food blogger Rachel Grace (Fat in Omaha), Omaha got its own chapter in April.

The premise is simple but effective. Reserve a spot in a Dishcrawl event online, knowing only what neighborhood you’ll be visiting and that you’ll visit four restaurants in the course of about three hours. Other than that, it’s a secret, man. Two days before your Dishcrawl, an e-mail tells you where your evening will begin. Grace organized Omaha’s inaugural ’crawl around the Old Market, so 40 people gathered at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 at Upstream Brewing Company.

Rachel Grace, food blogger of Fat in Omaha.

Rachel Grace, food blogger of Fat in Omaha.

Executive Chef Jeff Everroad of the Old Market anchor restaurant had prepared three small plates, each paired with a complementary Upstream brew. A slice of chorizo rested on a small salad with grated radish and an orange wedge, paired with a Belgian amber. Head Brewmaster Dallas Archer was on hand to explain that the fruity beer was aged on dates. The second taste was a beef short rib slider topped with Red Dragon cheese (soaked in Welsh beer). Guests washed it down with a dark Irish stout, nitrogenated rather than carbonated. The third and final plate that Upstream offered was pork belly, braised for four hours, complete with a single tempura green bean, and paired with Dundee Scotch ale.

In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s best not to pre-game before a Dishcrawl. Alcohol may or may not be included in a restaurant’s taste experience, but it certainly won’t be unavailable throughout your evening. If your Dishcrawl is a walking tour as was the Old Market’s, being able to walk is key. One particular group of diners hadn’t got the memo and opted to begin their evening with shots.

Everroad and Archer each took a moment per table to explain to diners the thought process behind Upstream’s presentation, enthusiastically discussing seasonal changes and complementary flavors. “We asked them if they’d do us a pizza,” Grace says, referring to one of Upstream’s signature dishes, “but they were like, ‘oh, no, no, no.’ They wanted to do something really special.”

Each restaurant seemed to share that passion for the new dining event, continuing at Localmotive Food Truck parked by the New BLK. David Burr, co-owner of Localmotive, explained that the sourdough starter used for their signature rounders is seven years old. The fried balls are filled with any number of seasonal and local delicacies; on this occasion, guests sampled both veggie somosa and pork green chili rounders. Burr mentioned that he and his partners have been known to create special flavors by request. “We made a mac-and-cheese rounder for the Localmotive mayor on Foursquare,” he said.20130423_bs_1950_Web

Guests mingled in the New BLK to escape the unseasonal chill while they ate. Dishcrawl is a night to get to know people: friends, dates, strangers. It’s an opportunity to invite yourself to a new table, to exchange ideas about food with new people. As each new address was revealed, guests turned the short walk into a laugh-filled scavenger hunt as they chased down the next restaurant.

Trini’s, the Mexican restaurant in The Passageway, offered chicken Portobello enchiladas and fish tacos with thin-sliced tilapia and an avocado, topped with chipotle sauce. Two-dollar margaritas added to the convivial spirit, and guests laughed loudly when cook Adam Tremaine stated that Trini’s rice is made from a secret recipe of “salt, pepper, and a lot of love.” The noise of the gathering had increased markedly by that time, and the shots group started to snicker about being a little trashed.

With the presence of alcohol and the lateness of the evening, Grace points out that Dishcrawls aren’t that great for kids. Still, perhaps a mature and food-conscious young teenager would do well with the experience.

The evening wrapped up with a leisurely stroll to Urban Wine Company for dessert. Manager Angela Reding had prepared a Southern-style chocolate cookie, topped with Scotch ice cream (single malt Lagavulin, to be precise) and English toffee. “I broke out the good stuff for you guys,” Reding said.

True to its online claim, the Old Market Dishcrawl began wrapping up at 10 p.m. But the shots group lingered to quietly giggle over a bottle of wine.

Reserve a spot with Dishcrawl at dishcrawl.com/Omaha. Stay up-to-date with future Dishcrawls by following @dishcrawloma on Twitter or facebook.com/DishcrawlOmaha. A vegan crawl is scheduled for July 16.

Dusty and Marlina Davidson

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a fit of late-night online browsing in 2004, Dusty and Marlina Davidson responded to a quirkily written classified for an Old Market apartment: “Super fly loft. Huge windows, two bedrooms, 2,000 square feet.”

With their minds set on moving out of their bland rental into something with a little more character, the couple stopped by the downtown loft the next morning. And moved in the next week. “It was a blink of an eye sort of thing,” Dusty says.

Neither of the Council Bluffs natives had lived downtown before, but both were ready to be in the heart of Omaha. They cite the energy of the Old Market, the Farmers Market (“We go down once a week and get stuff from our ‘garden,’” Marlina says, laughing), and the never-ending supply of things to do.

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The spacious loft seems TV-show ready, with exposed bricks and piping and scarred concrete. Contemporary décor, set off with pieces from IKEA, local designers, and heirlooms, keeps the two-bedroom apartment looking Young Professional Modern and not College Student Artistic.

The foyer is long and narrow, with a tiny seating area, a few plants, and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows framed by heavy, white curtains. “It’s a weird space,” Dusty says, but the bar is down there, and it’s a good overflow area for entertaining. A little bit of a library adds an intellectual flare to the area, thanks to Dusty’s grandmother gifting him three or four classics on his birthdays. “I wish I enjoyed reading as much as I enjoy books,” he says.

The couple has considered buying a place but, as Marlina says, “We love the location, the frontage, the windows.”

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“The food truck,” Dusty adds with a sigh, pointing out where Localmotive parks right outside on 12th and Jackson every night. “We can’t be bothered to move. It’s sort of like inertia on some level, but we really love our place.”

A few years into living in their no-name building, the Davidsons made the acquaintance of local designer Jessica McKay of Birdhouse Interior Design. With her help, the couple learned how to give their personal style a voice in their Old Market home. “We bought a few pieces,” Marlina says, “but really I think it was more about what do we have and how do reorganize it so that it makes sense.”

One long-loved piece takes pride of place in the loft’s entryway: a bright blue Ms. Pac-Man arcade gaming console, built by Dusty as a gift for Marlina when they were dating. “He bought it as a black box,” she explains, noting he had an artist friend hand paint the iconic character on the console because it was her favorite. An old CRT television is the screen and is hooked up to a computer loaded with thousands of arcade and Nintendo games. “It’s fun when we have people over for the holidays or a party,” Marlina says.20130122_bs_2642 copy

You won’t find them entertaining much during the summer, however. For the past two years, the Davidsons have rented out their apartment to College World Series visitors and escaped the season’s craziness with a European working vacation. “I’m fine never seeing the College World Series again if we can get someone to pay us to go to France,” Dusty says. The couple plan to rent an apartment in Paris again this summer, a scheme that pans out nicely for his work as a serial entrepreneur with Silicon Prairie News and Flywheel, and her summers off from lecturing in communications at UNO.

If that sounds good to other young professionals in town, the Davidsons are all encouragement. “I think there’s more of us down here than people realize,” Dusty says. “There are places to be had. You can find them.”

Localmotive

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Localmotive has been serving up made-from-scratch sandwiches and sourdough rounders on the corner of 12th and Jackson since March 2012, meanwhile building a loyal clientele. And the local food truck isn’t afraid of a little competition—in fact, they want other food trucks to follow their lead into Downtown Omaha. “We’re not crowding trucks in,” says Patrick Favara, one of Localmotive’s three owners. “There’s totally room for more.”

Favara credited their truck’s successful first year in the Old Market to extensive research. “There’s very little here to look at,” he says, adding that food trucks are still a new concept to the Midwest. “And there’s not much in Nebraska’s books yet. If there’s a model to look at, it’s Kogi.” The five-truck fleet in Los Angeles communicates multiple times daily through Twitter, Facebook, and its own well-maintained website so that customers never have to wonder when or where a truck will be out.

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

The Localmotive crew tries to do the same thing. “Communication is essential,” Favara said. “It determines your following.” Even though the truck can be found next to Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven nights a week, a schedule is always available on localmotivefoodtruck.com. Localmotive also has an office manager who stays on top of the truck’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. “We make that a priority,” Favara says. “We get back to the people who talk to us.”

You mean, it’s more than just Favara and David Burr in the truck and David Scott, sourdough king, in the kitchen? “You get a staff,” Burr says with emphasis. “You don’t do it all on your own.” Even with a peak staff of 18 employees during the summer, Burr recalls weeks at the beginning of their debut that included 120 hours of work. “Consistently,” he says, laughing. “…for months.”

The large staff is necessary, Favara explains, because unlike employees of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, truck workers can’t duck back to the kitchen to help with prep during slow times. “We staff as many people as a brick-and-mortar,” Favara says, “because they can’t do double-duty.”20121130_bs_6302 copy

Burr adds that while the upfront cost of a food truck is lower than opening a storefront, running a mobile restaurant has its own set of challenges with licensing, permissions, and maintenance. “It’s demanding work,” he says, “and not cheap. We’re a fellow restaurant…[just] in a different facility.”

After hitting many of their first-year goals (i.e., be a staple of late-night downtown; serve at the Farmers Market; be a source of good food for restaurant staff coming off the clock late), Burr, Favara, and Scott are focusing on their second year. Their 2013 goals include expanding their garden (even with the tough 2012 summer, they still used most of the produce they planted), have a regular beef supplier (“You’d think it would be easy to find local beef in Nebraska,” Burr says), and be more available to the young entrepreneurs of Omaha. “We love that crowd,” Favara says. The truck supplied a meal last May to attendees of Big Omaha, a convention produced by Silicon Prairie News.

And years down the road? They’ve thought of a quick-service restaurant, just a little kitchen with a walk-up window. More trucks one day, like Kogi, and maybe a trailer for festivals. “We’re not limiting ourselves,” Favara says with a smile. “We’re not the first food truck in Omaha, but I think we’re setting the standard.”

Find Localmotive’s location schedule at localmotivefoodtruck.com.