“Eat more tacos!” That is the motto — and the hope — of The Taco Truck, newly opened in the Princeton Shopping Center.
Chris Viola and Jason Scott had this great idea — bring the authentic Mexican “taqueria” street food, especially tacos, to the east coast of the United States.
“It was really Jason’s idea,” explains Chris Viola. “He had been in Mexico and had really liked Mexican street food. He wanted to offer customers here authentic Mexican tacos. While he was a businessman, he didn’t have restaurant experience, and that’s where I came in. I had gone to Cornell’s Hotel School, and then worked in food and beverage at Four Seasons.”
So, in 2009, the two entrepreneurs formed a partnership and established their first Taco Truck in Hoboken. They enlisted the expertise of experienced culinary professionals from Mexico City to create the authentic recipes, and then sent their truck out to various events and farmers’ markets in the area.
Brick and Mortar
Their tacos and related items (tortas, burritos, quesadillas, etc.) were such a hit that the partners were inspired to open a brick and mortar restaurant in Hoboken in 2010, and then add new locations to meet increasing requests from customers.
They established a very successful kiosk on Manhattan’s High Line, and opened restaurant/cafes in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and Morristown, N.J.
The Princeton location is their most recent undertaking, and while only open since December 26, it has received excellent reviews, and has been attracting scores of customers of all ages, including many families, every day.
“Princeton is a great fit for us,” reports Mr. Viola. “We had been here with our truck for events at the university and McCarter Theater, and people have been very receptive. We liked the idea of the Princeton Shopping Center because it is central, and also the parking is so easy and convenient. We are so encouraged. We’re getting great comments from customers and also from the other merchants. We have great neighbors.”
As they enter the “south-of-the-border” Taco Truck restaurant, customers are first enticed by the appealing aromas of tacos in various stages of preparation. The friendly staff is quick to take an order, and also explain any Spanish terms on the menu that a customer may not know.
Among the most popular tacos are “pescado”, served with crispy catfish, red cabbage, pico de gallo, tartar, and chipotle salsa in flour tortillas; “aguacate tostada” with crispy avocado, black beans, sesame seeds, pickled onions, tortillas fritas, and chipolte salsa.
Other favorites include “pollo asado” with grilled chicken, lime pickled onions, and roasted red salsa; and “al pastor”, featuring marinated pork, onions, cilantro, pineapple, and fresh green salsa; among other popular items.
Tortas are toasted Mexican sandwiches, explains Mr. Viola. “Not everyone knows this, and we enjoy educating customers about our food. This is a real goal for us.”
Among the sandwiches, which are served with white onion, pickled jalapeno, avocado, crema, and black beans, are “barbacoa” with braised beef and chipotle salsa; “carnitas” or braised sweet pork with cilantro; and “pollo asado” or grilled chicken.
Burritos, served with red rice and black beans in a flour tortilla, include “al pastor” with marinated pork, onion, cilantro, pineapple, and fresh green salsa; “pollo asado” or grilled chicken with lime-pickled onion, and roasted red salsa; and “verduras” (seasonal vegetables).
There is always a vegetarian choice among all the selections.
Guacamole, salsa, and rice and beans are favorite side dishes, along with street corn (on the cob with mayonnaise, cheese, chili piquin, and lime); and La Capital soup with chicken, rice, hominy, lima beans, carrots, corn, cilantro, and chipotle.
A popular salad features mixed greens, cheese, tomato, avocado, pumpkin seeds, crispy tortilla, and pineapple vinaigrette. Chicken, beef, pork, or fish can be added for an extra cost.
Any of the items can be prepared according to the customer’s taste, regarding mild to spicy seasoning.
Authentic Mexican sweets feature “plantano’s fritos” or fried sweet plantains with crema and sugar; and “churros” — fried dough, cinnamon, sugar, and seasonal sauce.
Beverages include Mexican Coca-Cola (with no high fructose corn syrup), Mexican sodas, and fresh fruit waters, among others.
Prices range from $5 for one taco (most taco dishes include three tacos) to $8.75 for the top-priced burrito or torta. Sides and sweets start at $2.50, and beverages at $2. The children’s menu includes tacos and quesadillas for $3.50.
The Taco Truck also has a growing catering business, with off-site birthday parties, corporate events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc., and the trucks are busy all year round. All sizes of events, from 15 to 500, can be accommodated.
Mr. Viola and Mr. Scott are committed to offering the freshest ingredients with a focus on healthy, high quality products. “We are set apart by our quality ingredients,” says Mr. Viola. “All of our meat is antibiotic-free. We support local farmers who raise their animals on a vegetarian diet without antibiotics or hormones. We get the freshest ingredients we can find and we try to make a positive impact on our planet every day.
“All our packaging is compostable, and we compost our left-over food and packaging three times a week. We compost thousands of pounds of food and packaging waste every year.”
Mr. Viola is pleased that customers, who are a cross-section of families, Princeton University students, high school students, and business people, share The Taco Truck’s focus, not only on healthy food, but on the health of the environment.
“Our four core principles are (1) hospitality, (2) authenticity, (3) sustainability, and (4) community involvement. Wherever we open, we focus on the community by being active in our neighborhood through ongoing community involvement. We feel very fortunate that the community has welcomed us in Princeton.”
At the shopping center, lunch and dinner are available seven days, with take-out and sit-down equally popular. Fifty diners can be seated inside, with outdoor seating expected to be available in the spring.
“I want our customers to enjoy the food and have a great experience here,” says Mr. Viola. “We have an opportunity to make a real impact.”
The Taco Truck is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (609) 580-1384. Website: www.thetacotruck.com.