El Corazon Food Truck
“To know how to eat is to know enough,” is emblazoned on the back of the El Corazon Food Truck. The saying originates from the Basque country, and celebrates part of cook and co-owner Joe Urtuzuastegui’s heritage. The other part of his heritage plays a crucial role in El Corazon’s cuisine.
Joe grew up in a small town in Arizona (seven miles south of Yuma), where he jokes that he attended the Rosa (mom) Culinary School of Mexican Cuisine, and learned the techniques of generations of Mexican cooks on his mother’s side. He admits to still consulting with her about the food he serves, citing some of her best advice, build anything on a good tasting foundation of rice and beans, and everything you put on top will taste that much better.
Joe has come a long way from Arizona to run El Corazon with his stepdaughter, April Garcia. And their business has come a long way, too. Joe and April put their blood, sweat, and tears into refurbishing their 1984 Chevy P30: they added a side window, fixed up water heaters and pumps, and utilized a whole lot of bondo for rust spots. But a formal introduction to El Corazon should begin with their tacos, which are built on fresh stone-ground corn tortillas from Portland’s Tortillería Pachanga. On the day I am there, they are running a special lamb birria taco. This is an homage to the way Joe’s family prepared the dish while he was growing up, which involved digging a 5-foot pit in the backyard and filling it with hot coals, butchering the lamb, and cooking it in pots over the hot coals for upwards of four hours. Joe remembers the process well, emphasizing, “My father always had dibs on the head.” On the truck, the lamb birria is rubbed with an earthy spice and slowly roasted until it is falling apart.
There are other taco choices, like the carnitas, where the pork shoulder is slowly braised in its own fat and slightly crisped up before serving, and the Baja fish taco which Joe insists must always be fried, NEVER grilled. All their sauces are made on the truck, including a mild salsa verde and an extra hot salsa made from dried New Mexican Hatch Chilies, which he gets directly from the source because, due to the soil they grow in, there is simply no replacement for these peppers.
Of course, for those who want more heat, Joe will happily take a fresh jalapeno pepper and “piss it off,” or toss it into the hot oil for a minute to augment the fire of the chili before slicing it up to order.
Although the menu covers a range of tacos, taquitos, and tamales, both Joe and April concur that their specialty is the Sonoran Hot Dog, a dish inspired by the post-World War II introduction of the hot dog to Sonoran, Mexico. I cannot argue. First the bun is steamed and toasted, then the all-beef dog is wrapped in crispy bacon, and topped with pinto beans, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, mustard, aioli, and guacamole. The result is nothing short of genius, each element contributing perfectly to the finished product.
Both Joe and April commonly refer to anything related to the truck as an adventure, and everything I see while aboard the El Corazon Food Truck tells a story, right down to the plethora of baseball caps on the dashboard. Apparently, a homeless man selling said caps had passed on one of the streets El Corazon was parked on. He looked famished, so Joe and April offered him some food, which he accepted, but insisted that it not be free. They settled on barter for one of the caps.
Even in the cold Maine winter, El Corazon travels to new sidewalk locations pledging convenience to keep their customers happy. Just text your order from your office, and tacos, tamales, hot dogs will be ready in ten minutes.
And all you have to do is know how to eat it.
Schedule Changes, Always Posted to El Corazon Portlands Facebook Page | For Orders 207.200.4801