T here are 12 spots for 12 trucks on two thin, unassuming strips of asphalt and splotchy grass on Long Wharf Drive, one in either direction after you take exit 46 off I-95 northbound. They’re easy to miss, tucked between New Haven’s sorely under-enjoyed waterfront and the ever busy I-95, but hop off the highway for a look at the water and there they are: up to six mobile kitchens 3/10 mile down to the left, and six to the immediate right, chock full of south-of-the-border delights.
These are the Long Wharf taco trucks, as they’re known—a collection of movable mini-restaurants with names like “Ixtapa,” and the straightforward-as-it-can-be, “Mexican Food.” Aside from a Puerto Rican truck and the incongruous but nonetheless popular Sweeney’s Hot Dogs, most of the little kitchens are all about Mexican tacos. Filling options include steak, chicken, and even beef tongue and beef head, and the tacos run small and cheap: $1.50 on average. There are options of slightly more expensive quesadillas or burritos wrapped around the same meats and a seemingly endless parade of empanadas, fried and roasted chicken, rice and beans, and pico de gallo.
Give up any thoughts of fine dining ambiance. This is a party in a parking lot, with a lovely view of the Sound. Mexican mariachi or salsa blares from truck speakers as people stand patiently in line at the various trucks, mulling over options. It’s a mix of students, construction workers, young couples, road-trippers. Some are regulars, you can tell, but everyone’s made to feel welcome. Besides the meat-filled delights, you can grab a Mexican ice—think sorbet—or, if you can find him weaving between trucks and cars, a sweet, golden crispy churro (a fried-dough pastry snack) from Nicolas Morales’ mini-cart.
There’s a truck called Nexcalli Mexican Food. Black with bright yellow, green, red and white lettering, it’s on the quieter side of
Long Wharf Taco Trucks
Off I-95 exit 46 in New Haven, near the water (map)
10am-8:30pm (depends on the truck)
More choices on weekends.
the party. On a Saturday, Nexcalli is staffed by a busy man in a black polo shirt with a matching logo, who simultaneously chops fresh-looking cuts of seasoned meat and slides them over to a sizzling grill while telling me his name.
“Jose Corona. C-o-r-o-n-a. You know, like the beer!”
Corona arrived in the United States in 1994, and spent years working as a cook at Baja’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Orange, as well as Atticus Cafe on Chapel Street in New Haven. He’d wanted to open his own business for years, and eventually saved enough to buy a vehicle and equipment and strike out on his own. The Nexcalli Taco Truck was born in 2007. Corona says he’s pretty lucky—within a couple months, he had regular customers from around the New Haven area.
Nexcalli, loosely translated, means “sandwich” in his local dialect, Corona explains, and he’s stocked his menu with Tlaxcala staples. “Real Mexican tacos like the ones in Tlaxcala aren’t hard shelled and covered with cheese,” says Corona. Bright and fresh and topped with cilantro and onion, they’re lighter and smaller portioned than most of the typical Mexican-American fare available in Connecticut.
The al postor—or pork loin—tacos are high on the list of most requested: Corona adds a touch of pinneapple to the sauce, giving it just the perfect sweet to salt ratio. The cilantro is fresh and deep green, the onions crisp and white. And he’s trying out a couple of new offerings: chile rellenos (stuffed poblano peppers with cheese, served with rice and beans), and a chili verde—chunks of pork cooked in tomatillo sauce with cilantro
and onions. Most popular on the menu is the Alambre: steak with Mexican sausage, sauteed with onions, a sort of Mexican prickly pear cactus leaf called Nopal and covered with melted cheese, avocado and jalapeno.
Corona seems proudest of his fresh, homemade salsas. The crowd favorite is a green sauce made from jalapeno, cilantro and avocado. It’s piquante with a clean, fresh flavor. The red salsa, a chile arbol sauce with tomatoes, garlic and onions, is the milder choice.
Corona leans over and cheerfully explains these and other menu options to newbies like me. He’s most excited describing Tlaxcala fare and says while people are learning, he’s also tried to make his menu accessible.
“I’m pairing real Mexican food with the Californian/San Diego food, like quesadillas. I want to have something that everyone can like.”
I asked if a restaurant was in his future, and he smiled, looking down shyly. “I’m thinking about it,” he said.
Corona’s on that truck seven days a week, and summer hours are long: around 10 in the morning to 8:30 at night, starting much earlier than that for cleaning and prepping ingredients and his salsas, which he does out of a small Mexican food store he owns in North Haven—also called Nexcalli—which offers Latin food staples and takeout similar to the truck’s offerings.
But he likes being out on the truck. “We’re busier here. And you get to meet a lot of people from different towns. It’s more exciting,” he says. He enjoys asking new customers where they’re visting from. He’s heard New York, New Jersey, even Massachusetts: one Boston couple shows up every Sunday for quesadillas.
Passerby John Salem, from Middletown, grabs a couple of made-to-order beef tacos from Corona’s truck after a trip to Ikea, which looms enormous and blue just across the interstate (a windfall for the taco team). He washes them down with a glass-bottled pineapple soda, and pronounces them tasty.
“I’d come again,” he says, walking back to his car.
Written and photographed by Uma Ramiah.