Cafe Society

Don't call them gourmet food trucks; call them luxe loncheras

"Calling them gourmet trucks is such bullshit."

I was on the phone with Gustavo Arellano, author of Ask a Mexican and managing editor (and food editor) at the OC Weekly, our partner paper in Orange County, and we were talking about the top food trend of 2010: the gourmet truck.

"Gourmet trucks are hip and all the rage, but all of you are idiots," he continued. "You're not doing anything new, you're not celebrating anything new, you're just riding the coattails of people who went to court and fought for this."

Those people would be the original lonchera owners, who have been abiding by various municipal rules of the road for decades in order to sell food from a truck — without the aid of Twitter and Facebook accounts, truck parties or pods. And that bothers Arellano. Because while diners are discovering this new generation of food trucks and propelling "gourmet" street food to haute cuisine, they're both ignoring the history of the movement and promulgating the historically bad rep of the loncheras.

"There's this assumption with Mexican food that it has to be dirty," Arellano says. "But that's ridiculous. All these trucks abide by the same health and inspection standards. People call them roach coaches or say they don't make gourmet food just because they're owned by Mexicans."

In actuality, he points out, many of those "roach coaches" are using the same commissaries as the "gourmet trucks." That's certainly the case with La Villa Real: Owners Marco Angeles and Maria Garcia share their food prep space with one of the new trucks, Pinche Tacos.

I'm glad the old guard and the new guard both exist in Denver — there can never be enough dining options in the city for me — but I understand Arellano's concern that labeling these mobile newcomers as "gourmet" implies that the traditional trucks are serving swill. And the food I had at La Villa Real was as good — or better — than anything I'd had from any other vendor this year.

So what should we call these new trucks?

"Luxe loncheras," suggests Arellano. "Because luxe captures the pretentiousness of it, and the fact of the matter is, they're not better than anyone else. They're still loncheras."

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk