A white van with “La Poblana” emblazoned on the side passed us at an intersection, advertising authentic cemitas. Zach, as the passenger, quickly got on his smart phone to find out what cemitas are. These are sandwiches that originate from Puebla, a region of Mexico. La Poblana turned out to be a food truck, and like the cemita, everything served is based on recipes from Puebla. Despite being run out of a food truck, nothing is “typical” for this Mexican mobile food eatery. In fact, a lady walked up and asked for tamales, but you won’t find anything like that here. We had the opportunity to try every item on the menu, and each was savory, rich, and flavorful.
Of the groups of people that came through while we were here, there was at least one in each party who ordered either a cemita or a pambazo (see below). The beef in this sandwich with a soft brioche-like roll was breaded and very, very tender and juicy with the slightest crispiness on the outside. Its seasoning was more bold than spicy, so August absolutely loved being able to taste Mexican flavors without the heat. Also, this version of a sandwich had two kinds of cheese, including special Oaxacan cheese shipped in from Mexico, along with the familiar queso fresco. With roasted red peppers and Bolivian coriander to round it out, this was a multi-layer sandwich in both flavor and texture. Most of the items like this one came with side finger vegetables, such as grilled nopales, peppers, and spring onions, all tasty additions to the plates.
“Pambazo” technically refers to a specific style of bread, often dipped in red guajillo pepper sauce before becoming a sandwich. Most typically, the pambazo sandwich is made with chorizo and potatoes, which was how we tried it. The bread is crispy and buttery, and while it’s usually a tougher texture, dipping it in the special sauce makes it softer and flavor-packed. The chorizo used was great because it wasn’t as fatty as others that we’ve found before.
Quesadillas, when written in English, don’t have to be qualified with italics anymore. Pretty much everyone in the United States recognizes a quesadilla as a tortilla folded around melted cheese. Today, though, we tasted quesadillas with italics, because these are likely how they should be done. These are with cheese, of course, but not Jack – instead, authentic Mexican cheeses with light, creamy flavors are used. The tortillas are particularly impressive because they are made by hand, on site. They are denser and way tastier, making the quesadillas absolutely deliciosas. On the left is a quesadilla with pumpkin blossoms, which tasted a little green and somewhat floral, very spring-like. On the right is a quesadilla with corn smut, aka huitlacoche. This ingredient is a pathogenic fungus, but it is good. Somewhat nutty, somewhat eggy, and somewhat mushroomy, this was an interesting flavor that we’re happy was introduced to us.
The chorizo in this sope is the same as what was in the pambazo – not extremely greasy, and not ground up like dog food. It was nice to see firm chunks of meat on top of a handmade sope shell. The beans were tender and flavorful, and the plentiful cheese always helps to cool down the mouth once the Mexican Coca Cola has run out.
Chalupas at Taco Smell are nothing like the authentic chalupas. As a vegetarian dish, these are fried, crisp mini rounds of dough, much like thick tortillas, with a special sauce. Spicy, fresh, simple, and at four for $1, this is the most filling and delicious bang for your buck you can probably find on all of International Blvd!
Every year when August gets to a certain point in her teaching curriculum, she tells her students about the two food groups in the world: foods that are enhanced with garlic, and foods that are enhanced with chocolate. Chicken is one of the few items that goes both ways, and when her students look mortified about the thought of chicken and chocolate, she tells them about mole. The most recognized and classic mole is the mole poblano, from Puebla, which is dark red-brown and tastiest served over meat. Despite having the smallest bit of chocolate, and chocolate usually makes us think “sweet,” this sauce is not at all sweet but rather savory, for the chocolate serves to counteract the heat of the peppers. With beans, rice, queso fresco, and more grilled vegetables, the mole tasted great over everything on the plate.
Pipián is technically a type of mole, since mole is a Nahuatl word for “sauce.” But what puts pipián in its own category is the main ingredient. Seeds are pureed for the base, mixed with rich cilantro, garlic, and tomatillos. Pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, and peanuts are commonly used for making the base. This was one of the spiciest items we tried today, but it was equally refreshing with cilantro and tomatillos. If you love spicy food but still enjoy the flavor behind the heat, you have to try this dish.
Tacos árabes, inspired by Middle Easter shawerma, are tacos wrapped in cone-forms around crispy meat; here we have tacos árabes al pastor. The pork had a mild tanginess and hint of sweetness from being grilled with pineapple and onions, and with no other garnishes besides ripe avocado and juicy lime, we got to savor the simplicity in this well-composed plate.
We are so fortunate to have found this food truck by chance and Victor, the owner, originator, and gracious host, is an amazing chef. We were overwhelmingly impressed by the flavors and care taken in preparing our food. With a comfortable seating area, blooming flowers, and food so good, it doesn’t matter that it was prepared in a food truck; in fact, once you sit down and start eating you’ll feel like your at an international cafe instead of a stretch of one of Oakland’s most infamous streets. Businesses like this one help to erode the stigma of street food.