June 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

Southwest Detroit taco trucks add spice to Motown menu

Taste of Southwest Detroit
Taste of Southwest Detroit : Taco trucks of Southwest Detroit

The food truck trend that's picking up steam in Detroit lately isn't new to southwest Detroit residents.

Taco trucks have been serving up tasty, affordable food there for over a decade. You can find them scattered along main drags and tucked into neighborhoods you might not visit otherwise. But they offer a delicious reason to explore.

Most call themselves taco trucks, and of course they serve a variety of tacos: beef, chicken, pork and parts of the cow or pig mainstream America never dreams of eating for $1.25 - $1.50 apiece. But that's not all they offer.

There are burritos, tortas (sandwiches) and quesadillas, the Mexican version of grilled cheese with a tortilla replacing the bread. Some serve shrimp tacos and tostadas and others like Los Dos Amigos offer ceviche and shrimp cocktails. One truck sells elote, which is corn - on the cob or off - coated with lime juice, cheese, cayenne pepper and crema, a silky mix of heavy cream and buttermilk.

The menus may be unfamiliar, so you may want to start with the standard tacos you've seen before, but don't be too quick to pass up the smoky taste of pork al pastor turned on a spit or the marinated pork called carnitas.

And then there are those unfamiliar parts of the animals that can be intimidating to the uninitiated. But there's nothing as tender as lengua, beef tongue, or cabeza, the meat found on the head of the animal.

Most orders come with radishes and jalapeno peppers either on the plate or set out so customers can help themselves. All serve Mexican and American soft drinks. But many also offer horchata, which is sweet rice water flavored with cinnamon, and jamaica, a tangy hibiscus tea.

For the most part, these are take-out joints, but many offer stools and a counter and a couple have tables under a canopy. Surprisingly, Tacos Velos, located in a light industrial area, even has indoor seating close by.

Many trucks are named for the parts of Mexico their owners hail from, and the flavors of their food reflect those regional differences.

Nancy and Ramon Diaz own two trucks named El Parian after the Guadalajara neighborhood Ramon grew up in. Tacos Morelote is named for the state of Morelos in the area near Mexico City.

Grace and Miguel Guardado believe their truck was one of the first two taco trucks in Detroit. They parked their truck, Los Dos Amigos, on an empty lot they own two doors from their home on Parkwood 13 years ago. And they've been operating each summer weekend ever since.

At first it was just people from the neighborhood who came to Los Dos Amigos.

"We're in a little hideaway spot," Grace said, "and at one point we thought we were going to have to close." But then they told their families in Birmingham and Farmington Hills, "and people started coming from all over.

"My husband had two people from Ford Motor Company come on lunch," she said. "and then next time he had 22 Ford Motor employees. And he says he sees them regularly on Saturdays and Sundays, which is totally awesome."

Most taco trucks can be found along Southwest Detroit's main thoroughfares like Vernor, Dix, or Springwells, but the Guardados's truck is in a neighborhood south of Michigan Avenue and west of Livernois. One truck parks right on Michigan in the lot of a dollar store and five-dollar shoe shop.

Some trucks are only open on weekends but there are plenty open every day, usually from 11 a.m. till 9 or 10 at night and several are open year round. By city ordinance they always park in the same place making them easy to find.

Here's where to find the trucks I visited:

— Tacos Estilo Mexicano, 4049 W. Vernor (east of Clark Park), open Fri., Sat., and Sun. only

— Tacos Morelotes de Cuernavaca, Vernor at Lansing

— El Taquito, 6060 W. Vernor at Military, in the Church's Chicken parking lot.

— El Taco Veloz, 6170 Toledo St., off Livernois, north of Vernor

— Loncheria el Parian, first location is under the carwash sign at the Vernor-Dix split.

— Loncheria el Parian's second location is on Springwells just north of I-75.

— Tacos el Toro, first location is on Michigan Ave. at Martin in the lot of Shoe Depot Outlet.

— Tacos el Toro's second location is 2142 Springwells, next to Sheila's Bakery.

— Los Dos Amigos, 7115 Parkwood, in the neighborhood south of Michigan Ave., actually faces Parkinson between Parkwood and Waldo.

— Tacos el Primo, on Dix at central

— Tacos el Primo's second location is 3700 Central in the lot of the Sunrise Flea Market

— Tacos el Caballo, Springwells at Longworth (south of W. Vernor).

A family eats dinner under a canopy on a rainy Sunday at Los Dos Amigos taco truck. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Miguel Guardada and his wife Grace are "the two friends" of Los ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
One of two El Parian trucks owned by Nancy and Ramon Diaz sits at the ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)