Work at Penn long enough and the lore of the food trucks seeps into your bones as deeply and irrevocably as the words to “The Red and Blue” (okay, bad example). Some trucks—think Magic Carpet—boast followings so legendary patrons are willing to line up for 20 plus minutes in all weathers to snag their lunchtime treat.
Hardly on that scale, but popular nonetheless is MexiCali, a tiny burrito truck that sets up on Spruce, between 36th and 38th. And just as it’s a given there’ll always be a line at MexiCali, it’s also a fairly sure bet there will be no line outside its neighbor, Taco Pal. Why the latter chooses to cleave so close to its competition is a mystery to us, but we figured we’d give both a chance to become our Mexican food standby, peer pressure be damned.
For a burrito that’s a bit outside the norm, try MexiCali’s plantain, hominy and citrus burrito ($4, with sour cream). This hearty dish melds the sweet blandness of plantains with the spicy zing of salsa. It’s also loaded with rice and cheese; sour cream and guacamole are optional. Pressed flat on a grill for a few minutes, the soft tortilla is crisp in spots, offering a nice contrast to the plantain and melted cheese. MexiCali’s “hot” salsa has some real bite to it, too.
The chorizo and potato burrito ($3.50) is a very messy affair—sloppy beans and cheese mingling with a rustic mix of potatoes and ground chorizo—but the flavor is rich and earthy and with a lunch this satisfying, who needs dinner?
Sweet potato in a burrito ($3.25) sounds like an unusual combo but at Taco Pal turns out to be delicious. The sweetness of the yam contrasts well with the jalapenos, black beans, sour cream and Mexican spices piled on top. And though we find this overloaded burrito a tad tricky to eat—we’ll definitely be back for more.
Taco Pal’s taco ($1.75), sadly, is no pal of ours, with its unappetizing strips of slippery chicken smothered in sour cream and sprinkled with unlovely iceberg. For a quick midday snack, though, we like the light and crispy chickpea quesadilla ($3.25) with optional jalapenos for a dash of heat.
We didn’t try enough dishes to make a comprehensive comparison. We will say this, though. If you like your burritos a touch crispy and a lot spicy, opt for MexiCali. If you’re in a hurry, it’s a no brainer—get in the express line at Taco Pal, and ask for extra jalapenos.
Originally published October 19, 2006.
Originally published on October 19, 2006