For years, I was chasing a ghost. Its name: Camacho's Best Tacos.
On several occasions, idling in traffic or passing through downtown, I'd caught a glimpse. A small pickup truck with a shiny metal canopy on back, Camacho's cruises to different locations throughout the week, heating up tortillas and packing together tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tortas on the spot. There's just one problem. There's no real way of knowing where Camacho's will be on a given day. Only bare-bones info comes up in a Google search, and Camacho's clearly hasn't yet hired a social media intern. Would I never taste Camacho's top-flight cuisine? On some days, the thought of the burritos I wasn't eating proved too much. Pulling into the driveway at the end of a long day at work, I'd sit alone in my car before going inside, weeping.
Then, a few weeks ago, a sign. I noticed Camacho's parked on the south side of Ringling Boulevard, between Palm and Pineapple. I slammed on the brakes and sprinted over, just in time to see the Camacho's staff slam shut the doors and speed off. I cursed my luck, but at the same time a steely new resolve was forged in the smithy of my soul. After years of hunting Camacho's, I now had a clue.
It turns out Camacho's hits up that Ringling location on the regular. After staking out the street during lunchtime, I've finally caught onto the routine. The truck arrives around noon and hangs around till there are no more customers, then splits. Planning a romantic parking lot lunch date with my wife, Rachel, I snag a spot in line and wait.
The customers around me almost all come from a couple nearby constructions sites: the new downtown Aloft going up and Sansara, an in-progress luxury condo at the corner of Ringling and Pineapple. Dressed in bright fluorescent green and orange T-shirts, dusty jeans and thick-soled boots, the customers (almost all men) are spending their lunch break with Camacho's, lounging in the shade offered by a nearby banyan tree before getting back to work. Above us towers an immense crane; an American flag whips in the wind. The line that stretches from the back of the truck moves pretty quickly, and the food comes out rapidly.
Camacho's tacos may indeed be the "best," but Rachel and I are opting for burritos ($6). A Camacho's staffer sizzles a couple tortillas and grabs generous handfuls of pastor and carnitas, then tops both mounds of meat with rice, lettuce, shredded cheese, diced white onions, chopped cilantro and some type of creamy sauce. In the side of the truck, I find green and red chili sauces, a pile of lime wedges and a stash of beverages. I deliver lunch to my wife in a shady nearby lot. Setting our Styrofoam plates on the closed trunk of her car, we dig in.
After so much buildup, in truth, I expect to be disappointed. But the opposite happens. These burritos amaze. The pastor, in particular, knocks my socks off. The pork has been stewed soft but then caramelized perfectly. Little crunchy bits have developed on the edges of the meat, but the flesh is never tough or chewy. And the balance of ingredients is just right. You get crunch from the onions, floral notes from the herbs, starch from the rice, salty funk from the cheese, a jolt of acid from the lime and straight fire from the blazing red hot sauce. Holy Toledo. The carnitas is similarly excellent—moister and stringier, but still crazy flavorful. Not a fan of spicy food? Dial everything down by using the truck's mild green sauce instead.
Has Camacho's changed me? No. It's changed everything. My greatest fear is that once the Aloft and Sansara are completed, Camacho's will move on to new territory and new customers. But even if one day it doesn't appear on Ringling at the appointed time, I'll never rest in my quest to find it again. The chase will go on.