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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “old” restaurants. Not Cattlemen’s or Eischen’s, mind you. I’m talking about “old” in local restaurant terms—that’s anything from five years to a couple of decades.
My friends at Rococo, for instance, or the dearly departed Irma’s Burger Shack; they aren’t “old” so much as they aren’t “new.” But being established doesn’t mean life is easy. We’re losing restaurants by the handful these days—some are barely in business before they shut down and others fade away because they’ve lost that “buzz” from foodies that helps drive customers.
And then there’s Big Truck Tacos.
In the far off days of 2010, Oklahoma Citianiters (the official name for residents of OKC) were abuzz with the promise of food trucks. What?! Food? On a truck?! For a state pretty flush with trucks, we got very, very excited about being served meals of a mobile persuasion. While Big Truck Tacos certainly gained some followers of their food truck, it was clear early on that most diners preferred visiting the brick-and-mortar location on NW 23rd St. Seriously, if you think parking is a pain now, you should have seen it in 2010-2011. (All the more reason to grab a Spokies, if you know what I’m saying. WINK.)
It’s been a decade of, frankly, wild success for BTT. Not that the dining room is huge, but it’s not an 8-seat diner, either, and it is perpetually packed. The drive-thru is always hopping, too.
What’s the secret? I have no idea. Well, I have some idea, but it’s nothing you couldn’t come up with on your own.
1. Big Truck was the first major new addition to NW 23rd St. after decades of decline.
2. They bridged the gap, locally, between taquerias and the traditionally white northside residents. If Big Truck was the first place you tried al pastor or carnitas, it probably blew your mind all the way open.
3. The restaurant is fun, fast-paced, and it has a playful attitude. And it isn’t a chain. That’s still something everybody craves now, but in 2010, it was downright revolutionary.
Being first to market, in a sense, is a huge advantage and Big Truck never stopped trying to innovate. One of their signature dishes is a taco that changes every day and they won’t tell you what it is until a day after you ate it. Maybe the 5th Amendment ($4.25) seems normal by now, but that is still wild and I don’t know who else in OKC could pull it off.
And that’s where Big Truck delivers the coup de grace:
Yeah, if you take away the T-shirts and the insane Facebook presence and the silly names on the dishes, you’re left with the food. And, having recently revisited the menu, I’m happy to report that Big Truck still kills it by pushing the bounds of taqueria tacos (and burritos, and tostadas, and…) with a chef’s precision.
A lot of old favorites remain—The Rancher is brisket with sauteed mushrooms and onions; The Guardian switched from bison to grass-fed beef, but the flavor of the picadillo remains solid; The Crispy’cado is still knocking it out of the park for vegetarians and omnivores alike—but I was more excited to see the new (relatively speaking) crop of items.
The Thunder-inspired Red Hot Rumble ($4.50) would be an every visit favorite except it’s only available on Tuesdays. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and scarcity makes my hunger more urgent, so I guess it’s good I can only get a taco filled with fried chicken tossed in spicy “Rumble sauce,” lettuce, pickles, pickled jalapeños, and cotija cheese once a week.
It’s spicy, but it’s not intolerably spicy, even for those who blanch at moderate heat levels. But this is basically a Nashville hot chicken taco and, readers, I am here for it.
I wasn’t as thrilled with the Okie-Wahoo ($4), which is a fairly standard fish taco. You get your marinated tilapia, your jicama-cabbage slaw in a sweet chili sauce, and a sprinkle of green onions. Great for those counting calories, pescatarians, or just people who want something mild. But if I’m biking over and can spare the calories, I’d go for something with a bit more oomph in the flavor department. Your mileage may vary.
If it’s the fruit of the sea you’re after, I like the fried shrimp taco ($4.25) better. Yes, the fried cornmeal batter adds calories, but it also adds a lot of flavor and texture. Pile on spicy mango mayo and pineapple pico de gallo (and a little lettuce, to round it out) and you’ve got a tasty treat.
By the by, the word “Big” in Big Truck Tacos modifies both the truck and the tacos. So, grammatically and culinarily speaking, you probably only need one or two tacos for your meal. But if you’ve got a hunger that calls for delicious gluttony, let me tell you about the Dirty Bowl ($5.50 plain, plus $3-5 to add a protein).
The Dirty Bowl is full of crumbled tortilla chips, refried beans, and a heavy ladle of queso, with guacamole, roasted jalapenos, and pico de gallo on top. I paid $3 extra and got beef picadillo on top.
This thing is massive. It feeds two normal people or one athletic little brother (mine, at least) with ease. It’s nachos that you eat with a spoon and, again, I am here for it. I don’t know if eating a Dirty Bowl makes you feel dirty, but it certainly felt illicit, like I was getting away with something. It’s so much richness and so much flavor and you should take so much (actually, a regular dose of) heartburn medication if you plan on sleeping in the next 12 hours. It’s painful, but worth it, like ending a relationship with me.
Similar, but way lighter is the I-40 Pile-Up Tostada ($5.50 plain, plus $3-5 to add a protein), which is kind of Big Truck’s version of a taco salad. Rather than a deep well of fried shell, this one lays down a 12-inch tostada absolutely covered in rice, refried beans, cheese, and lettuce with dollops of guac, pico, and sour cream on top. I got mine with lime-marinated grilled chicken and the flavors worked together beautifully. It’s very salad-y, but very filling. And the tostada stays crisp at the bottom, happily breaking into smaller pieces to be shoveled into your waiting mouth. But if you get this thinking you’re going to eat it with your hands like a Taco Bell tostada, bring a bib and a complete lack of shame.
But maybe that’s not salad-y enough for you, in which case, let’s eat an actual salad. The Santa Clarita Cobb ($9.25) piles on the mixed greens before adding grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, pico, tortilla chips, and queso fresco, served with your choice of dressing. Swapping out rice and refried beans for more lettuce definitely lightens the dish up, but the addition of bacon makes sure you’ll leave satisfied. While the sliced avocado is a nice touch, you might ask to swap it for guacamole if you prefer a little more heat.
I got a little nervous about my thesis statement about how busy Big Truck still is a decade in when I went for an early dinner and found a wide-open dining room. Yeah. I needn’t have worried, because by the time our food arrived, the dining room was packed again. Nothing is going to keep Big Truck from rolling.
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