I’m a little jaded when it comes to food trucks, I’ll be honest. Won’t name names, but for me, there’s nothing worse than being famished at a festival, then waiting too long and paying too much only to pitch the flavorless, largely uneaten thing in the trash.
That’s not what happened when I took a bite of arroz con pollo from Que Sazon, a new South American food truck in the Phoenix scene. I am not Colombian like Fabian Ocampo (the guy in the truck), but there is something homey about this humble rice and chicken. It’s the kind of thing you want to come home to find your mom making for you after a hard day. The cumin-forward spice blend is warming, while peas and caramelized onions nestled in the rice add sweetness and depth. The dish is topped with crispy fried plantain slices for crunch and a finish that only something fried can bring.
It’s Latin hospitality in a little brown box, and the arroz con pollo is not even Que Sazon’s main event. It’s a side dish.
Fabian Ocampo learned to cook during his childhood in Colombia, when he, his mother, and grandmother often prepared large, communal meals for family, friends, and neighbors. He and his wife, Julie Ocampo, now operate Que Sazon with that same food-and-family ethos and those same flavors: generous amounts of cumin, a variety of meats and sausages, and herbaceous chimichurri on everything.
The truck may be new to Phoenix, but this is not the Ocampos’ first food truck rodeo. Que Sazon has been serving South American food on the streets of St. Louis, where the Ocampos used to live, since 2014 from a renovated 1970-something van. Last year, Julie and Fabian sold the original Que Sazon truck to an independent operator and moved with their two young children to Scottsdale to be closer to Julie’s parents. Julie says they are looking forward to operating during Arizona’s mild winters, as well as introducing other forms of Latin food to a town flush with Mexican cuisine.
As of January, they’ve got a new(er) whip, renovated to the nines, and are back serving savory empanadas, meaty rice bowls, and arepas in a new town.
An arepa is a sort of flatbread made from ground cornmeal in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine. Like a tortilla, it is used widely as a food delivery system for meats, avocado, and other good things. The Ocampos often compare the arepas on the Que Sazon menu to tacos. Really serious tacos. (I was told that there is no shame in eating their arepa with a fork instead of by hand. I took their word for it.)
The arepas and empanadas from Que Sazon are traditional in form, says Julie, but Fabian takes them to innovative new heights, particularly with his use of sauces. Fabian’s from-scratch Latin barbecue sauce is of note; it’s sweet, tangy, and spicy like a barbecue sauce should be, but unique and indescribable in its own right. Paired with stripes of Sriracha (what’s a food truck without Sriracha?) on my arepa, it made the slices of savory grilled chorizo sing.
Fabian also puts a playful spin on traditional parsley chimichurri by turning it into an aioli dipping sauce for their homemade mixed potato, plantain, and yucca fries.
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Time and care set Fabian’s food apart, says Julie, which includes the time and care various family members spend running and supporting the truck. “This is all about the family and our love. Our hearts have gone into this.”
It’s been a tentative start. “We may not have had a lot of people who have stopped, but the important thing is, `Hey, we touched 20 different people’s palates today,'” says Julie. “We made a difference in the flavors and the food that they’ve been eating, and they’ll come back.“