You might think that in Phoenix, it would be hard for a new taco truck to get its footing. But the ubiquity of the taco in metro Phoenix has not deterred Modern Tortilla food-truck owner and head chef Tom D'Ambrosio from achieving success.
Some may recognize D'Ambrosio as the owner of the award-winning Aioli Burger truck. He opened the second mobile eatery, Modern Tortilla, with partner Kyle Hollenbeck back in January.
"There are a lot of taco trucks in Arizona, but we wanted to do something different," Hollenbeck says.
D'Ambrosio places a significant emphasis on hand-making everything he can. This means, most notably, that Modern Tortilla's corn tortillas are made from scratch. Even the masa is homemade offsite in D'Ambrosio's kitchen.
And it's not just a gimmick. The tortillas are seriously good, and they're not plain. Along with a standard corn tortilla, the truck also offers both chipotle and lime-scented, cilantro-infused varieties. With these, the added flavors are subtle and make a nice complement to the truck's taco fillings.
For $8, diners can get two tacos with three toppings each, as well as a side. For each taco, Modern Tortilla offers a choice of three tortilla types, any of four meats (pork pastor, chicken cochinita pibil, beef skirt steak, or lime-scented cod), and any three of its 21 toppings, which range from chicharons to pickled mustard seeds. This means there are hundreds of potential tacos to be had from a single truck. We didn't try them all, but the three we tried were excellent.
First came the Modern Myan, with a chipotle tortilla, pork pastor, avocado, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese. The slight smokiness of the tortilla worked well with the sourness of the onions and the sweetness of the pork. Next, we tried El Ranchero, made with skirt steak, crema, salsa fresca, and shredded lettuce on a plain corn tortilla. This was admittedly a little less impressive than our first taco, but the richness of the steak was impressive, and the traditional tortilla really shined. Our final taco was the Caribbean — a cilantro-lime tortilla around lime-scented cod, mango salsa, shredded lettuce, and roasted corn. The cod was perfectly moist, with just a little char, and worked well with the smokiness of the corn and the sweetness of the salsa.
"The ingredients are the most important part, not the tortilla flavors," Hollenbeck says.
Finally, we tried an order of homemade churros with dulce de leche and an excellent homemade flan. The churros were sweet and airy, with a satisfying crunch, and the flan was both delicate and well-balanced.
We also tried Modern Tortilla's elote, a Mexican street-food staple consisting of grilled corn on the cob and a variety of condiments. Modern Tortilla tops its elote with fresh lime juice, mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and paprika — and it's damn good. In fact, the elote serves as a perfect example of what to expect on the the Modern Tortilla menu: solid street food that does enough to be different without entirely detracting from a tried-and-true formula.