In the hunt for the latest trendy restaurants, our spotlight often misses neighborhoods that are home to some of the Valley's best kitchens — including those making metro Phoenix's best tacos. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be guiding you toward the Valley’s tastiest tacos, and the taquerías that serve them. Welcome to Taco Summer.
38: Joe's Tacos
Taquería: Joe's Tacos (mobile truck currently at 47th Avenue and Indian School Road — check their Facebook page for location updates).
Open Since: 2016
Style: Zacatecas-style steamed meats served in corn tortillas pressed and cooked to order
Signature Taco(s): The "Toasted Taco," where the outside of the tortilla is wrapped in caramelized cheese.
When fans of Joe’s Tacos need to track down a plate of the mobile taqueria’s "toasted tacos" — fresh corn tortillas pressed from masa on-site and then griddled with a layer of cheese caramelizing between them on the flattop stove to create what is essentially a soft shell with a crispy cheese exterior — they turn to Instagram and Facebook to find out where Joe Sanchez, 29, and his father, Joe Sanchez Sr., 63, are parked.
“Now, it’s kind of funny. You’ll get clients coming up and ordering 10 tacos, toasted,” Sanchez Jr. says. “It was just something we’d stumbled across. And now it’s a thing.”
The toasted taco began as a humble cheese crisp that one of Sanchez Jr.’s line cooks whipped up on a whim when some cheese oozed off of the edges of a tortilla and browned on the grill. It turned out a little too charred for his liking the first time, but just barely. The incident sparked the idea of cooking a taco cheese-side-down until a caramelized crust formed, curling up from the grill and adhering to the corn tortillas above it.
It worked, and they began filling the crispy cheese shells with their standard fillings, like carne asada, al pastor, lengua, or cabeza, which are all cooked and finished on a steam table to render them lean in a style typical of Sanchez Sr.'s home state of Zacatecas in north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas, where he lived before immigrating to California.
“It’s always been my dad’s dream to have a restaurant,” Sanchez Jr. says. “As we got older, we were able to make our finances work.”
Sanchez Sr. had a taste of his dream, once, owning two restaurants in Fort Stockton, Texas, where the young family settled for a while after a stint in California.
“Obviously that didn’t work out,” Sanchez Jr. says. He describes Fort Stockton, four hours east of El Paso along the I-10, as one of those "fill up your gas tank while driving through Texas” kind of towns. With just one high school, and not much in the way of higher education, the family saw it as a place lacking in opportunity.
“My dad is a visionary, and he wanted something greater for me and my sister,” Sanchez Jr. says.
A family vacation would change their fortunes for the better.
Sanchez Jr. was 8 years old and his sister was 20 when a stopover in Phoenix proved life-altering. “We were on our way to Disneyland and decided this was a good place to call home.”
Sanchez Jr. has been actively involved with Joe's Tacos since the truck started operations at the tail end of 2016, spending his days carting around the bright red concession trailer in his big Dodge Ram of the same hue.
“We kind of joined in on the dream,” he says of his family's involvement in the business.
Working alongside his father in the evenings after finishing up at his day job as a letter carrier for the post office, Sanchez Jr. has hauled the trailer to various corners around the west side, spending a couple months at a time at each location, to try to build a customer base.
It seems to be working, as a large number have continued to follow them. And perhaps their newly invented crispy cheese taco is one reason why. Eaten cheese-side out so that the firmly caramelized, slightly gooey exterior is the first thing you taste, the popularity of their unusual specialty continues to grow.
For now, Joe’s is only open four days a week, in the evenings, with their whereabouts posted on their social media accounts. But Sanchez Jr. doesn’t imagine they’ll be on the move much longer. God willing, he says, they’ll have enough money set aside for a brick-and-mortar location after a few more months selling tacos.
Like his father, Sanchez Jr. has a clear vision for his future. “I know McDonald’s, In-N-Out … they all started small,” he says. “My vision is to have a franchise. I’d like to start here in the Glendale and Phoenix area, because this is where we started and this is where we grew up.”
After the west side of town, he’d like to spread the business throughout the Valley, with his father by his side, the two of them collaborating on recipes, like they have since the start, offering both traditional foods and new creations alike.
Our Taco Summer picks so far:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.