Justine got the idea for Tru Tacos when eating traditional food cooked by Misael’s family. “His family has done taco catering for a while,” she says. “Misael took me to one of the events, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is better than any taco I’ve ever had.’”
At Tru Tacos, open at Jewel’s Thursday through Saturday, the two try to recreate these tacos from family recipes, lightly editing them with “their own spin” here and there. The menu consists of a handful of familiar tacos, like lengua and squash, with carne asada fries and elote rounding things out. There are also weekly specials, including a family posole recipe. You can eat at a booth inside, out on the patio, or take food home. Inside, griddles sing, margaritas flow cold, and cooks shave al pastor pork browned by fire from a vertical spit.
I can’t say. If it does, it’s subtle. You’d have to try the tortilla alone. I inhaled my loaded pink taco too fast to notice.
The al pastor at Tru Tacos is pretty faithfully made from “a passed-down family recipe for generations.” The pork is juicy and well-seasoned, not at all overly heavy on pineapple. The nopales lend some pop and freshness. All said, this is a really nice taco.
I also dug the carne asada. For it, the meat isn’t atomized into bits but left in chunks slightly larger than average, giving the taco some welcome steaky heft. The lengua taco and zucchini taco (a special) are also solid.
On the drinks end, I’d note that the $5 margaritas aren’t your minimally sweet tequila daisies in the classic style, but versions sugary with orange juice and strawberry puree, making for more of the kind of drink you might slug poolside at a hotel near the sea.
My favorite taco at Tru is an unlikely one: poblano pepper and cream cheese. Also a special, it has lengths of pepper in a bath of melted cream cheese that, somehow, manages to stay inside the tortilla. The cream cheese shows the pepper in its best light: full and roasty and vegetal, an A-plus taco that deserves to jump from special to regular.
Lawrence Smith and Aseret Arroyo launched Chilté in fall 2020. Lawrence has cooked at Elements, Match, Ghost Ranch, and Tempe Public Market Café, where he revamped the pastry program. Arroyo has roots in social media and marketing. Roles at Chilté are elastic and each owner often works on tasks that fall within the other’s core skill set. Crucially, Arroyo also has roots in Sinaloa. “That’s really where a lot of experience is coming from,” Smith says of Chilté. “What she grew up eating.”
Though their pop-up has “tacos” in its name, Smith and Assert have been moving into broader territory.
Recently, the duo rolled out birria fufu — a dissected and re-fused mashup that is typical of what you might find at Chilté. The fufu bridged the backgrounds of the owners in an inventive way. Smith, who is black, has eaten plenty of fufu, the starchy West African staple. Arroyo’s culture created birria. Their mashup went viral on TikTok, Smith says, but the response to reimagining two separate traditional foods wasn’t all positive. They got death threats.
In February, the theme was a more traditional one for Chilté. They tackled birria.
Beyond the short-lived fufu, Smith dished out a birria ramen and a quesabirria taco on a squid ink tortilla. He griddled the tacos a dozen at a time, tossing on newly pressed black tortillas, melting cheese atop stewed beef, and reaching into the thin smoke of the grill to scrape tacos into to-go clamshells filled with slaw, local microgreens, limes, pickled red onions, and a loose salsa that packs modest pepper flavor and good fire.
These tacos are stuffed, crammed, bursting with tender beef. Bits of green chile accent. The outer shells have a dimension of crispness from their time on the grill. They ripple with toasted corn’s fragrant and earthy depths, as Chilté sources its masa from a Los Angeles vendor who gets the good stuff from Oaxaca. It was a strong taco with a whole lot of personality, especially dipped in a beef-rich birria broth long on heat. A vegetarian version, plump with mushrooms and jackfruit, was somehow just as good.
But that theme is gone. This month, Chilté is rolling out concepts that lean into Asia through the history of immigration from Asia to Mexico. Smith and Arroyo plan to drop (and may have dropped by the time you read this) a banh-mi-torta mashup as well as a bulgogi-style braised beef cheek taco cradled on a tortilla made from seaweed, rice, and cornflower.
Smith says that Chilté will be getting more creative over time. Bring it on. With their careful, distinct, old-and-new points of view, both Chilté and Tru Tacos are welcome additions to our tiny local galaxy of mobile and pop-up taco shops.
4041 East Thomas Road (inside Jewel’s)
Al Pastor Taco $2.75
Carne Asada Taco $2.75
Nopales Taco $2.75
Poblano Cream Taco (special)
Monthly offerings rotate