Nearly every day – winter and summer – the Buena Vista truck parks at Chase and Oklahoma Avenues, where it dishes out tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas. It’s part of a family business that includes Ruben Sanchez, his father and siblings. The family started with the small West Allis restaurant of the same name in 2008. About a year later, Ruben says he thought “why not a taco truck?” So in a white, 1989 Chevy Step Van, he took to the streets. It’s been a hit, so much so that there’s now a second restaurant and another truck in West Allis, with a third on the way. Here’s a look at a typical day inside the Buena Vista taco truck, where cook Raul Hernandez cranks out tortilla-wrapped magic while his wife, Zayra, keeps the process running smoothly at the order window.
9 A.M. Preparation is key, as cooks in the Burnham Street kitchen chop tomatoes, stir the beans and boil water with sticks of cinnamon to flavor the homemade horchata. “Everything has to be fresh and homemade,” says Ruben.
10:12 Ruben and Raul load the truck with gallon containers of homemade salsas – red, green and the house specialty, “Grandma’s sauce” (the hottest), along with meats, vegetables, cups and coolers of sodas.
11:16 The truck arrives at Chase and Oklahoma. Raul jumps out and puts two two-by-fours under the wheels to balance the truck, sets out the garbage can, checks the grill.
11:21 The first customer arrives: A man in a white painter’s cap orders three ground beef tacos with “the works” and “extra red salsa.” The most popular item? A steak taco seasoned with the family’s “secret recipe.”
11:33 Harrison Appleton and wife Kattie order three steak tacos with cilantro and onions and three pork tacos “with everything.” They moved from Bay View to Cudahy but come here twice a month because “these are the best tacos in Milwaukee.”
11:56 Raul flips on the radio to Mexican music on La Gran D (WDDW 104.7 FM). It’s a Saturday, so it’s more sporadic than during the business week when lunch and dinner hours peak.
1:12 P.M. “Looks like everyone just woke up,” says Ruben as customers line up. Cars whiz by on Chase Avenue as Ruben refills the tomatoes, cheese and lettuce bins and cuts up another beef tongue that’s becoming more popular, he says.
1:35 Raul puts another 10 pounds of steak on the grill. With their black aprons, the men wipe the sweat off their brows and swig Gatorade as the truck heats up.
2:30 Tony Vasa, 27, and wife, Brinda, 25, approach, carrying their baby. “The food is great,” Tony says. “It’s the only taco truck we come to.”
3:16 It’s 89 degrees outside. Inside the truck, it’s 102.7 degrees. Raul pokes his head out the window for some air.
3:38 More steak and chicken go on the grill. No one day out of the week is busiest. Sometimes companies phone in lunch orders that total $80 or $90.
4:00 A brief lull. They reminisce about the time the truck got a flat tire at 9 p.m., as they were ready to pull out. No spare. No jack. Call for help. An hour and a half later, the tire was fixed. “We weren’t prepared. Now we are,” Ruben says.
5:00 A bag of Doritos appears at the window. The customer orders “nachos supreme” made with Doritos and regular chips. No problem.
5:30 Order for 20 steak tacos. Brian Frankowski, 27, and Brandon Taylor, 28, are picking up dinner for themselves and their buddies. “I come here at least twice a week,” says Brian.
5:36 Now it’s a $65 order – five taco dinners with avocado, plus 10 more tacos. Ruben and Raul calmly, quickly assemble the big order.
6:52 Does this crew get sick of tacos? No. “There’s so many ways to make them,” says Ruben.
7:21 Today the truck has served 50 pounds of steak, 20 pounds of chicken, 15 pounds of pork, three tongues, 10 pounds of chorizo and a sea of salsa.
7:54 Closing time! Raul wipes off the grill, takes the two-by-fours from under the front wheels, brings in the garbage can and starts the engine. The truck heads off into the sunset. Rest, until the call of the tacos sounds again.