Food & Drink » Food Reviews

To the Streets

El Ateño and Paul’s Cariflavor food trucks hit the road.


  • Justin Fox Burks

When Memphis loosened its legal restrictions on food trucks and began dispensing more licenses a few years ago, Hector Vazquez and partner Rafael Moreno immediately began saving money. Both men are cooks at the Slider Inn and natives of San Miguel el Alto, a town of 40,000 in the hills of Jalisco, Mexico. Eight months of planning and saving later, the pair opened El Alteño in early April.

Much like those from the North are referred to as Yankees, those from the highlands of Jalisco are called alteños.

The region is known for its tacos al pastor and carnitas, or fried pork used for quesadillas, tacos, and tortas. For pastor, instead of dicing the pork and cooking it on a flat stove, they marinate it, often with pineapple, and cook it slowly on a rotisserie called a "trompo," then shave off pieces of meat, similar to gyros.

  • Justin Fox Burks

The two cook the carnitas in a large copper kettle and use only salt and pepper, a preparation that gives the meat a more natural flavor. They sometimes use Coca-Cola as a glaze.

El Alteño is open seven days a week, with Vazquez operating it on the corner of East Raines and Getwell Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Moreno cooks Friday through Sunday, 7 p.m. to midnight, at other locations.

Tacos are $2, tortas are $6, and burritos and quesadillas are $7 and are huge, Vazquez says, illustrating a giant gut-buster with his hands.

Hector Vazquez - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Hector Vazquez

Everything comes with chicken, pastor, carnitas, steak, or "lengua" (tongue). The truck also offers a cubana torta (ham, pastor, and chorizo).

The pair source all the meat from local farmers markets and hope to open a taquería by the same name at some point.

"Check it out. Try it. You will like it," Vazquez says.

@H_Vazquez1111 on Twitter

Twenty-seven years ago, Lisa Paul, a lifelong Memphis resident, and Keith Paul, an immigrant from Trinidad, eloped to New York.

"He let me taste my first chicken roti," Lisa says of the popular Caribbean dish. "I knew when I bit into that, we've got to make this. This is something I've got to bring to Memphis one day."

In December, the husband and wife launched Paul's Cariflavor, a food truck featuring authentic cuisine from Keith's childhood.

Roti, an Indian flatbread typically filled with curry, is to Trinidad what jerk chicken is to Jamaica. The curry goat roti ($8) is a big hit.

"I didn't think a lot of people here would eat curry goat, but that turned out to be our number-one seller," Keith says. "The day we go out to sell and we don't have goat, it's like we're committing a big sin. And, fortunately, we are able to get good goat in Memphis."

Cariflavor also offers teas ($3) as well as fried plantains ($2).

They plan to launch a second truck by the fall. Cariflavor often serves lunch at Court Square and Overton Park during the week and at Shelby Farms on Saturdays.

Lisa does most of the cooking, as Keith works for the City of Memphis, but gender roles in the kitchen are often reversed in Trinidad.

"We go down by the river on the weekend, and we cook," Keith says. "You stay by the river, swim, and have cookouts. The men do a lot of cooking because we do a lot of hanging out. And, of course, men always figure theirs is better than the next.", @paulscariflavor on Twitter

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