Where Y’Eat: At New Orleans Taco Trucks, a Quick Lunch, a Long Katrina Legacy

Aug 29, 2019

It happens to all of us. Maybe your lunch break is limited to 10 minutes, or something less than ten dollars. Maybe a sit down restaurant is out of the question, and you still won’t stoop to big chain fast food.

You see a taco truck ahead and the matter is settled.

You will wash down three tacos with a Mexican Coke and get back to it. There was a time when quick, cheap, handmade street food like this was hard to come by in New Orleans. That time abruptly ended after Hurricane Katrina.

In the years since, the taco truck has become a fixture of New Orleans street food, one that also provides a tangible, edible link to the changes still unfolding in our city.

The Latino workers who rapidly arrived in New Orleans after Katrina carried our city’s early recovery on their backs. Taco trucks followed on their heels, providing a taste of home in what was then a strange, broken, sometimes hostile new land.

Taco trucks became a symbol of the area’s sudden demographic shift, and against the backdrop of Katrina’s convulsive trauma, that shift was not always welcomed. Jefferson Parish officials soon outlawed taco trucks, swiftly clearing them from the suburbs.

But in the city itself, the trucks have had a different trajectory, working their way into the mainstream. Their customer base now includes every walk of New Orleans life. It turns out their appeal extends to craftsmen on the job, almost-broke college kids and harried moms in a rush.

I know they have bailed me out plenty of times, maybe dashing between deadlines or looking for a little reward when some household project entails a third trip back to Home Depot.

In my mangled Spanglish I order tightly rolled burritos, gloriously messy torta sandwiches and the classic, a quick clutch of tacos al pastor. It’s true Latin flavor and a taste of a changing New Orleans, with a sprinkling of cilantro, incendiary salsa verde and maybe even a dose of gratitude, a word that sounds pretty similar in English or Spanish.