A Truck that Truly Paves the Way, by Jahan Kahusi

I adore food. And I also adore people who adore food. Our adoration swells as we talk about the meaningful experiences we’ve had in the past and hope to have in the future. I met one of my best foodie friends in a BACC Core Linguistics class at OSU; we all had to introduce ourselves and say a “fun fact” for the class. His was that he was from Hood River, and that in high school, he and his friends made a tradition of going to Portland (an hour west of the town) to try new restaurants every Saturday. Ever since, we’ve enjoyed telling each other about different food experiences in the places we travel to and console each other regarding the deficiency of food diversity in Corvallis.So when I was invited to his house for a small get-together a few weeks ago and he told me about a new food truck he discovered and revered within the townof Corvallis, my interest was piqued. He said the place was called “Tacos El Machin,” located on the corner of Western and 4th, and even had a bar in the building next to the food truck so you could grab a drink while you waited.

Arriving in Corvallis to begin my college experience, I was incredibly disappointed with the lack of a food scene in town. Wasn’t there supposed to be a ton of great food in “one of the best college towns” in America to cater the populous living here? Many assume based on my passion for food showcased by my excitement for worldly, diverse flavors that I hail from a large metropolitan city like Seattle or Portland, maybe Sacramento, or perhaps the great food mecca of Los Angeles. Shock overtakes their previously curious expression when I tell them I’m from “Medford, Oregon,” in which they likely wonder why I have any right to be disappointed with the food scene in Corvo compared to that of Medford. They’re right—while Medford is bigger and has more restaurants, it doesn’t supersede the college town by much in terms of providing meaningful food experiences to its customer base. And that’s exactly why my disappointment grew so fervently upon my arrival in the town I would call home for the next four years of my life.

But things appear to be changing. The food truck scene that exists in town is small and relatively new—most of the trucks have been in operation for around two years, as Corvallis passed a measure in 2017 that allowed the food trucks to operate in a permanent Mobile Food Units (MFUs). Upon a Google search for “Corvallis food trucks,” a moderately diverse group of vendors pops up. There’s middle-eastern at Happy Shawarma and Saffron Kabob, American at Cheesy Stuffed Burgers, Hawaiian at GetSum ALOHA KINE Grinds and even Japanese at Kento Hibachi on wheels. But, the only reason I know about these places is through a Google search—I have never had a reference for any of the trucks from my peers, or anyone for that matter. My friend’s recommendation for Tacos El Machin gave me a buzz—it was the first real food endorsement within the town I’d lived in for four years! I made it a mission to investigate the new vendor and make the most out of my first experience with Tacos El Machin by setting up an interview and exploring how this food truck came to be.

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I walked up to the restaurant-on-wheels bellowing steam from its ventilation fan on top of the truck at 4:30 p.m. on a beautiful spring afternoon. A slight breeze carried the intoxicating smell of food being cooked in the truck with patrons already outside placing their orders before dinner hour. As I came up to the window, two people were working in the truck taking orders and cooking. I told them I’m here for an interview with the manager, and the one taking orders introduced herself as Edith (pronounced Eh-deetin Spanish), walking out of the truck to shake my hand and lead me to one of the four metal sitting tables next to the truck.  As we sat down, a couple in their mid-50s came over to say hello to her, and the three caught-up for a moment before parting ways so the couple could place their order. “Those are some of my favorite regulars,” Edith explained as I got my recorder out to begin our interview.

She started by saying the restaurant’s original location opened in Albany (a neighboring town 20 minutes away) six years ago with great success—“people would come from Corvallis just to get a taste of our food,” Edith explained. “We wanted to open another spot in Corvallis because it is a college town with a younger demographic who we thought would enjoy having more diverse street food while being able to get a drink at a bar.” The Corvallis location opened in February of 2018, making it just over a year old. “Everyone loves our setup with the bar inside and the truck outside, and we get regulars from students, families, to older retired people. It’s like we have a little community.” The reason there is a food truck outside instead of a traditional restaurant/bar setup inside, I discovered, is because the bar doesn’t have a kitchen, making it an exclusively 21 and over zone for customers to go and enjoy drink and order food if they wish. “Otherwise,” said Edith, “the truck makes it easy for people to swing buy and pick up food to take home or eat outside on nice day like today.”

Of course, being in a college town comes with its struggles for any restaurant. The biggest struggle the truck has faced has been the slowness of the summer months when students leave and their volume decreases dramatically. “But students were so excited when they came back to school to get more of the food they found here last year that business picked up quick.” As we’ve been talking and the clock approaches 5 p.m., the line forming in front of the truck gets longer and longer. The smell of the street fare hadn’t left my nostrils, and I could feel my attention start to waiver as my mouth began to water at the idea of trying whatever popular food lied in the belly of that truck and the numerous people who had already come and gone.

“So what are your most popular menu items?” I asked, forcing my attention back to the interview and ignoring the chatter of patrons debating over what they were going to get. “While we do serve some more Americanized food like burritos and quesadillas, are most popular and authentic items are our tacos,” she said, glancing at the line and waiving at another regular.Edith was born in Mexico and spent a lot of time there growing up when visiting family, giving her insight into how the food is traditionally prepared and delivered. “Our setup in the kitchen is how they do it down there, and the tacos are the same street-style with having two small tortillas, whatever meat you choose topped with cilantro and onions. The tacos are our thing—it’s what we truly specialize in. It’s a genuine taste of Mexico in Corvallis.” The truck even offers special meats like lengua (cow tongue) and cabeza (cow cheek) that Edith said people are always excited to find. She added that all their marinades and salsas are made in-house at their Albany location and brought over to the truck daily. “We control the consistency and flavor of everything across our locations, and our food is cooked fresh here every day.”

And as I glanced over to see a break in the line, I got the sense this place was the real deal and had plenty of information for the article—my stomach jumped and grumbled in agreeance. After saving the interview, I walked with Edith back up to the truck and asked her to give me her top 3 favorite tacos. The order was placed and after a few minutes I was presented with a beautiful plate of one carne asada (beef strips) taco, one pastor (marinated pork), and one lengua (cow tongue); I was instantly enthralled by their appearance, and thoroughly absorbed by their taste. The asada was juicy and hearty with its grilled to perfection aesthetic; the pastor was mouthwatering with its rich, flavorful marinade that provided a hint of smokiness and spice; and the lengua was the most tender meat I had ever tried in my life, intoxicating me with its melt-in-your-mouth consistency and full-bodied flavor.

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All tacos are $2.25 a piece, making the opportunity to try all the different styles of meats affordable and fun, and the truck also serves up fresh burritos, quesadillas and tortas for those looking to try something else. What allows the food truck to lead the pack in food diversity in Corvallis is the intimacy, care and thought the restaurant puts into its service and food. The setup fulfills a need for anyone looking for to enjoy a flavorful bite-to-eat and desire to be a part of a blossoming foodie community passionate about what they’re eating. Tacos El Machin paves the way for other vendors to come in and make their mark in a new, unexplored territory, providing a model for Corvallis to pay attention to and capitalize on in its rapidly evolving, tasty future.

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