Regulation

The Taco Truck Menace

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The New York Times reports that the city council of Salinas, California, is considering a ban on taco trucks and other food-serving vehicles:

Mr. Callihan [the senior deputy city attorney] said the city's main concern has always been public health and safety, especially since an E. coli scare last fall when tainted spinach was traced to farms in this region.

"There is a huge concern around here because of E. coli," Mr. Callihan said. "It happened after the vendor issue came up. But it fed into it and our need to make sure food is safe."

City officials, though, note that no Salinas vendor has been linked to a health scare, prompting some taco truck advocates to call the rationale for the ordinance "a smoke screen."

A smoke screen for what? Well, "the harshest complaints came from restaurateurs, who said that the trucks had an unfair competitive advantage, fostered urban blight, blocked traffic and were sometimes unsanitary." But mainly that first thing: "We have way more overhead," restaurateur Antonio Campos told the Times, "and the competition is not on a level playing field."

Leaving aside the assumption that the government should protect Campos' livelihood by banning his competition, it's not as if a taco truck is completely interchangeable with a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant has "way more overhead" because it provides a sit-down dining experience and (probably) a bigger menu, features that attract customers who want more than a quick lunchtime bite. The taco trucks could just as well complain that Campos has an "unfair advantage" because he has tables, chairs, and a roof.

According to Callihan, the city is not shutting down the mobile taco vendors at the behest of their competitors. In fact, it is not shutting them down at all: "We don't want to put these people out of business. We want to move them off the street and put them into brick and mortar establishments." In other words, we want to force them out of the business they've chosen and into one they would otherwise avoid. Maybe the city should instead require Campos to close his restaurant and buy a taco truck.

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  1. Darn taco trucks. How is a competitive economy supposed to function with people trying to outcompete each other?

  2. the restauranteurs must have a different definition of urban blight than i do.

  3. I ate off the truck
    the old taco truck
    the Tijuana, locals-only, dog-taco truck
    I puked all night, but I’m all right
    I should have died

  4. [insert “run for the border” joke here]

  5. Mr. Callihan [the senior deputy city attorney] said the city’s main concern has always been public health and safety, especially since an E. coli scare last fall when tainted spinach was traced to farms in this region.

    I haven’t noticed that tacos have a lot of spinach in them.

  6. I used to live in Oklahoma City and every weekend ’round midnight my wife and I would cruise the Mexican parts of town for taco trucks. Some of the best and most authentic Mexican food ever. Since moving to San Francisco last year we have mostly been going to Mission taquerias which offer the same food but in bigger portions. We still find the trucks in the city every once in a while and try to grab a bite and we never regret it.

  7. E. coli has a right to compete, doesn’t he?

  8. Before the pupuserias opened around here, taco trucks at construction sites were the only places to buy that particular salvadorean treat. So there were people who left their offices, got in their cars and cruised the sites looking for them at lunchtime. I did it myself a few times. I did the same while looking for Arepas, a totally easy thing to make, but if you are at work and you have a craving for one, you won’t find it at Taco Bell.

  9. The Taco Truck would be an awesome nickname for an NFL lineman of Hispanic descent.

    Just saying.

    This sounds like when the state tried to shut down Miami’s walk-up Cuban coffee windows on sanitary grounds. The difference there being most of Miami’s Hispanic can and does vote, so that went nowhere fast.

  10. Damn it, now I want a taco.

    This is obvious evidence that free speech must be curbed because it stimulates the appetite. With great power comes great responsibility, Reason!

  11. Managers know better than to fuck around, so if you get one that’s giving you static, he probably thinks he’s a real cowboy, so you gotta break that son of a bitch in two. If you wanna know something and he won’t tell you, cut off one of his fingers. The little one. Then tell him his thumb’s next. After that he’ll tell you if he wears ladies underwear.

    I’m hungry.

    Let’s get a taco.

  12. You can have my taco when you pry it from my greasy, salsa-stained…gawd, I’m sick of that joke. F*cking retire it already!

  13. That should read: Most of Miami’s Hispanic population…

  14. Ron Paul Excluded in Iowa
    Posted by Lew Rockwell: lewrockwell.com

    On Saturday, June 30th, in Des Moines, Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa Christian Alliance will hold a presidential candidates forum. Present will be Messrs. Romney, Brownback, Gilmore, Huckabee, Thompson, and Tancredo. Ron Paul will not be there because he has been barred.

    The heads of the two organizations refuse to say why. If you can find out, let me know.

    Please spread the word

    Edward Failor
    Iowans for Tax Relief
    Phone: 563-288-3600 or 877-913-3600
    Fax: 563-264-2413
    E-mail.

    Steve Sheffler
    Iowa Christian Alliance
    Phone: 515-225-1515
    Fax: 515-225-1826
    E-mail.

  15. “restaurateur” is a fancy way of saying “a guy who runs a taco STAND”.

  16. Burrito. Taco taco. Burrito. Taco. Taco taco.
    Don’t think just because I got a lot of money,
    I’ll give you taco-flavored kisses, honey.
    Fulfill all your wishes
    with my taco-flavored kisses.

    Taco taco. Burrito burrito. Taco taco.
    Fulfill all your wishes
    with my taco-flavored kisses! Taco taco.

  17. Taco trucks are ubiquitous in California. And patronized by everyone. *Everyone*. This has as much chance of passing as of outlawing air.

    But it *is* an entertainingly naked bit of politics. Hey, you don’t ask, you don’t get!

  18. Isn’t it “Taco Wagon”? When did it become the more boring “taco truck”?

  19. Mmmmmm, I had some fish tacos in Cabo after kayaking back from the arch. Best damned fish tacos ever.

  20. This quote sums it all up:

    “We all love Mexico, but once you jump on a plane you leave Mexico behind,” said Antonio Campos, the owner of a Mexican restaurant here. “Once you are in America, you have rules, regulations and standards.”

    We can judge the success of assimilation by the speed of litigation.

  21. Russ 2000. I worked on a construction site, we called it the Roach Coach.

  22. So where’s the post from “Mmmmm Tacos”?

  23. Or is it not that kind of tacos?

  24. You can have my joke when you pry it from my…

  25. I love the Roach Coaches. My friends and I named all favorite locations, Yada’s, G4, Roofaritto, and the best truck is named Taco’s Bitch.

  26. Isn’t it “Taco Wagon”? When did it become the more boring “taco truck”?

    When the last person to remember Young Fresh Fellows turned 50?

  27. have you ever eaten in the sit-down restaurants in salinas? brrrr, scary shit. i’ll take my chances with the roach coach. the one in our parking lot features octopus and tongue. i haven’t asked about octopus tongue… in any case, not exactly what you’ll find in el torito.

    i suppose the proprieter of le bec fin in philly is trying to get the cheese steak stands outlawed.

  28. Don’t the taco truck operators buy their basic ingredients from the local grocery store? Ie, tainted spinach eaten at the taco(?) truck is the same tainted spinach at Safeway? Am I wrong on this? Or are the taco trucks buying organic, free-range stuff?

  29. Here in Highland Park, in Northeast L.A., there are ten or more taco trucks lining Figueroa, from Avenue 43 to York Boulevard. There are also 10 or so Mexican restaurants, loosely defined as an establishment on an wheels serving ethnic Mexican and Central American food (and excluding fast food chains like Taco Bell).

    Whether or a trucks or restaurant does good business depends on whether the food is any good. There are a few restaurants that are very busy, others aren’t, same with the taco trucks. The truck by the Food for Less is great, and it’s packed every night. A few trucks just down the street seem to do much less business. There is a truck on N. Fig next to Sycamore Park truck that sells only seafood tostadas, and it’s awesomeness is belied by the fact that on weekends you can wait in line as long as 45 minutes. I’d eat that stuff out of the garbage.

    What’s interesting is that you don’t see that many trucks on the Westside of L.A., at least in the more middle class parts. I suspect that’s because there are more white people who generally are not significant patrons of the trucks, some don’t like seeing large numbers of Latino people congregating (and they let their councilman know), and the restaurants have more clout.

  30. The competition is unfair, but then, the brick stores can open their own trucks and compete. There is reason to say that the property the trucks use should be taxed in such a way that property taxes aren’t lost to the city.

    One way to judge the sanitation is to look at the hands of the dealer, count the flies, and ask if he ever gets the pee jug mixed up with the oil jar. Best to ask to go in the truck to wash YOUR hands. Like the water, if you eat it enough you build up a resistance.

  31. I would love a taco truck up here in Toronto; nay, anything other than hot dogs. Stiff public health laws mean vendors are extremely limited in what they can offer. The result: hot dogs, sausages, and not much else. They have their virtues, but eager entrepreneurs with something new to offer have nowhere to go but indoors.

    http://www.thestar.com/News/article/160234

  32. There is a truck on N. Fig next to Sycamore Park truck that sells only seafood tostadas, and it’s awesomeness is belied by the fact that on weekends you can wait in line as long as 45 minutes. I’d eat that stuff out of the garbage.

    The food from La Estrella’s truck on York is just as delicious as their brick ‘n’ mortar stand on Figueroa. Yummy fish tacos. Damn, I’m hungry.

  33. You’d think is was illegal,

    Pee is sterile so no big deal.

  34. Heh. One of the best Mexican restaurants near my office sends a kitchen truck to Cambridge every day.

    Maybe these restauranteurs should take a hint from my neighbor’s success.

  35. One of the Greek restauranteurs in Portland tried to get the city to raise taxes on the many food carts downtown for the same (actual) reason. People practically rioted, but in all likelihood, he’ll try again.

    Also: More taco (and Indian, Polish, Japanese, Thai, French, soup, etc.) truck locations

  36. We all love Mexico, but once you jump on a plane you leave Mexico behind,” said Antonio Campos, the owner of a Mexican restaurant here. “Once you are in America, you have rules, regulations and standards.

    He’s lying. There are even MORE regulations and rules in Mexico. People just choose, freely, to ignore them. That is why the food is more delicious in Mexico City than in San Antonio, Tx.

    People do not go to the US for the regulations, that is a great lie. They come to the US because people make more money here. Also (and that IS a big difference between Mexico and the US), in the US, private property is still nominally protected. In Mexico, property is owned by the State by constitutional decree (Art. 27), and land is graciously parceled out to people, if they behave…

    So I can tell Mr. Antonio Campos: no mames, pendejo.

  37. Joel: One of the Greek restauranteurs in Portland tried to get the city to raise taxes on the many food carts downtown for the same (actual) reason.

    He should have demanded LOWER taxes for his business as long as lesser taxed vendors were competing with him, avoiding the protest of the public. Use the word FAIR a lot, and cheaper.

  38. There are even MORE regulations and rules in Mexico. People just choose, freely, to ignore them.

    That’s why you can still get a real Cesar Salad in Mexico. Coddled egg and all. None of that bastard child of creamy Italian dressing crap they try to pass off here.

  39. Mmmmmm, I had some fish tacos in Cabo after kayaking back from the arch. Best damned fish tacos ever.

    I had some fish tacos in Cabo that were amazing. It was the fish that I caught (We cleaned the dorado and released the marlin that I reeled in). After the fishing, we brought our catch to a restaurant in the marina that served the fish as several different dishes. Gotta love a place that lets you eat what you kill.

  40. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    Taco trucks are for lunch, or delicious breakfast, or late-night post boozing. Never in my life have I headed out for a restaurant and decided midway to just get a paper plate of tacos instead. Dinner is dinner … with delicious booze. Taco trucks are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, even if we’re stuck in traffic somewhere.

    LA had a taco truck legislative battle recently, but the beloved trucks are still around. And they are trucks here in California, big expensive catering trucks with health-department licenses and many strict rules.

  41. “What’s interesting is that you don’t see that many trucks on the Westside of L.A., at least in the more middle class parts. I suspect that’s because there are more white people who generally are not significant patrons of the trucks, some don’t like seeing large numbers of Latino people congregating (and they let their councilman know), and the restaurants have more clout.”

    I’m white and live on the westside and have been eating out of “roach coaches” since the late 80’s when I started to work construction. We had a long term job in Bel Air (1989/1990) that the trucks would come by every day with their la cucaracha horns to summon us workers. I have occasion to work in Bel Air still and see the trucks there every time. If the trucks are allowed in that barrio, they won’t be excluded anywhere on the westside (well maybe Santa Monika). I think the key is the “hit and run” aspect, rather than parking long term and gathering attention from the establishments paying westside commercial rents. Usually, you see the trucks in neighborhoods that are not convenient to restaurants (maybe the drivers pull lists of building permits and follow the trail).

    If you want to find a parked taco truck on the westside, try Centinela between Venice and Jefferson (after driving to Cabo and back, my wife remarked that this street reminded her of Mexico, although now it has been paved).

  42. I would love a taco truck up here in Toronto

    Wow, I didn’t know there was anyplace left on earth that *didn’t* have taco trucks. I know someday I’ll be in Tokyo or Skopje or Casablanca, and there it will be, right outside the window of my taxi – “Tacos El Mejor”. Whew! Something I can eat!

  43. Edna,

    I don’t care for octopus, but beef tongue (lingua) tacos are very good. Tongue is not the chewy nightmare you might expect. All the Mexican beef tongue products I’ve tried are very tender and flavorful.

    Also, goat meat tacos. America does not eat enough goat. I eat it when ever I can. (Pakistan goat curry = the awesome!)

  44. “We have way more overhead,” restaurateur Antonio Campos told the Times, “and the competition is not on a level playing field.”

    A perfect illustration of how businessmen are often their own worst enemies. What will Campos use for a defense when Joe Bureaucrat comes a-calling at his establishment?

  45. miche,

    I caught a dolphin, too! The fishing there is great–everyone on our charter boat caught a dolphin or a tuna. The Sea of Cortez is an angler’s paradise. Of course, the Gulf coast of Florida is, too, but there are a lot more people fishing around here.

    Anyway, my fish taco was mystery fish, not something I caught 🙂

  46. Here in Salt Lake the downtown merchants managed to keep the carts out, but they all line up in a big ring just outside the no-cart zone. A TacoTime owner made news when he cried about one setting up business on his block. Nothing happened, though. No respect for TacoTime.

  47. Also, goat meat tacos. America does not eat enough goat. I eat it when ever I can. (Pakistan goat curry = the awesome!)

    Mmmm – cabrito tacos.

    A wonderful case for immigration wrapped in a warm tortilla.

  48. I can’t imagine working construction without having a Roach Coach coming by a few times per day.

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