Oakland’s first pedal-powered food cart hits the streets

El TacoBike is the first legal and permitted warm food bicycle in Oakland.

El TacoBike is the first legal and permitted warm food bicycle in Oakland.

What do you get when you have a taco truck but take away the gasoline and one wheel? El TacoBike!

This new meal on wheels hit town last week serving up fresh and authentic Mexican taqueria food like tacos de canasta (steamed tacos) and tortas diabolicas (meatball sandwiches) via a three-wheeled bicycle. “I’m opening a new avenue of street culture,” says Alfonso Dominguez, El TacoBike’s owner, “because I can roll up anywhere.”

Co-owner of both Tamarindo, a high-end Mexican restaurant in Old Oakland, and its nearby more casual sister restaurant, La Calle Asadero, Dominguez is now going one step further towards casual dining by cruising around town on his new-fangled, uniquely designed taco bike. Debuting last week during Oakland’s Bike-to-Work day, El TacoBike is the first legal and permitted warm food bicycle in Oakland.

El TacoBike in action. Photo courtesy of Alfonso Dominguez.

El TacoBike is a shiny chrome contraption with orange trim and Mexican-influenced paintings that decorate the sides, such as a portrait of a Mexican wrestler wearing a facemask and an image the Virgin of Guadalupe. All the art was hand-painted by local Bay Area artist Mitsy Avila Ovalles and the bike was built by Todd Barricklow.

The bike is a true design feat that comes complete with a hot and cold water sink, steam pans heated by propane gas, and a small eating table that has a condiment holder. There’s also a trashcan, a stereo compartment, an umbrella stand, a rear-view mirror and wheel locks to keep the bike from rolling. There are even clamps on the steam pans so they don’t rattle around while Dominguez is pedaling.

“I’ve always loved bikes,” Dominguez says, who grew up riding bicycles. Not only does he have half a dozen bicycles at home, he also used to have a design studio, Fiveten Studio, where he’d have bike shows. He has also teamed up with North Oakland’s Manifesto bike shop to make a specialty Day of the Dead bicycle, which is a long black cruiser with a skull affixed onto the handlebars.

“I have a huge connection with bikes and there’s a huge bike culture in Oakland,” he says. “It’s an easy city to ride around in.” Despite its size and weight, El TacoBike is surprisingly easy to maneuver. Since it has three wheels it’s stable and it also has a low center of gravity, which makes it difficult to tip over. “These exist everywhere else in the world except for here,” Dominguez says.

Alfonso Dominguez serving up hot food. Photo courtesy of Alfonso Dominguez.

Although he was born and raised in Oakland, Dominguez’ parents are from Mexico. He says his mother taught him how to cook and it’s her recipes that inspire the food he serves in his restaurants. “It’s all to-the-T traditional food,” he says. “ This is what I was raised with, what my parents were raised with and what my grandparents were raised with.”

It’s when he put together his love for bicycles and the traditional Mexican street food he serves at La Calle Asadero that he dreamed up El TacoBike. “Our name is ‘La Calle,’ which means ‘street’ food,” Dominguez says. “It was perfect.” After almost a year of designing the bike and getting it passed through Health Department inspections, Dominguez finally hit the road.

Dominguez has the same food philosophy for all three of his eateries—that the dishes be fresh, made with high quality ingredients and authentically Mexican. “In the ‘90s, taquerias changed so much with nachos and big burritos and turning to Americanized Mexican food,” he says. “The idea of La Calle was to revisit the original taquerias, the taquerias like when I was a kid.”

La Calle Asadero’s burritos were rated the best burrito in California by Sunset magazine in 2010 based on their simplicity and use of traditional chilies and spices. “The burritos are just meat, beans and salsa,” says Dominguez. “We don’t put rice in our burritos, we want people to notice the meat and notice the salsa. It’s bringing the old flavor.”

It’s this type of original taqueria food, which focuses on Mexican street fare, that people will find on El TacoBike. Department of Health regulations limit Dominguez to only heating up food on the bike rather than cooking on the spot, so whenever he goes out on El TacoBike, he loads up on off-the-grill items from La Calle Asadero’s kitchen. These items include the Torta de Buche sandwich, which is Acme bread spread with beans then stuffed with pork and topped with a cilantro and Serrano chili sauce; tamales filled with cheese and Anaheim chilies; and breakfast burritos with chorizo and eggs. All items are priced between $2 and $8.

Alfonso Dominguez. Photo courtesy of Alfonso Dominguez.

So far, Dominguez has brought El TacoBike to events like Bike-to-Work day and Manifesto bike shop’s three-year anniversary of Bike Church, and he’s also cruising the streets. He says that El TacoBike sightings will happen throughout the day, from mornings in downtown Oakland when he’ll serve breakfast burritos and Mexican style coffee to happy hour in the Uptown with tortas and tacos. People can find out where to locate El TacoBike on his website, or by following it on Twitter or Facebook.

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