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socorro
Socorro Salinas shows off his specialty: torta montada, a pile of beef tongue, ham, cheese and garnishes.
Photo: Alexa Schirtzinger

Pass the Buche

A busy summer awaits the south side—for vendors and inspectors

June 23, 2010, 12:00 am
Whatever summer in Santa Fe means to you—music festivals, triathlons, cold beers on hot patios—to Sevastian Gurulé, the city’s constituent services manager, it means hard work. Over the next few months, Gurulé says, city staff will have its hands full regulating the itinerant vendors who have turned out en masse to hawk cheap tacos and other Mexican specialties (tongue sandwiches, professional cowboy boot-polishing, etc.).

Gurulé says part of the difficulty lies in bringing itinerant vendors, who used to license with the county—or weren’t licensed at all—into the city’s fold. Annexation phases make for blurred lines and zoning confusion, Gurulé tells SFR.

“Our requirements are a lot stricter [than the county’s],” Gurulé says. Updating vendors’ licensing takes “a lot of education, a lot of one-to-one communication,” he adds.

To find out more about this growing sector of killer deals and down-home cooking, SFR spent the weekend traversing the city’s south side.

Raúl Jaramillo is one of those vendors who is quasi-famous in certain circles. On weekends, he parks his converted van outside Tequila’s, a bar-cum-nightclub on the corner of Cerrillos and Wagon roads. (It’s also the jumping off point for the $70 direct bus to Chihuahua, Mexico.)

Jaramillo himself is from Zacatecas. He hasn’t been home in three years, he says, but he’s hoping to go soon.

“I need more of this,” he explains, pointing to a shoe polish called El Oso. It’s a vital component of his weekend tool chest, and nothing here quite does the trick.

Jaramillo has been operating his shoeshine business here every weekend since 2007, absorbing customers from the nearby bar from mid-morning until 8 pm. For $6 a shine, he spends a good 15 minutes on each customer—mostly Mexicans, he says, but “también geros.” Jaramillo finishes shining an Arizona cowboy’s boots and moves on to Cervanto Enriquez, a Chihuahuan who visits Jaramillo’s stand every two weeks. Conversation turns to Arizona’s immigration law.

“It’s bad for everyone,” Enriquez says. “Even the people who have papers get stopped. Everybody is suffering.”

Jaramillo shakes his head gravely and concentrates on working a lather into Enriquez’ ostrich-and-crocodile cowboy boots. During the week, both men work construction.

“We came here because there’s no work in Mexico,” Enriquez says. “Well, there’s work, but you can’t make any money. However bad it is here, it’s worse there.”

Jaramillo says business is good these days: He shines 50 to 60 pairs of shoes each weekend. He doesn’t have a permit from the city: “I’m only part-time,” he says and shrugs.

Part-time doesn’t mean you get a break.

“He would need the same thing as everybody else,” Gurulé says—permission from the property owner, an itinerant vendor license and a certificate of occupancy. Food vendors need additional permits from the New Mexico Environment Department’s Environmental Health Division.

Enriquez directs SFR to Airport Road for tacos. There’s a stand setting up next to Jaramillo, but it serves the late-night cantina crowd.

Lourdes and Socorro Salinas may well have started Airport Road’s taco-truck revolution. Eight years ago, when Jalapeño’s was merely a gleam in owner Raul Aboytes’ eye, the Salinases bought a truck and parked it under a tree. The menu is spare and amateurishly painted, with prices to match: $4.50 gets you a sizable torta, or Mexican sandwich, Cokes are 75 cents, and tacos are $6 for four.

Socorro, who moved here from Chihuahua 15 years ago but still speaks mostly Spanish, recommends the tacos de barbacoa—seasoned beef with a consistency like pulled pork.

“They’re greasy,” he says, “but they’re the best.”

New taco stands are opening all the time on Airport Road, Lourdes says—but even the competition (plus a $50 per year permit renewal fee) isn’t denting the Salinases’ business. Even at off hours, the makeshift parking lot is packed.

Santa Fe County Development Permit Specialist Oliver Garcia tells SFR the county currently has only two active itinerant vendor permits—in part because the city took over managing Airport Road’s vendor scene in October, 2009, but also because not everyone who tries on Airport Road makes it. Down the road, the manager of the month-old La Chabelita taco stand, Hever Canseco, says he’s already serving 200 customers a day.

But Julio Perales, who operates the brightly-painted, graffiti art-adorned Famous Oasis stand down the street, isn’t having as much luck.

“I don’t get a lot of Mexicans here,” Perales, whose parents are from Juárez but who grew up in Santa Fe, says. “I get a lot of white people.”

Perales says that might be because his fare—Frito pies, breakfast burritos, snow cones—carries a stateside influence.

“Mejicanos like their tacos and hot salsa,” Perales says. He does have tacos ($7 for four), but their clean, unseasoned meat isn’t quite as compelling as the juice-dripping, flavorful stuff down the street.

Perales does have one advantage over some businesses: He’s legit.

“People come, they ask me if they can sell [food] here,” Perales tells SFR. He says his landlord won’t allow it—a smart move, considering liability for unpermitted vendors rests with the landlord.

“That’s why my business looks empty,” Perales says. “I don’t want my place to look ghetto. This is my baby, my everything.”

In case you’re salivating…

Tastiest tacos: La Chabelita
Well-loved Jalapeño’s might have some competition from this little stand serving all manner of Mexican favorites, from “gringas” (meat-stuffed quesadillas) to gorditas. Manager Hever Canseco recommends the tacos al pastor, which are stuffed with tender, pineapple-marinated pork, lots of cilantro and served with the obligatory lime wedge and spicy salsa verde.
Find it: 301 Airport Road, right next to Jalapeño’s

Most gero-friendly: Famous Oasis
Julio Perales’ food brings old and New Mexico together: traditional dishes, cleaned up and served healthy (less grease, more greens), plus a few ways to dabble without committing, like the frozen mangoñadas (think popsicle-in-a-cup).
Find it: 4641 Airport Road; look for the bright graffiti art and a tin-roofed dining “patio”

Most like being in Mexico: Socorro Salinas’ taco truck
Here, you’ll get the real deal—beef tongue, pork belly, well-garnished tacos and Jarritos sodas—plus friendly service and a chance to chat with the crowd of people perched on their car hoods,
hungrily munching tacos.
Find it: next to the Praise Tabernacle at 503 Airport Road

Hangover prevention: unnamed stand next to Tequila’s
SFR didn’t sample this one, mainly because we were leery of venturing into Tequila’s (or even its parking lot) after midnight—but rest assured that if you’re out late, hopefully not driving around, this little stand can deliver.
Find it: at the corner of Cerrillos and Wagon roads, near Santa Fe Place



 

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