We’d heard the buzz around the Bay Area for the past couple months and could only sit back and listen so long. Taco Bus on Hillsborough Avenue was the second stop on our Tampa Taste Tour this past Wednesday, and while dining there a handful of times before, I finally got to eat with a food writers eye (or tongue?) at the Taco Bus and give you my take on this beloved, bus-ridden taco stand everyone’s been talking about.
The original Taco Bus sits in a converted school bus connected to a small dining area on Hillsborough Avenue. Expanding with a location in Downtown St. Petersburg and soon, Downtown Tampa, it’s probably safe to say the bus is now a Tampa staple when it comes to relatively fast, cheap and authentic Mexican cuisine.
Horchata, a common Spanish drink made with rice, condensed milk, vanilla and cinnamon, is a speciality at Taco Bus and easily a treat that could stand alone, especially in this brutal, Florida heat. Think a lighter, cool and liquid-y vanilla milkshake with a hint of cinnamon.
When it comes to food, Taco Bus strays from predictably Tex-mex entrees like many of its competitors and takes a more authentically Mexican route. Sure the staples are there – burritos, tacos, quesadillas – but they’re nothing like a meal you’d expect from, say, Tijuana Flats, Moe’s or Chipotle. Burritos come stuffed with crunchy, purple cabbage, assorted veggies, and shredded white cheese (no queso here), and your choice of protein.
Taco Bus’ carne asada, which I opted for in the burrito, comes in small, savory chunks and takes up most of the real estate inside this rolled-up meal. While savory, I found the carne asada to be a tad salty, but I was nowhere close to throwing the burrito down in disgust or anything. Saltiness in food, I’ve learned, is a largely personal preference so take that as you will.
The torta (Mexican sandwich) always looked so intriguing when I’d peruse the Taco Bus menu in the past, but when you know what you like it’s hard to stray from your regular choice. Mustering up my fear of change, I went for it; Torta with Puerco Asado (grilled, seasoned, diced pork).
The verdict; sweet jeebus, can you build loving relationships with sandwiches? Because the torta is going to the apple of my eye for a long while. I picked up this behemoth and juice immediately ran down my hand. You know those sandwiches so big, it’s hard to decide where to chomp down first? Yeah. This thing is a divine, sloppy delight rife with all the standard fillings stuffed between two edible down pillows of buns perfect for sopping up all the juices. I’m particularly glad no one was close enough to watch me eat this thing; not my proudest moment, but for the torta at Taco Bus, absolutely worth it.
I’ll be the first to admit, Taco Bus isn’t for everyone. It’s a far cry, like I mentioned, from prototypical Tex-Mex fare and was really like nothing I’d tasted before when trying it for the first time. If anything’s for sure, Taco Bus is definitely worth the try, even if just once. Judging by the Tampa Bay Area’s reception, they’re not going anywhere for a while. You’ve got some time, but if you’re asking me, I’d say get on over ASAP and see what Taco Bus is all about.