Welcome to the Neighborhood
Let us pause to appreciate the neighborhood taco truck. True, the trucks parked beside your favorite watering holes are doing the Lord's work, putting tasty, blessedly absorbent food in our bellies when most we need it. But get caught up in yard work past lunch or come home from work to a crisper full of wilted greens and the truck down the block may as well be an ambulance.
The cheery, red Tacos La Bonita truck has taken up residence on the corner of Spear Avenue and Alliance Road in Arcata (1499 Spear Ave., Arcata) with its fancy new appliances, presumably raising property values. With students back in town, expect a bigger crowd at the window. On a recent visit, Jackie Garcia glanced at her mother, Lorena Silva, who does all the "real" cooking — the meats, beans and sauces her daughter assembles into tacos and burritos — and said they'll be there every day, but for a few festivals and events.
A carnitas taco ($2.50) comes with onion and cilantro on a pliant homemade tortilla, the meat tender and simply seasoned. If the homemade tortilla is, for you, the real star of a soft taco, follow your heart to the sopes ($4). The thicker hand-formed masa patty, crispy outside and soft inside, is fried to order and topped with a scoop of the spicy, vermillion chicken tinga, creamy refried beans, avocado and crumbled queso fresco. Tart green salsa is a fine choice here. And just like that, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Meet Me Out Back
If you're looking for some industrial realness, the narrow lot behind Redwood Curtain Brewery (550 S G St, Arcata) is primed for your Instagram feed. There you'll find palettes stacked with malt sucks, hulking silver brewing tanks and the fire engine-red Loco Fish Co. truck.
The truck parks there seven days a week from roughly 12:30 to 8 p.m., pushing breaded fish and chips, fish tacos, fried oysters, calamari strips and the occasional poke out of its window, mostly to brewery patrons looking to offset their IPA consumption. The chipotle fish tacos come on grilled flour tortillas stuffed with blackened rockfish, a ruddy sauté of red and green peppers with smoky spice, mild salsa and mild cabbage slaw drizzled with chipotle mayonnaise ($10). It's a lot going on compared to the stripped down Mexican original you may have shown up craving — and if your shirt makes it out unscathed, I applaud you — but it works.
Treat yourself to the Beer Puppies ($3), hush puppies so named because they go well with a brew. Maybe two orders if you're sharing. The red-headed fellow at the grill, Chris Taylor, uses his Georgia-born grandfather's recipe, which you can watch him whip up to order, measuring some ingredients with spoons, others in fistfuls. Made with coarse ground cornmeal and green onions, the fried dollops are not the usual tight lumps but impossibly airy and moist inside with a crisp exterior you almost don't want to besmirch with sauce, as pickle-tart and creamy as the dill-heavy Russian dressing is.
We need a term for the sudden panic at the start of August when we realize summer is finite and we have not yet had all the fun. It was this wave of recreational anxiety that led us to Lighthouse Plaza (180 Lupin Drive, Arcata) for mini golf in the shadow of a Bunyon-esque lumberjack. Sunshine, beachy breezes, ice cream and, hey, a pop-up tent in the parking lot selling barbecue.
Seasmoke Barbeque's "Captain" Chris Armstrong plans to set up the smoker there on weekends, as well as upcoming festivals like Hops in Humboldt. Still, call ahead (267-4957) or check Facebook before you drive out because there is no disappointment like barbecue disappointment.
Seasmoke has no secret ingredients, no gimmicky presentation or hook. Its Captain's Platter ($20) is a pile of three meats — brisket, pulled pork and pork spare ribs— with a scoop of slaw and some baked beans in a paper box. You may have to dig the ribs out from the bottom. Grab extra napkins. Once you unearth them, they are leaner than expected but still tender and seasoned with a straightforward rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and cayenne. The same rub gives a caramelized crust to the un-sauced pulled pork, which comes apart in your fingers and tastes rich and smoky from low-and-slow cooking. The 12-hour brisket is even simpler, seasoned only with salt, pepper and garlic. Cut into chunks rather than slices, some edge pieces are tougher than others but the flavor is deep. You'll need to search your own feelings as to whether to apply the tart, spicy, brick-colored sauce.
And there you are, way ahead on your summer bucket list.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400 extension 320. Send her your food tips at Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com or on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.