If you live along the prime drag of Columbus, the stretch of High Street from Downtown to campus set off by modern arches that light up at night, then you are a social urbanite. Why else would you pay the inflated rent and put up with police helicopters overhead?
And if you are a social butterfly, then you haven’t missed one of the trendiest additions to the night scene: food trucks.
These bonafide culinary establishments on wheels have sprung up with a vengeance in the past few years, a quirky alternative for the late-night crowd and now a distinct and necessary part of the Short North food scene. They join the tradition established by late-night carts usually pushing brats and gyros to the late-night drunks who crave carbs and protein.
Together they’ve breathed life back into a bland gastronomical prospect.
Los Primos Tacos and the Gyro’s Meal Food Cart are staying true to the simple philosophy that garnered them success with the metropolitan crowd: good food made with care that’s quick, cheap, stimulating and gratifying.
Los Primos Tacos has been serving the Short North and Victorian Village fresh, authentic Mexican fare for two years now. Usually located near King and Forsythe avenues near the market that supplies them, Los Primos’ dedication to traditional foods has garnered the truck a following that believes you don’t have to sacrifice quality for speed or cost.
Andrew Fleschman swears by everything Los Primos makes: “The food is fresh, it’s fast, and it always tastes good. I’ve never gotten a bad meal here and it always fills me up.”
From lunch hour ’til dance hour, the parking lot with the coolest-looking truck in the area is packed with cars, trucks, even bicycles. And on the coldest days in winter, diners still line up for what co-owner/ cook Sol Rodriguez is dishing up.
The specialties of the house are the Chicken Enchiladas served with Green Chile Sauce, as well as the three ample tacos that use fresh-made tortillas and locally grown vegetables as toppings. I had the Al Pastor Tacos because I love pork.
Both dishes are served with arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), two sides not to be overlooked. Unlike a lot of so-called Mexican restaurant rice and beans, the ones offered at Los Primos are scratch-made and could be a second lunch or first dinner all on its own. The rice is fluffy, not mushy, and the beans are flawlessly seasoned, saving them from being baby mush, which is how I often think of Mexican frijoles.
Everything is well-executed: the Al Pastor is sweet and savory, perfectly set off with spicy cilantro and radishes, and the chicken in the enchiladas tastes exactly the way the pollo tasted in Vera Cruz when I went there for vacation many years ago. The flavor is smoky yet zesty and immediately makes you want a cold Tecate, which they fortunately sell inside Las Maravillas market nearby.
It’s a family-run operation, and you walk away not only stuffed with good food, but with good vibrations as well. Rodriguez is a smiling welcome when you approach. She’s bright and gracious and makes it easy to become a regular.
That’s the thing about local food trucks and carts and their owners: They’re some of the friendliest, most animated and lively characters one could meet, a true symbol of the diversity of the Short North.
Like Tahar Meridja, whose Gyro’s Meal cart has been a staple since before food trucks hit it big in Columbus. A native of Algeria, Tahar makes some of the best Mediterranean-inspired street food in town, and for many, a night out is not complete without Tahar and one of his famous gyros.
John Moore always gets his late-night fix at Gyro’s, which is usually set up near the Chase bank branch in the Short North. It’s not only the food, which is “great…hot and made to order…filling and cheap,” but Tahar himself who Moore enjoys.
“He’s a real friendly guy, a character.” And I agree. He regales you with stories while he whips up your meal, expertly slicing, sizzling and laughing, even in the cold Columbus wind.
He’s been doing this for so long it’s like watching a practiced conductor command a full orchestra. His movements are deft, and the smile never leaves his face.
And the food’s good. The gyro is his claim to fame, but he offers brats, sausages and sandwiches as well. It’s a recipe he brought from home, and for someone who has long complained about how salty most of the gyros are around here, Tahar’s is modestly seasoned and prepared for each order.
There is no giant, greasy spool of meat, and all the vegetables are cooked when requested. His pita is soft and pleasantly chewy, and what I appreciated most of all is the fact that it didn’t get soggy before or during the meal. Because Gyro’s Meal’s fare isn’t loaded with fat or bogged down with sauce to cover up lackluster meat, the bread maintained its integrity, making for a really gratifying sandwich.
As the food truck and cart scene continues to expand, it’s nice to still have Los Primos and Gyro’s Meal relying on tradition for flavor and good old-fashioned courtesy to drive their businesses forward. Their food is uncomplicated and delicious.
And they’re the kind of people you want to succeed. They make true what my mother always told me: By their food, you know them. Granted, she was talking about which ones of our neighbors were lazy cooks who used boxed mixes and canned sauces, but still apropos here…and very much true.