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What comes to your mind, when you walk past a catering van that obviously specializes in tacos that's crowded with customers?  Do you thumb your nose at it, and sneer, "I wouldn't eat at no darn taco truck?"  Do you remark to one of your pals, "Gee, if all those people are waiting in line for their tacos, they must be good, but I'm scared to try their tacos because they're served in a taco truck," or do you turn the other cheek and head to the nearest McBurger place?  If you do any of the above, you're missing out of a piece of true dining serendipity, especially if you're visiting Denio's Farmers Market and Swap Meet, on Saturdays and Sundays.

Photo:  El Abaje˝o is a busy place on Saturday mornings, and there is lots of drive-up traffic to the vacant lot where they set up shop.  The white Ford truck, parked next to the restaurant, provides logistical support for the operation.

El Abaje˝o Tacos sets up shop, every Saturday and Sunday, in a vacant lot, across the street from Mariscos Colima, at 100 Atkinson Street, in Roseville, California, using a well-used 1970's-era G.M.C. catering truck as their mobile restaurant.  You can count on seeing the truck pull into the lot around 0800 on Saturday and Sunday mornings, followed by a white Ford pickup truck, loaded with tables and folding chairs.  After the truck is parked and leveled, the range is fired up, the griddle is heated, and the kitchen ramps up for business.  Meanwhile, a canopy is erected next to the catering truck, tables and chairs are removed from the Ford, set under the shade of the canopy, and the whole operation springs to life at 0900, which is the scheduled time when the restaurant opens.  These guys are set up at the same location every weekend, in fact they're so regular that they have a hand-painted sign erected on Atkinson Street that remains in place all of the time.

Over the years, I've noticed that El Abaje˝o is a very modest operation, yet they are consistently busy, and always crowded with hungry patrons.  Why?  What sets them above the competition?  Several months ago, I decided to pay them a visit, but each time I attempted to patronize them, it was standing-room only, with a long line at the order/pickup window.  But on Saturday, August 4, 2007 I devised a plan, and that was to hit them up as soon as they opened for business, as with most business, that seems to be the path of least resistance.  I had asked around, and I learned that they opened for business at 0900, so the plan was to be there at 0900, so I could be first in line to enjoy whatever culinary delights they were offering.

Photo:  The guy at the window takes orders, as I wait in line to place my order.  This taco truck is very busy!

El Abaje˝o Tacos is a family operation, run by mom, dad, sister and brother.  Mom and dad cook, clean and cut up salsa, and big brother takes orders, takes money and makes change.  Sister seems to the be the one to package the orders, as during my visit, it seems that at least half of El Abaje˝o's business is para llavar, or carry out.  Differing from most catering vans, El Abaje˝o Tacos does not have a printed menu on the side of the truck; when you get to the order window, you ask them what they're serving and you choose from whatever they have to offer at the time you place your order.  

By the time I arrived, at about 0915, the place was doing a land-office business, as the tables were packed, and there was a line of about 8 people, waiting their turn at the order window.  Well, I reasoned, there must be a reason why there are so many people waiting in line, and why there are so many people waiting for their orders, so I placed myself at the tail end of the line and waited my turn.  Actually, the line moved pretty quickly, and I was at the window, ready to place my order after waiting in line for only 10 minutes or so.  

Photo:  It's 0915 on a Saturday morning, and customers are lined up, waiting to place their order.

El Abaje˝o doesn't have a menu posted on the side of the truck, but that didn't detour me from asking, in my best Spanish, what types of tacos they were serving.  The young man of 20 years or so, I guessed was the brother, told me that they were serving birria, cabeza, trips, chorizo and tacos de lengua.  Well, I hadn't had the pleasure to enjoy a taco de birria since my last trip to Tijuana in March, so I ordered two tacos de birria, and when he asked me what I wanted on them, I replied, "con todo."  If "all" is available, why not go for it?  After paying the small sum of $2.50 for two tacos, I found a recently-vacated seat at one of the tables under the canopy, and awaited my order. Meanwhile, it was time to do some serious people-watching, and take a few mental notes of the operation, in preparation of this article.

During the 15-minute wait for my tacos, I noted many things, and I'll present them to you in a random order, such as my thoughts were at the time.  So here goes...  This place is busy, very busy.  We're talking like 20 people sitting around the tables, either eating their order, or waiting for their "to go" order to be prepared.  The staff of the catering truck, all four of them, are working together in a space of around 8 by 14 feet, placing tortillas on the hot griddle, warming pots of meat, cutting vegetables, preparing salsa, in an extremely cramped space, with only the order window and the rear door for ventilation, in a temperature that reached 104.9 degrees today.  They serve tacos, and only tacos, with no side dishes, such as beans or rice.  During my visit, the meat they were offering was birria, cabeza, tripa, chorizo and lengua, which are meats used for breakfast tacos in Mexico.  So my assumption is that El Abaje˝o Tacos specializes in breakfast tacos.  I also noticed that about half their business is for "to go" orders.  I was the only customer of obvious Anglo descent; all others were of Latin descent and spoke Spanish, but many of them were dressed in the style of 20-something American youths.  Call it a blending of the cultures.  Some folks were impressed that I could converse with them in Spanish, but most folks stared at me when I took photos.  I got the usual question, of "why are you taking photos?" and I just acted dumb and said that I like to take photos.  During the 15-minute wait for my tacos, I had a lot of time to take mental notes, and notice the steady stream of customers coming and going.  The dirt lot offers a sort of parking lot, as many customers would drive up in a cloud of dust, park their car, and walk up to the order window and place an order "to go."

When my order was called, I walked up to the window, picked it up, and asked brother a couple of questions.  He was very busy, as the operation is very busy, but he told me they're in the same location every weekend, their menu varies, according to what meat is available, and they try to stay open until 5 or 6 in the afternoon, but they frequently close earlier, as their supplies are depleted.  These guys are hard-working entrepreneurs, and I admire them for their effort.  He was busy, so I didn't want to question him further, but I'd really like to know what they do, Monday through Friday.  I grabbed my plate, and headed to the spot that I'd staked out at the nearest table.

Photo:  My two tacos de birria, which makes a wonderful breakfast.  The tacos were cooked to perfection, and the presentation was authentic Mexican, and the taste was sublime.

If you're not familiar with what a birria taco is, its made of grilled goat meat, that 's grilled, then shredded,  and placed in a pot of spicy ingredients, and simmered until the flavors are well-blended; it's a traditional breakfast food in Mexico.  To make a taco de birria, you take a small, cd-sized corn tortilla, place it on the griddle for a few seconds, flip it over, and cook it until it just starts for form blisters.  Remove it from the griddle, place it on a plate, spoon a couple spoonfuls of birria over it, and pile on your favorite condiments.  In the case of El Abaje˝o Tacos, the condiments included diced onions and cilantro, which didn't seem to my like a huge assortment, since I'd ordered "con todo," but at $1.25 a taco, I had no room to complain.  I piled on a bit of runny, red sauce that was placed on the table in an ol' fruit jar, and proceeded to enjoy my delicious tacos de birria.

Photo:  El Abaje˝o is the place to be, if you love delicious tacos, with lots of company.  This place is always busy, as I've walked by the restaurant during all hours of the days that they are open, and I've seen their operation in action.

U.S. health codes don't allow small puestos and street vendors that are common in Mexico, so El Abaje˝o Tacos is as close as it gets to Mexico in Roseville, almost 600 miles north of the international border.  Be advised to leave your American customs, attitudes, prejudices, and your English on Atkinson St. when you enter the vacant lot occupied by El Abaje˝o, as you've suddenly entered Mexico, and you're located in Roseville.  For the small price of $1.25 per taco, you get an authentic, south-of-the-border breakfast treat of birria, a stew seldom seen in Roseville, or the greater Sacramento area.  The tacos are delicious, authentically Mexican, and at $1.25 each, you can afford to stuff yourself.  Factor in the Spanish spoken by the guy sitting next to you, the dusty vacant lot, the heat, the primitive, outdoor dining conditions, and the sound of Mexican music coming from car stereos, the dining experience you'll enjoy at El Abaje˝o Tacos can't be beat!  Highly recommended!

El Abaje˝o Tacos
Across from 100 Atkinson St.
Roseville, CA 95678

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