By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Through the sound of electric hair clippers, I could hear growls emanating from the stomach of my hair stylist while her midsection pressed against my arm. She excused herself with a chuckle, adding that I was the last appointment before her lunch break.
When I nosily asked where she’d be eating, she replied with maniacal enthusiasm, “That truck selling fish tacos down the street on Friars Road. It’s the best Mexican food anywhere!”
For nearly two years, I’d been passing this kitchen on wheels parked daily at Del Mesa Foods and Liquor near my residence, intrigued by the lines that form around it despite the vehicle’s lack of aesthetics. Now, with a firm recommendation, I decided to cheat on my go-to joints for cheap Mexican grub.
Sorry La Posta and Roberto’s.
Known as Kiko’s Place, the truck is a descendant of a former family-owned taco stand dating back to 1983 in San Felipe, Mexico.
“My father started that business in Mexico, but our family closed it some years ago,” said Javier Escamilla, who also owns a second Kiko’s truck that operates everyday from the parking lot of Texas Food and Liquor in North Park. Both feature the same seafood-heavy menus.
Since making a couple visits to the Mission Valley site, I feel that any fish taco or seafood burrito that enters my mouth will henceforth taste blatantly north-of-the-border in comparison. The heart and soul that goes in to Kiko’s cooking becomes evident upon taking your first sip of seafood broth dispensed for free while waiting for your order.
Scallops, clams, oysters, octopus, sea bass and marlin trawled from Baja waters dominate the menu, landing in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, ceviches and seafood cocktails. Shrimp are served in abundance, too. They’re sourced from Ecuador.
As common throughout many Mexican provinces, the proteins cozy up often to medleys of crisp, grilled vegetables, including thick-cut celery folded into Kiko’s piquant and well-endowed shrimp burrito, called The Governor. Cheese is kept to a minimum, in fact only visible if you look hard.
In the surf-and-turf taco called “chignon,” shrimp and carne asada team up with diced red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and what seemed like tiny cubes of honeydew melon. The beef was somewhat under-seasoned, but the other ingredients compensated with their garden-fresh flavors.
If you’re hankering for chicken or beans or rolled tacos, they don’t exist here. Nor do water or sodas, which is advantageous to the stores from which the trucks operate, if not a condition within their partnerships.
Though if you want “Viagra,” you’re in luck. It’s the name of Kiko’s heartiest seafood cocktail, a “clamato” to be exact, which contains every species of fish kept in stock, all of it cloaked in mildly tangy tomato sauce laced with clam juice.
I preferred the shrimp cocktail because it was more manageable in terms of volume. Plus, I fell instantly in love with the sweet, firm quality of the shrimp here, and I wanted as much of it as possible. Served in clear, plastic cups and available in four sizes, the cocktails are capped with impressive slabs of avocado.
The fish tacos were heavenly. Fillets of battered sea bass were hidden beneath mantles of unadulterated guacamole, crisp cabbage, raw onions, tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and white sauce that’s a little thicker than most. You can order the fish grilled as well, but when I’m leaning against an old-school food truck with genuine ties to Mexico, the extra calories don’t scare me.
Neither do the house-made hot sauces kept on ice from the built-in condiment bar. The thick, red salsa made from dried chili peppers is the bomb. I dabbed it on everything. There’s also creamy chipotle and a thin habanero sauce, both of them hot, but offering notable depths of flavor.
Less reachable is the small order window perched about seven feet from the ground. Some neck cranking and arm stretching is required when paying and receiving your food. But it’s worth the strain.
The trucks open at each location at 10 a.m. daily and continue serving until 7 p.m. on most days.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.