Tim Fulton  00:09

Welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host Tim Fulton. This week. The capital cities food scene is often heralded. However, its taco truck scene has been often overlooked. Elwood Ellis, a freelance writer for Columbus underground and self proclaimed taco connoisseur is trying to change that. Listen in as Elwood shares his journey and criteria for evaluating the diverse and authentic taco scene, emphasizing the importance of not ranking trucks, but appreciating their unique offerings. He also discusses adventurous and vegetarian options available at taco trucks, the significance of quality ingredients, and the need for authenticity in dishes like Al Pastore tacos. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Enjoy the interviewer sitting down here with dealt with ls a freelancer for Columbus underground. Elwood specifically covers the taco scene, and the taco truck scene here in Columbus. Oh, good. How are you?

Elwood Ellis  01:25

I’m doing well. How are you?

Tim Fulton  01:27

Good. Tell me about first of all, how you got sort of interested in the taco truck scene and tacos specifically?

Elwood Ellis  01:33

Sure. So some a group of friends of mine would once a month go to different ethnic restaurants, just as sort of a thing to do and try out new food. And we also checked out taco trucks. So we’ve been doing that for around 10 years or so. Okay. And about three or four years ago, I took a taco tour with a local company here. And, you know, it just kind of re sparked my interest and started this venture of trying to taste or try to go through every single taco truck in the city.

Tim Fulton  02:08

Okay, yeah. And you are Are you familiar with the guy who is evaluated every crab Rangoon in the city? Yes. Okay.

Elwood Ellis  02:16

Yes. Yeah. I’ve seen that guy on social media. Yeah.

Tim Fulton  02:19

Do you feel like it’s a similar endeavor? Like, the you want to try every single one?

Elwood Ellis  02:24

I think the intention may be is similar behind both. But obviously, we’re different experience and you

Tim Fulton  02:30

are not going so far as to rank each or anything like that. I

Elwood Ellis  02:34

definitely do not like to rank, you know, I like to think of taco trucks, like as if they were my children or pets. And, you know, I wouldn’t want to rank them. Right. Gotcha.

Tim Fulton  02:42

So talk about for those curious sort of, what was your process to become a freelancer for underground?

Elwood Ellis  02:50

You know, I follow Columbus underground have forever. And I saw that they posted that they were looking for freelancers, and one of them being tacos. And, you know, I thought like, this is way out of my comfort zone. Okay, you know, I run a software development team. So like writing is something that I would typically avoid even like in college, I picked classes that were specifically had tests and not enough papers. So I thought, hey, what better way to like challenge myself to do something completely different and start writing? Yeah, I

Tim Fulton  03:20

will. I will say though, like, given that you run a development team, like you write tickets, right, like you write, you know how to write in order to convey information quite well. I imagine.

Elwood Ellis  03:32

There’s some accuracy beyond that. Sure. Okay. But it’s not there’s no creativity in the writing. They’re fair,

Tim Fulton  03:39

but and so you did come to it. They were looking for tacos. Specifically, you believe this was in your wheelhouse. And I think you guys sort of met up at a taco truck and you wowed them with your analysis of it. That’s

Elwood Ellis  03:52

right. Well, first, I put together a taco qualification resume. Okay. Which Which got me in the door? Okay. And then yes, I took them to one of our better taco trucks in the city. And yeah, I think I’ll just went from there.

Tim Fulton  04:05

And so talk through because Walker texted me and said, like, I’ve never had a better time eating at a taco truck, talk through sort of what your the live analysis was like, What are you thinking about? And like, what are you incurred? Did you encourage them to get a certain taco? Yes,

Elwood Ellis  04:20

absolutely. So we can that’s like a slippery slope into tons of content. Okay, sure. So some trucks are better than other trucks and certain things. The the truck that we went to Lowe’s for gIucose is one of the trucks that’s better at everything overall, as far as tacos and non taco items, okay, in fact, they excel at non taco items. So one of the items that I recommended that he get was a gordita. Okay, which is they are they have the most amazing gorditas so it’s it’s a corn masa tortilla base with beans some queso fresco, cilantro, crema and meat of your choice. And then it’s topped with like a little nice hat that’s crispy. Made of the masa as well.

Tim Fulton  05:12

Okay. And this is certainly a, for something you’re going to consume with a fork, right?

Elwood Ellis  05:17

It’s a little unwieldy. Yeah. I recommend kind of using the plate and kind of hunching over as much as you can. But you know, the integrity view of it eventually is gone. And yeah, you have to kind of it’s still a street food, though. Certainly. Absolutely. Okay. Absolutely. In fact, some of the places there’ll be a little bit smaller, a little bit easier to manage and your hand, but there’s, there’s a huge, so it’s kind of like a hold the plate, eat over the plate kind of thing, and then finish up with a fork for sure.

Tim Fulton  05:45

And so talk through sort of what you look for, are you going in blind to these places? Certainly, people are going to make recommendations. But what do you look for on the front end of like this? Do they have an extensive menu? Do they have a limited menu? Like what are the the signals that you may get before you even order for what’s a good taco truck? For sure.

Elwood Ellis  06:09

So if anyone else is there, you know, if they’re, if they’re busy, you know, generally they’re going to be good. Okay. And that obviously applies to restaurants as well. But you know, it applies to taco trucks, too. Yeah. Granted, when a place is new, you know, it’s going to take them time to build up that foot traffic, etc. But, you know, a good sign isn’t necessarily what they’ve invested in the truck. So if the truck is like super fancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean good food, right? But for me, yes. Also the menu, what they offer is important. If they offer certain things, they need to do it a certain way. So for instance, if they, if they offer ALPA store tacos, they need to have a Trumbo and a Trumbo is that it’s a spinning top, okay? They marinate the meat and put it on the tempo and it kind of goes round and hits the fire and, okay, it’s the only way to eat our pasta or tacos, in my opinion. So if they offer that and don’t offer and don’t have that, then I either skip the truck or skip that option. So that’s just an example.

Tim Fulton  07:10

But is it possible that they’re preparing it off site or something like that? Or like, you kind of need it to like a union row, you need it to be like,

Elwood Ellis  07:17

it’s the same concept and Okay, in fact, it actually is derived from that. Okay, so yeah, got it.

Tim Fulton  07:23

And then what about them being at least in my experience with taco trucks specifically? They’re not all mobile, right? They’re all some are a lot are in static location.

Elwood Ellis  07:34

I actually think it’s, that’s another sign. Great question. Okay. The less mobile they are, generally the better they are. Oh, because they’re not searching for customer. Exactly. Okay, exactly. And, you know, if they’re really good, and they’ve been there a long time, maybe they can even move the truck. In fact, one of my favorite places the truck is old enough to where they don’t sell the part to be able to move his truck. Okay, so So it’s literally just like a almost a shack or a stand Exactly. Soccer. And when I say truck, I use that word kind of loosely to define like a trailer. Okay. A cart or make some window and a different business could be could be okay. Yeah. So let’s get back to sort of the the core of it. What makes a good taco? Okay, for me, it’s the quality of meat. Okay, on the quality of meat option. Certainly, there are vegetarian options out there as well that are good. And we’re checking out, I find that the veggie options are better in different vehicles and different items. Okay, but for the taco, it’s definitely the meat. It has to be of good quality has to be seasoned properly. For me, a taco only comes with cilantro and onions. Okay, anything else is blasphemy. Okay? Or, or you can just call it American style taco or some fusion or something else there. I

Tim Fulton  08:48

was had a joke written in here about certain kinds of tacos and the offerings, but yeah, so it comes down to the meat for you for me. Yeah.

Elwood Ellis  08:56

Well, the tortilla should be good. Some places do handmade tortillas, which are good, which can be good, which can be executed poorly as well. But the tortilla needs to be crisp up nicely. And then finally, if you don’t have a good salsa, you kind of ruin the taco. Okay, so you really need to have a quality salsa. For me. I like spicy, like very spicy. But as long as there’s a little bit of hint of spice. I’m good with it, as long as the flavor is balanced, and it’s good. Yeah. And have

Tim Fulton  09:25

you been a taco tourist in the past like this is? I would argue I hadn’t had like legitimate tacos in Columbus until, you know, a couple of years ago. I also wasn’t seeking them out. And it wasn’t until going to places like Austin, where it’s like, oh, this is what a taco is.

Elwood Ellis  09:43

It’s not like a whole bunch of cheese and tomatoes and all this stuff. So I definitely am a taco tourist. Okay, everywhere I go. I try to check out the best tacos in whatever city I visit. So I’ve been to Austin. I’ve been to Phoenix. I’ve been to LA at all of which I would argue Columbus taco trucks can stand up to Okay. The only place that I’ve been to that I would say the tacos are better are in Mexico City. Okay. I mean, it’s pretty hard to beat that though.

Tim Fulton  10:12

Are there things from a for folks who aren’t watching? You are a Caucasian man, you grew up in Columbus? Yeah. Is there any sort of like a thing? Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have prefaced it that way. But like are Is there a cultural divide or something? Things that you need to be aware of? Because this tends to be Hispanic folks that are offering these foods? Yeah, absolutely. Any sort of like it? Should you know how to order in Spanish? It certainly

Elwood Ellis  10:40

helps. Okay. But if you think about it, on the other end, you know, they’re trying to run a business that does serve as people that don’t speak Spanish. Yep. So they, generally speaking, most trucks that aren’t fluent in English will have the basic knowledge of quantity. Yep, item orders, things like that. So it generally isn’t a problem, but it can be appreciated. Yeah. So I’ve actually been studying Spanish for the last couple of years, and I love going to trucks to practice. Okay, get out of my comfort zone doing that, too. So

Tim Fulton  11:12

yeah, it’s fun. But no, sort of nobody’s looking down on you for speaking English. Nobody, like I did not I asked because I believe that there may be some people who feel intimidated by it,

Elwood Ellis  11:22

I can certainly appreciate that. But I would say you don’t need to feel intimidated because generally speaking, these people are these people are hardworking and kind. And really, they’re just trying to make a nice product and earn a living and, you know, they don’t expect you to know Spanish whatsoever. Got it. So yeah, but But again, it does help it like I said before it it kind of breaks down a little bit of a wall between between you great. Is

Tim Fulton  11:51

there anything unique about the Columbus taco scene that folks should be aware of? Or in addition to your column, any sort of resources that they might use to discover taco trucks? Sure,

Elwood Ellis  12:02

sure. So first, I mean, you can follow. Follow me on Instagram, okay, at 614 Tacos. Okay. We have great content. It’s primarily videos and pictures, but we provide brief descriptions of the places we go as well. Columbus underground, the articles, obviously, I’m a member of several Facebook groups. You can look them up and Columbus, taco connoisseurs and Columbus tacos, I think as the other one, okay, those are pretty good resources. But you may get good tips around like what specific to your area, but a lot of the contributors to no fault of their own, don’t have necessarily have a comprehensive knowledge of the city and what it has to offer. So I’ll segue that into how I would summarize Is that what’s unique about Columbus or maybe just underappreciated is the sheer quantity of trucks that we have, really. So there are around, it changes frequently as places shut down and open. But there are roughly 80 authentic immobile trucks. Okay, and 20 to 30 varying degrees of authenticity, but mobile haco trucks as well, that I I am surprised by that. People were very surprised by that. So there’s, there’s a very large Latino community here. So there’s a huge demand for it.

Tim Fulton  13:27

Any, anything that Columbus lacks in terms of that scene that like, it’s why isn’t this here?

Elwood Ellis  13:37

You know, I wouldn’t say so big. Given that there’s so many there’s, there’s good representation, I’d say recently, we’ve added more seafood offerings, okay, or you’ll see maybe on the trucks Moriscos. Okay, which we didn’t have, let’s say five years ago. So there’s definitely been a pickup in that.

Tim Fulton  13:59

Forgive my ignorance. Moriscos would just translate to seafood.

Elwood Ellis  14:03

Just yeah. Very, very seafood offerings. Yeah. You could see that on the truck to know that they specialized in that.

Tim Fulton  14:08

Got it got and that could be fish. That could be shrimp. That could be any octopus. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. All right. And you. You are looking for adventure here too. Right? Like you. You’re like, I’ve never had an octopus taco. Let’s go for it. Yeah, for sure. It’s good.

Elwood Ellis  14:25

Yeah. Okay, actually, you won’t get octopus served in a taco, you’ll get it? Like a more of a CBJ form. Okay, it’s marinated in lime. And it’s typically typically combined with either shrimp or fish. Okay. And, you know, serve with a tostada or like a big tortilla crispy tortilla chip.

Tim Fulton  14:43

Okay, walk me down that line. Are there additional things, not just the tacos on the trucks that like folks should try you had mentioned the gordita and the V che what else?

Elwood Ellis  14:56

What else should folks try? Absolutely. gorditas for sure. Okay, soap is soap is are delicious. So a soap is very similar to a gordita as far as what’s offered on it, so it has, it has the meat of your choice as cilantro beans, the case of Fresco and crema, but what’s different about it is the basis slightly thicker, okay? And it has no top. So what I do is I actually it’s a little bit easier to eat than a gordita. So I actually fold it a little bit and kind of eat it like a massive taco. Okay, so one or two of those are one with a couple of tacos will definitely fill you up.

Tim Fulton  15:36

And besides the things that it might be lacking, is there anything about the Columbus taco scene that’s like, bad or like, so let’s insert the joke. First of all that like there are some restaurants here that are basically please don’t ask me like fancy Taco Bell. Yeah. Right in terms of how because it’s, that is the super Americanized super Caucasian. That is literally a restaurant that has white top, white people taco night. Yeah, insert song here. Is there any, any other sort of like, what you perceive as bad aspects of the scene?

Elwood Ellis  16:16

So I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad because I compartmentalize it and put it outside of what I consider the taco scene. Okay. But that’s not saying everyone does that. And to me, that’s the problem is that when you ask just, if you just take a general poll, per se, yeah, people are going to respond with those places that you’re thinking of, right? The the chain, a handful of local chain places that offer more of that. Americanized taco or you know, fancy taco, like you said, right. So I think if I think of those things is a different type of food item and not an authentic taco. I’m fine with it. Okay. And some of them actually have tasty food. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s,

Tim Fulton  17:04

I mean, yeah, and I’m not like, I don’t think my intention is to shit on them. But I did. It’s much more. Let’s say your friend comes in from out of town from Phoenix or Austin. And it’s like, you know what, I could use some good tacos and you take them to fancy Taco Bell? Yes. They’re going to be like, Oh, that’s what they have in Ohio, or in Columbus specifically.

Elwood Ellis  17:27

And, and that absolutely happens. Not with me, obviously. But that absolutely happens. And it perpetuates that perception that we don’t have the authentic tacos, see, and that we truly do.

Tim Fulton  17:37

Got it. Any other sort of adventurous things in terms of like, what’s available on taco truck? And what, what’s available out there to people? Yeah, sure.

Elwood Ellis  17:47

So I touched upon vegetarian options before and and how adventurous Yeah, well, a handful of them have really, really good veggie options, okay, which you know, being a former vegetarian and go into restaurants it’s, it has been historically an afterthought, right? You know, you get the pasta dish or whatever, yet times have changed. Things are different now. But you see a taco trucks. Often they offer no palace, which is cactus. Oh, and in the summer, it’s a seasonal offering, Florida calabasa, which is squash and they’re associated blossoms, you know, a squash blossom is really delicious. And in the case of DIA, okay, and the final veggie option is Wheatley, Kochi. Okay, which is fermented corn must. It looks like corn, but it’s like kind of blackish, purplish. And it has sort of umami truffle kind of vibes. Super delicious. Okay. typically don’t find that year round either. But when you see it, I definitely recommend trying it. Okay. Outside of that the the most unusual most challenging taco I had was CISOs or brains.

Tim Fulton  18:56

What animal first pig, I assume? Or was a cow.

Elwood Ellis  19:00

I believe it was cow. Okay. Yeah. So cabeza, which is cow head, okay. is absolutely delicious. Okay, but once you go inside the head, for brains, not so much to me personally, I’m sure some people like it. Yeah. Maybe an acquired taste, but but not for me. Well, I

Tim Fulton  19:16

mean, imagine that consistency is what do they fry it? So? Yeah, it’s like cooked on the like a flat top? Yeah, exactly.

Elwood Ellis  19:24

It’s kind of the consistency of scrambled eggs. Okay.

Tim Fulton  19:27

Okay. Okay. I end every interview with the same two questions. First of all, what do you think Central Ohio is doing well, and what do you think it’s not doing so well? And maybe we take this outside the taco realm since we, you know, have batted that back and forth?

Elwood Ellis  19:45

Sure. Sure. So I think the the restaurant food scene is great in Columbus, outside of outside of tacos. I think we have a fairly diverse offering from different cultures, you know, people that have emigrated here and I really Enjoy trying different foods outside of tacos. And I think we do a really good job at that. Outside of that public transportation. Okay? I think we’re severely lacking that we we often have visitors from other countries come here and they’re like, everything’s so spread out like you have to drive your car everywhere. Like what’s the deal with this? And yeah, I think I know it’s a sore topic for some, but for me as well, it’s when it’s a fair point.

Tim Fulton  20:27

Oh, thanks for your time.

Elwood Ellis  20:28

Yeah, thank you

Tim Fulton  20:42

thank you for listening to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite taco enthusiast. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast, get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson, our producers Phillip Cogley, I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.