Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Beautiful Island

This taco truck is called La Isla Bonita, or the beautiful island. You'll find it parked at lunchtime on Rose Street in Venice, California.

I've driven by it many times, always admiring the wonderful design painted on the side, like a school of tiny fishes swirling in the depths. Today, I finally stopped and got myself some lunch.

I ordered a shrimp taco and a carnitas taco. The shrimp taco set me back $2.50, but the carnitas taco was an affordable $1.50. That and a bottle of water, and I had a $5.50 lunch.

I told the proprietor how much I admired her truck's design, and asked permission to photograph it while she made my tacos.

As it turns out, the fishes that swim on the sides of La Isla Bonita are three-dimensional sculpted fishes, applied to the painted swirls of waves. It's one of the artsiest taco trucks I've seen - which fits the neighborhood, of course.

When my tacos came, I sat down on the curb to eat them. A couple of kids about 8 or 9 were hanging around, waiting for their lunches and chasing the pigeons underneath the cars parked nearby.

This shrimp taco was different than the one I got at La Sirena del Pacifico. The shrimp were steamed or boiled, not fried; their pretty pink flesh gleamed against the corn tortilla. A scattering of chopped green cabbage, and then three thin slices of avocado were artfully layered on top.

My carnitas tacos was unusual - it included some cooked pinto beans. I like beans, so this was a bonus for me. The carnitas themselves were more uniform and civilized than most I've had - this IS, after all, a West Side taco truck. I actually like the charred, greasy, crunchy carnitas you sometimes get, so, while these were good, they didn't seem like carnitas to me. Both tacos were topped with a sprinkle of chopped white onion and cilantro, and a little cup of salsa rojo accompanied them. A few chunks of grilled, quartered onions added a nice touch to my meal.

While I ate, a big black SUV pulled up and double-parked, blasting mariachi music. A fellow got out and went to the window to order. A couple of guys, shaved heads and bluetooth devices in their ears, leaned against the fence waiting for their orders. Their conversation as they waited was about some kind of film or TV deal. A couple of African American women, hair in braids, walked down the sidewalk past the truck, talking about literature. The pigeons cooed and burbled.

It was a beautiful island to be stranded on, for a lunch break. It's an island I'll visit again.

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