Imagine the saliva-inducing smell of grilled carnitas and sizzling onions wafting through the air as taco trucks stretch as far as the eye can see.
Lodi residents might have the opportunity to dig in at several trucks during the city’s first large taco truck cookoff in June.
While sitting outside Tacos Ochoa, Joe Arias describes how taco trucks are his first stop when he comes back to Lodi from Paradise, which is near Chico. He prefers to go to the trucks instead of other fast food restaurants and will go to the cookoff if he is in town.
“It’s just the simple fact that people like to get together and a lot of people love the taco trucks, so why wouldn’t they go?” Arias said.
The city of Lodi Art in Public Places Committee is planning the celebration as a way to highlight the mosaics installed in the sidewalks along Lodi Avenue, said Deanie Bridewell, arts and events manager.
“A lot of citizens of Lodi don’t even know they exist,” she said.
The event is still in its planning stages, but it will be held on the afternoon of June 4 and could include about 10 trucks.
The committee is in the process of getting approval to use the east part of the Smart and Final parking lot, and might also close off Washington Street between Walnut Street and Lodi Avenue, chair Catherine Metcalf said.
Lodi Arts in Public Places is working with the Cultural Heritage Council of San Joaquin County on entertainment. Metcalf hopes the event will attract a large crowd, especially because it is affordable.
“A taco is usually a dollar. Our goal is to reach out to some of the other cultures in the city and have events on the Eastside, and this seems to fit really well with our goals,” Metcalf said.
The event will not be a fundraiser, but will highlight the city’s art in public places program, Bridewell said.
Maria Lopez, owner of Tacos Ochoa, said her business has been slow with the weather and the economy. At the same time, her rent for where she parks her business and maintenance of the vehicle have increased. Food costs have also been climbing.
She was invited to a truck cookoff last September, but they wanted her to hand out samples without getting paid, and she could not afford to do it. She would consider participating in this event because they will be allowed to park and sell from that location.
“It could work. A lot of people would come out and enjoy the new sidewalk and pavement,” Lopez said.
While working Monday morning at La Sabrosita, Sergio Ruiz said he is interested in the idea but has concerns because that is cherry season, and he tends to be very busy in June.
There will likely be a panel of judges to rate the trucks as well as an award decided by attendee comment sheets. The commission is discussing a ribbon or a sticker as a prize that the winning truck could display to advertise its bragging rights for a year, Metcalf said.
If it goes well, the commission is thinking about making the cookoff an annual event. Every time commission member Dave Kirsten tells someone about it they smile and offer positive feedback.
“It sounded like something new that would appeal to a broad audience. ... It also gives those vendors some valuable recognition, some deserved recognition,” Kirsten said.
Lodi already has a long list of food events, including chili cookoffs and crab feeds, but this will be something different, Mayor Bob Johnson said.
“It would be representative of our diverse culture. If you frequent (the trucks), like I have in the past, more often than not they have a lot of people there,” he said.
There are 22 taco trucks in the community, and he said this will be a way to highlight these businesses.
“Many times these trucks are looked down upon, but these are viable people doing viable business, so let’s find out who has the best grub in town,” he said.
About once a month, Stockton resident Maqsood Khan stops at one of the taco trucks in Lodi.
“It is an interesting idea to see which one really cooks the best,” he said.
While standing outside the Tacos, Burritos Tortas truck at the corner of Kettleman Lane and Hutchins Street, Lodi resident Pam Gilley said she usually visits taco trucks about two or three times a week.
She said her whole family, including her teenage grandchildren, would attend a cookoff.
“It’s always nice, you always get plenty to eat, and it’s always really good. You get more than enough for your money,” she said.