Though it’s a roving taco truck, Tacos El Vagabundo‘s (Queens Plaza at 40th-41st Street, Sunnyside, 347-276-4522) presence in Sunnyside, Queens is abiding. Every night of the week “The Vagabond” parks on Queens Plaza between 40th and 41st Streets, operating as a nighttime rapid-fire hot-line of burritos ($7), tortas ($6), quesadillas, tacos ($2.50), and the occasional off-menu huarache.
The truck’s owner has an amiable relationship with the local pub, The Courtyard Ale House, built on the mutual understanding that beer tastes better with salty bites of melting cheese quesadillas and vice versa. On any particular night it seems as though a quarter of the patrons are clutching a foil-wrapped burrito stuffed with rice, beans, cheese, and chicken and a beer to counter the heat.
The rotating cadre of El Vagabundo cooks are quick to smile, teasing regulars while assembling their orders to-go, hammering out the finer points of the Mayweather-Canelo fight with those who choose to stay and eat. They are particularly considerate, the taqueros, asking their customers, green or red salsa? Jalapeños or chile de arbol? Mexican-style or piled with shredded lettuce, half-moons of tomato, and sour cream? Extra cheese, no problem.
From the list of meats, the cecina–salted dried beef–is unlike any other. What is usually sheets of dried-out leather are juicy and plump here; salty iron-rich chunks are folded into double-layered tortillas where they’re given a squirt of salsa and a sprinkle of chopped onion and cilantro. Lime and radish come on the side with jalapeños charred and softened from the grill. And finally there’s a garnish of dried chiles de arbol, toasted on the flat top so they darken and crisp into hollow shells of spice that flare in the mouth.
The cook, haloed in the fluorescent light from the truck, passes out a couple more chiles. He’ll ask you about your godson–whose name he remembers–before you wander into the night.
Tacos El Vagabundo
Queens Plaza at 40th-41st St.
Sunnyside, Queens 11104
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 3, 2013