Chupacabra, named after a spiky Mexican monster that has a knack for sucking all the blood out of unsuspecting goat herds, is one of DC’s best and most notable taco trucks. Now this is important for all of you food truck historians out there. The taco truck is one of the direct ancestors of the food trucks we know and love today. Unlike today’s fancy ethnic-fusion-mobiles, food trucks used to mostly park at construction sites and serve more simplistic dishes to a distinctly blue collar customer base. Taco trucks were very common, again due to the simplicity of the dish and I imagine, because almost everyone can get behind tacos. (see Evan and Micah’s stop at Chupacabra and more here)
This means two things for Chupacabra. First and foremost, this modern day rolling taqueria draws from a long a familiar legacy and is perhaps more accessable than some of the more intimidating and complex trucks that are popping up these days. On the other hand, it means that Chupacabra has a lot to live up to and has to work hard to differentiate itself from the old standard.
On my visit to Chupacabra, I was sold. These folks are putting together a really strong product, and that is coming from a person who is not a huge fan of the flour tortilla. One of my favorite things about Chupacabra is that for the same price as most other trucks, you can get a lot more variety. The truck offers a selection of tacos, sides and soups and I am pretty sure that nothing costs more than $5. I purchased one each of the three meat tacos available and it came out to $10, which is not necessarily the cheapest but its what you expect from an interesting lunch in the District.
The first taco I had was the Pollo Jamaican. The protein here was chicken cooked in a scotch bonnet sauce. It was accompanied by pico de gallo, cilantro and radish. For those of you who are unaware, scotch bonnets are a chili pepper native to the Caribbean. Though sweeter and more floral, the scotch bonnet ranks about the same as a Habanero chili on the Scoville scale (a measure of the capsaicin in a pepper, a jalapeno ranks at around 5,000, a scotch bonnet averages at about 200,000 (not a typo)). As such, I was expecting some heat and I was not disappointed. With this taco you were able to get the freshness of the pico and cilantro for a moment before getting hit with the wonderfully fruity scotch bonnet. As a heat freak, I found this delightful. If you don’t like spice this taco may not be for you.
I then had the more mild Pork Carnitas taco. Cooked in a guajillo sauce and also accompanied by their pico/cilantro/radish set up, this taco was a bit more standard. The pork was tender, yummy and differentiated itself from the chicken, which isn’t always easy when working with similar toppings. for this one, I recommend squirting some lime from the wedge they include for you, it will give this more simple taco some nice zing.
Lastly I had the Burrego del Fuego. This lamb taco was definitely the standout. Chupacabra knows how good lamb is and so they give you a generous amount of protein for their otherwise normal sized taco. The meat was extremely flavorful and not as tender as I expected, giving it more of a mutton quality (meat from a more mature sheep, though technically all sheep meat in the USA is considered ‘lamb’) which is quite nice for carnivorous folks such as myself. Again, they didn’t shy away from the heat with this taco, which is a major plus in my book.
In addition, Chupacabra does not leave you without fixin’s, giving you access to as much pico de gallo, salsa verde and hot salsa as you would like, all three tasting very fresh. Their salsa verde is lovely with strong lime flavor and their hot salsa should only by approached by those who truly embrace fiery foodstuffs. As mentioned, they also give you a lime wedge, which is a nice touch. Each taco is served on two flour tortillas for added support, but you will still need a fork, as these juicy numbers will still fall apart relatively quickly.
If you want bold flavors and some fresh takes on your classic taco, Chupacabra is definitely for you. Also, rumor has it that these folks do some more specialty tacos, such as a thanksgiving turkey taco, so it is definitely worth stopping by and scanning their menu whenever they are in the neighborhood. Follow them on twitter @chupacabradc