When you see a taco truck selling food in a liquor store parking lot, of course you stop.
There’s a chance you wind up falling for the beef tongue tacos you just got for $2.50 apiece. You might get two work lunches’ worth of a torta. Who knows? Maybe you’ll open a burrito you definitely only need to eat a third of, take one bite, say “Uh-oh” to yourself, and proceed to plow the whole thing.
I’ve done these things at Don Chilo, a blaze orange trailer pulled by an unmarked white van that operates outside Viking Liquor, Wine and Spirits in New Hope.
The drive to Don Chilo from Highway 169 can feel like Doctor Strange is magicking you through timelines at random as you go. You’ll see, at the very least: a Dunkin’ Donuts; a video rental store that appears to still be in business; a Hy-Vee compound, which may or may not double as the New Hope City Center; and Pub 42, where New Hopers settle for an overpriced pint of craft beer and chicken tenders that – even by chicken tenders standards – are boring.
On the corner of 42nd and Maryland Avenues is Don Chilo. You’ll probably be met by Maynor, who gives a good handshake and might offer you a sample of steak on the right day.
Maynor has been with Don Chilo for seven years after previous gigs at Lake Street’s Poncho Villa, and a couple other restaurants along the way. He’s working with, I’d guess, two-thirds of a full-sized truck’s operational space. The fry surface, refrigerator, ordering window, and shelves all seem to be within two steps of him as he speaks to me.
The truck shows its age with chipped paint, darkened remnants of old tape strips, and a whitish awning with mostly frayed edges. Some menu prices are written in marker; others are posted with number stickers. It’s a far cry from the Outlaw Grill’s sheeny paint job or the dorks you see at Hot Indian dancing for a $1 discount (Do I do it? Of course I do!) but it’s far enough that you can’t help but believe in the food.
And that’s when you scan the selection of meats. Usual suspects like barbacoa, chorizo, and chicken are joined by pork stomach, beef tongue, and beef cheek. If you’re like me, you’re getting weird right away.
“The adventurous people, they’ll try it and they like it,” says Maynor. “Customers usually order one of each kind to try first.” It was a pork stomach torta, beef cheek taco, and beef tongue taco for me.
If you’ve ever held a large club sub from Motherf*cking Hugo’s in Gary New Duluth, you might reflect on that when you hold up a Don Chilo torta. It’s a two-hander when you pick it up and a cleaner-after-upper once it’s finished. Mushrooms, avocado, tomato, onions, cilantro, lettuce, jalapeño, Parmesan, and – in my case – boingy pork stomach bits. Try pork stomach once in your life; then, after you’ve done so, you’re clear to have this made with chorizo or beef tongue.
I bought beef tongue tacos for a co-worker. The response I got was a three-line IM spelling out “OMG” followed by “This is amazing!!” Take a chance on beef tongue here, and the payoff could be day-saving. Another co-worker was happy with her beef steak taco. She got a chicken taco, too, but said the meat was really dry on it.
Maynor calls himself a big eater, but says he can only eat three of these tacos – so you can imagine the surprise people are in for when they order eight for themselves. Meynor says people actually do that, as he laughs. You can get them “Mexican style” with a good coney dog’s worth of fresh onions and a serious flick of cilantro; or “American style” with lettuce, tomato, onions, and cheese.
And then, the inevitable massive burrito. I saw four beans and three peas in mine. Otherwise, I buried myself on the inside with an avalanche of meats, veggies, rice and cheese. If you’re thinking “Chipotle, without all the filler,” that’s a good start. Good luck stopping yourself after you dig into this one.
Considering the high quality of their food, I wonder why the elote is lacking so. Don Chilo coats their cobs in salt, chili powder, lime, Parmesan cheese and mayonnaise – but the coating is drippy and bland.
The exact opposite? A hearty hot sauce with a pedal-stomping chili heat. I overload cups with it and save it for future meals. It’s painful, but so satisfying.
My very first order was interrupted by a bleached-blonde woman in a white SUV who sped up, hopped out, shouted an order over us, hopped back in her white SUV, and sped back away. Small packs of men have rolled up in work trucks and banged-up cars with the bass on 11. One day, a 10-person line formed behind me during my order. Meynor asked me about the best methods of advertising one time, but I’m not so sure he needs it.
“We’ve got really good neighbors,” says Maynor. “The people around here really like Mexican food.”
Don Chilo Restaurant’s roots trace back 14 years to a south Minneapolis strip mall, from where the business branched out to include three trucks across the Twin Cities. Don Chilo doesn’t appear to have a website, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2015. They only accept cash, so be sure to get a $2.50 bottle of tea at Walgreen’s nearby with your debit card and get $20 cash back. That $20 will score you two tacos, an elote, a torta, and a decent tip.
When I asked Maynor about his vision of a perfect taco. He answered me with a particular taco you don’t see on the menu: a blend of chorizo, beef steak, and pork. I took one bite, stared at the sky for a second, and finished the taco. That was one hell of an answer.
A few clean-up and clarification edits were made shortly after this article’s publication.