Four years ago Carlos Sosa, a kitchen manager at Perkins, jumped at the opportunity to own his own business. His dream was answered by a food truck.
La Yucateca is Sosa’s South-Mexican food joint perfect for those who want to pick up good food fast or sit and mingle with friends on their lunch break.
Sosa's manager owned the food truck, but no longer wanted it. Sosa bought it and turned the former hot-dog car into a taco stand. He first set up in Tampa to serve club-goers his authentic South Mexican tacos and bags of chips from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
After a friend's recommendation Sosa moved his truck to Largo.
“It was a matter of a year it took us to be an establishment,” said Sosa, 36.
Sosa’s tiny bright-red aluminum food truck with yellow top sits on Starkey and Ulmerton Roads on the north side, across from Anheuser-Busch’s Great Bay Distributors Inc. and in front of a slew of small businesses occupying a white building.
Although the food truck has a license plate, this truck isn't going anywhere. Its wheels are welded to the ground. They serve lunch to Largoians and others who make the trek.
They serve tacos, burritos, quesadillas, Cochinita tortas, and traditional Mexican sandwiches. The sandwiches are filled with refried beans, barbeque pork that's marinated in ocho and wrapped in banana leaves and baked for 10 hours, and topped with salsa among other toppings.
“I think that’s the key of why people love it so much,” said Cinthia Sosa, Carlos Sosa’s wife and co-owner, of their tortillas. “They can see the girl making it right there. I think that’s nice.”
La Yucateca was named one of the Tampa Bay area’s best food trucks by the St. Petersburg Times last year. The restaurant is the sister company of Señor Taco, a Mexican restaurant Sosa and his wife opened about two years ago, located at 6447 Park Blvd Suite 1 in Pinellas Park. Most of La Yucateca’s food is cooked and prepared there before it’s brought to the truck by an employee on a nightly basis.
Soon the owners say they’ll be giving their food truck a new name – Señor Taco Jr.
“We have to switch the name because no one knows the name of it,” said Sosa of La Yucateca, which means girl from the Yucatan, where Sosa and his wife are from. They’ve lived in the Pinellas Park area for about 16 years after initially moving to help a family member start a Mexican restaurant.
They say their restaurants are different from other Mexican restaurants because they feature spices and sauces that are traditional of South Mexico, which has a wide variety of foods and a mixture of cultures, including France, Cuba, the Middle East and others.
“That’s why we have dishes like that,” said Cinthia Sosa, 35, of her menu’s variety, adding that many Mexican restaurants specializing in food from Central Mexico feature a lot of the same menu items.
As a tiny establishment, It’s is easy to pass by without notice though online food reviewers uniformly agree that its authentic Mayan flavor is not easy to forget.
On Four Square, a local business review website, members boast about the quality of the food.
“The Machete – OMG!!! Your mouth will thank you!” writes Nonie C. of a specialty taco created by Sosa that features shredded pork, onions and mushrooms topped with melted cheese, and cream and green salsa. It’s served on a flour tortilla and goes for $4.50.
Most of La Yucateca’s prices are reasonable, ranging from $2 for a steak taco to about $6 for a burrito or a torta. On Tuesdays, ground-beef tacos are sold for $1, and on Thursdays all tacos are served for $1. Sosa said these are the restaurant's busiest days.
“I believe we need to give them a value, especially with these times,” Sosa said, “And it’s working out.”
Usually when people drive by a food truck sitting on the side of the road, they’re a bit skeptical, and it was getting people to overcome that skepticism that was the most difficult in the beginning, said Sosa and his wife.
“The hardest thing was to get people in to try a new thing,” Sosa said. “It was hard to convince them I was going to give them good food for their money.”
He added that the food truck sold only $16 worth of food on its first day.
“And that was [from] our neighbors,” Sosa said, adding that he told himself business would get better, and it did mostly through word-of-mouth and virtually no advertising. The La Yucateca food truck doesn't have a sign, a Facebook page or even a website.
Sosa says he doesn’t do what he does for the money – he’s not that type of guy. For him, the best thing is when someone comes up to him and says, “Oh my gosh – this is the best taco I’ve ever had.”
“I think that’s the most satisfactory part,” Sosa said. “The acceptance of the food and the start of something new.”
If you go
Who: La Yucateca (there's no sign so look for the red truck with yellow top)
What: Mexican food truck that features tacos,quesadillas, burritos, Mexican sandwiches and drinks
When: Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Price: From about $2 to $6
Where: 2255 Starkey Rd in Largo