El Grito food truck uses off season to find culinary creativity

El Grito food truck uses off season to find culinary creativity

Food carts scattered about Capitol Square mark the coming of warmer weather in Madison. But where do the street vendors go when Wisconsin winter makes serving food outside nearly impossible?

For El Grito Taqueria, a food cart known for its seasonal menu and innovative use of local ingredients, the off-season is a time for inspiration and rejuvenation.

Joshua Barraza and Matthew Danky, the Wisconsin-native team behind El Grito, spend their winters traveling for the betterment of the business.

Danky spent this last winter in Oaxaca, Mexico, while Barraza stayed in Madison to manage local business matters in preparation for the spring season.

The team makes annual trips to Los Angeles and Mexico to see what is happening there and to make strategic business and culinary plans.

“Tacos are a Mexican food, so we want to pull inspiration from that country, but we don’t want that to limit what the preconception of what you think Mexican food is supposed to be,” Barraza said.

El Grito serves tacos that feature a mix of meats cooked inspired by traditional recipes and seasonal Wisconsin ingredients, such as root vegetables in the fall.

“The pork taco we serve the most is an ancient form of cooking,” Barraza said. He clarified, though, that just because you won’t find a cauliflower taco in Mexico doesn’t mean El Grito won’t cook it.

The El Grito duo looks to the past as they move into the future, offering traditional Mexican food that pushes against preconceived notions about what Mexican food should be.

This winter in Oaxaca, the El Grito team sought out seafood, which they hope to incorporate into their spring 2017 season. Shrimp, fish, octopus, scallops and salmon are likely to be on the menu when they reopen later this month, according to Barraza.

“We’re trying to focus on one small thing of Mexico, which we feel [has] the ultimate street food, and really dive into Mexico and pull on [Danky’s] travels from around the world, too,” Barraza said.

Danky spent a decade after college living in Asia, traveling and eating his way through the region.

El Grito launched in August 2015. Since its start, El Grito has taken off, enabling both Barraza and Danky to focus solely on their business venture together. What started as a food cart is now a self-sustaining operation.

“It’s funny that we’re looking at ourselves as a business now, not just two guys and a taco truck,” Barraza said.

This past fall, the team was given a taste of running as a restaurant during their Allen Street residency, and while they have no near future plans of expanding to brick and mortar, they will launch a full-sized taco truck later this month.

But the success has not been stress-free. Barraza admits to taking on too many events last year, saying they found themselves working 150-hour weeks at times.

This year, they plan to take a more strategic approach to events and scheduling. Barraza says they hope to tailor events more specifically to their customer demographic and hope to host charity events, such as monthly brunches to support organizations in response to the national political climate.

But no matter what steps El Grito takes as it moves forward, Barraza and Danky will prioritize taking the winters off with their team.

“Our business is enriching our lives right now, and for us to expand and grow, I would want it to enrich other people’s lives, too,” Barraza said.

What started as a part-time taco experiment has transitioned into a what is sometimes a more than full-time business. For them, it’s about more than simply serving tacos.

“The tortilla is just a vehicle,” Barraza said.