Taqueria Twosome: The taco truck guys

El Grito Taqueria draws inspiration from travels
Taqueria Twosome: The taco truck guys
Beth Skogen
Joshua Barraza (left) and Matthew Danky are the men behind El Grito.

Maybe you first tasted one of these tacos paired with a citrusy paloma at a Thursday night pop-up at the Robin Room, or perhaps it was last November during a six-week residency at 11 N. Allen St.

It could have been at the very start, now almost two years ago, when an aluminum taco truck posted up in front of Context Clothing on King Street, or during the truck’s inaugural season serving tacos on Capitol Square last summer. Or maybe you haven’t come across El Grito Taqueria yet, but you’ve seen a colorful trio of tacos perched upon a paper plate on Instagram, and you know this traveling taco team is quickly making its way into the hands and hearts of Madison’s food scene.

“[El Grito] is trying to do something a little bit different than what people typically think Mexican food is supposed to be,” says Joshua Barraza, co-owner of El Grito and a fifth-generation Los Angeles native with Mexican heritage. “Our main goal [is] to show the diversity of Mexican food and showcase tacos.”

Barraza and longtime friend Matthew Danky, both Stoughton area natives with winding journeys, developed the idea for their business in the spring of 2015 when the two found themselves jobless and back in Madison. Danky had spent the past decade traveling and working all around the world as an English teacher and a cook. They bonded over past experiences and street food. With a core belief that they could succeed selling elevated street food served on 4-inch tortillas in Madison, Barraza and Danky purchased a food truck and started working on their product.

“In 2015, we were just doing pop-ups around the city using social media. A lot of food trucks in larger cities–that’s what they do,” Barraza explains.

Madison’s taco lovers responded.

After a whirlwind summer of vending, collaborations, pop-ups and private events in 2016, El Grito’s fan base has grown alongside the taco truck’s always rotating menu, which boasts some 100 different styles of tacos.

“What I like about Matt [Danky] is that his food is based off of experiences he has with food,” says Jonny Hunter, who frequently collaborates on events with El Grito. “Even though a lot of his experiences are in Vietnam and Thailand, he can think through some of the underlying principles that apply to Mexican food and really make that translate into a taco.”

A love of other cultures’ cuisines continues to be the guiding light of this booming taco business. Barraza and Danky seek authentic Mexican inspiration through annual winter trips to different regions in Mexico. Two years ago, it was Mexico City. This past January, it was three weeks in Tulum and Oaxaca. They had only one mission: taste everything.

Taqueria Twosome: The taco truck guys

“Oaxaca is a gastronomic area with food bursting out of every crevasse,” writes Danky on the El Grito blog. Danky and Barraza spent time exploring Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with colonial charm, but also went a bit further.

They traveled to rural mezcalerias and small village markets that featured produce they’d never seen before. They dined at both upscale restaurants and small taquerias. They immersed themselves in the rich heritage of the southern Mexican state and brought influences back to Madison through a revived passion for Mexican food and culture. The diverse mole sauces they tasted will inspire many of El Grito’s menu offerings this year.

Another change you’ll see at El Grito, thanks to Danky and Barraza’s experience in sunny coastal Tulum and Oaxaca, is the introduction of more diverse seafood dishes to the menu that they’ll offer out of a second larger truck they plan to take to pop-ups and events. “[The larger truck is] really going to focus on seafood: octopus, shrimp, scallops, fish, sea urchin if we can get it. There will be meats too, but we really want to focus on doing a Friday night fish fry in a fish taco,” Barraza says.

You’ll find the original food cart, an iconic 1969 Fleetwing camper, serving up tacos from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., any weekday through the end of October at the top of West Washington Avenue in front of the Presbyterian church. El Grito will also continue to travel all over the city doing pop-ups and collaborative events (dates, times and locations are announced on El Grito’s social media and website).

“It’s about giving people the opportunity to taste food they may never have the option or luxury of tasting. Like duck confit, oxtail, goat or lamb,” says Barraza. “It’s [about serving] all of this elevated [food] but serving it in a non-elevated fashion–having it be approachable for people. You can walk up, get a tortilla and eat it on the streets.”

Anatomy of a Food Truck

Taqueria Twosome: The taco truck guys

The latest addition to the El Grito Taqueria mobile fleet is a 1962 GMC Grumman food truck from Pennsylvania. Under the hood sits a 2000 G3500 Express Van engine and chassis. The truck rides smoothly on the original GMC Grumman tires from 1962. A driver controls the wheel from a solo bucket seat while co-pilots squeeze onto a bench nearby. The back of this retro truck, lined in aluminum, is where the magic happens. Barraza and Danky did the build out of the mobile kitchen themselves. A 36-inch griddle sits beside a two-bay steam table. Sandwich prep refrigerators and hand wash sinks fill this compact cooking space. The diamond plating installed on the floors prevents slipping and stainless steel backsplashes keep things tidy. A wide window opening lets light into the kitchen as food is passed over a sleek wood bar.

Lauren Rudersdorf is co-owner of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm, a freelance writer and food blogger at The Leek and The Carrot.