Mixed among the wooden masts of the schooners moored in scenic Rockport Harbor, there’s a buzz of activity around a new citizen of the park: The Taco Libre Truck, Midcoast Maine’s first taqueria-on-wheels. It’s a thrilling incongruity; in the distance, seagulls circle overhead, the kayak rental shop is in full swing, and children scurry around on the park’s beached steel buoys. Then, smack in the middle of it all, a massive step van, painted solid black and festooned with red light-up chili pepper lights and illustrations of sugar skulls, pumps norteña music and sells tacos to the waiting crowd. It’s a strange and welcome visual to the Midcoast, an area not well-known for its Mexican takeout fare.
Jessica Neves Graham and Becky Neves are the masterminds behind Taco Libre, sisters with experience in the food service and catering industry. When a food truck appeared for sale locally, Jessica and Becky ran the numbers, and realized the purchase would allow them to open the Mexican restaurant they had dreamt of, but without the overhead of a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant.
One of the most striking things about the truck is its careful sense of self-awareness and brand. A bold Taco Libre logo is emblazoned on the side of the truck, and in only their first season of operation, the truck is already slinging merchandise alongside their tacos and burritos. The look of the truck, as well as the use of social media to drive marketing, is based on the sisters’ experience with street food in New York and San Francisco, where food trucks have exploded beyond mere novelty into a multimillion dollar business. Neves Graham also cites her background in design and advertising. “Those jobs don’t exist [in the Midcoast],” she explains, “so we had to shift gears.”
The menu is small but focused, with tacos ranging from $3.50 – $5.50 for the daily special, and burritos that begin at $7.00, all the way up to $11 for the daily “burrito pescado,” a massive flour tortilla stuffed with grilled haddock, rice, black beans, cheese, and tomato. Though the truck was sold out of their pork carnitas the day we visited, we did have the opportunity to sample the other tacos on the board.
The carne asada was beautifully charred, and managed to stay tender and moist. The shredded chicken was supple and flavorful, though the single layer of prefab corn tortilla couldn’t stand up to the chicken’s sauce, which broke through the tortilla and got a little messy. The surprise standout was the taco verdura, a mash of potato and seasonal vegetables. Spiked with a ton of cumin, the overall effect was that of a giant Indian samosa, in taco form. The daily fish taco special, blackened haddock with a chipotle crema, made for a creative twist on the traditional fish taco. There was a touch of bitterness to the fish, which I am owing to a squeeze of rogue lime juice. All of the tacos are topped with a creamy, crumbly, mild queso fresco, and your choice of spicy or mild house-made salsas. The hot salsa didn’t bring a ton of heat, a likely concession to the local palate, though Jessica says (via the truck’s Facebook page) that they’re “going to keep upping the temp till [they] hear ‘STOP!'”
The Taco Libre truck uses Facebook and Twitter to announce their schedule and locations for each week, which include Rockport Harbor, as well as locations in Camden and Rockland. The truck is also available for catering and special events. Jessica and Becky plan to continue refining the menu and growing their business, mentioning casually that there may even be a trip to Mexico in their future (for research, naturally). After just two months in operation, the truck already has a loyal following, with fans following Taco Libre groupie-style from town-to-town along the Midcoast. It’s an exciting addition to the Midcoast food scene, and we look forward to joining them on the road.
Taco Libre Truck: Various locations; 207-691-9545; tacolibretruck.com
Update! The Taco Libre Truck has permanently closed its doors.