Mobile 'Taquerias' Bring New Flavors to New Orleans

Thomas Capella, chairman of the Jefferson Parish Council, defends the new rules, saying, "Everybody is restricted, not just the Spanish food carts. What was happening is that people were camping out on vacant property and basically becoming a restaurant or cafe."

Some carts also pose health and safety concerns, says Louis Congemi, a Jefferson Parish councilman. "I wouldn't personally eat at one," Congemi says.

George Ketry, a New Orleans cab driver, finds the carts "can be an eyesore." But his bigger worry, he says, is the "cleanliness of the food."

At Taqueria Sanchez, "The city comes, they check the temperature of the meats, it's clean, it's perfect," says Jennifer Lopez, who works at one of the mobile trucks in Jefferson Parish.

Michael Lockhart, a medical representative, says he thinks the carts should be allowed to stay as long as the proprietors pay their taxes. They fill a need, he says, for travelers such as him, who eat on the run.

"It's good and it's quick," says Lockhart, who stopped by a Taqueria Sanchez truck in Jefferson Parish to buy two pork tacos ($3). "I'm on the road, and you don't have time to go into a restaurant."

Mobile food vendors in Jefferson Parish say that if the restrictions became too onerous, they may move a few miles away, to New Orleans, which has looser restrictions on food carts. That would create more competition for food carts such as Taqueria Los Poblanos.

At this mobile cart, much of the action happens between noon and 2 p.m. That's when office workers take lunch breaks and Hispanic day laborers put down their hammers and nails.

"Whenever I work in the area, I come every day," says Jose Rasgado, who eats the beef tacos and gorditas, a meat-and-tortilla dish, at Los Poblanos. "For me, the taste is best, because (other) places don't have the hot jalapeƱos they have."

Maria Jimenez and her husband, Miguel, moved from Houston to New Orleans - with their food cart - in May 2006 after hearing of a need for restaurants here after Katrina. Business has been much better than in Houston, where taquerias seem to occupy every corner, Maria says. But as more restaurants reopen after the hurricane and other taquerias arrive - a Taqueria Sanchez truck competes for customers across the street - business has slipped.

Los Poblanos serves about 150 customers a day, Maria says, compared with up to 300 last year. Miguel says he's not too worried about business falling further if more taquerias move to New Orleans from Jefferson Parish, because the taqueria enjoys loyal customers.

His friend Jose Rios, 36, who runs Chaparral Taqueria a few miles away, isn't fretting, either: "I was one of the first to sell tacos in this area. I've been in the same place for a year and a half. People know where I am."

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