By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
By Gustavo Arellano
Hernandez, who one day hopes to operate his own fleet and even open a restaurant, parks his truck in front of a Northgate Gonzalez market from 9 in the morning until 9 at night seven days a week. Code enforcement never bothers. “It’s thanks to the loncheros like Roberto, who fought the fights before me, that I can operate in peace,” he says.
Guzmán is still thinking big. He admires the ingenuity of the Kogi publicity machine, not so much the food. “We didn’t do publicity before because the loncheros of before were people who weren’t open-minded,” he says. “They were our dads, our uncles, men and women who thought, ‘Why should I pay for publicity or come out in the newspaper when people know me?’ It’s a cultural thing. Today, we’re more open. I’m younger; I know this country a bit more. We’re a bit more current.”
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Ramirez and de la Cruz of Los Hermanos Lonchera sin Fronteras are part of this new generation. They blast Johnny Cash as frequently as Los Tigres del Norte. Their Twitter account (twitter.com/loshermanosLSF) gives followers daily specials, everything from bacon-wrapped hot dogs to cheeseburgers, ceviche to picadillo. It was Ramirez’s dream to own a truck; de la Cruz is getting his master’s in psychology and wants to work in art therapy, but he decided to help his older brother start out, making an investment in the hopes of a return. Ramirez had no experience cooking outside of family gatherings; de la Cruz was a server at BJ’s.
New trucks, fully equipped, run about $135,000. But the brothers bought theirs for $20,000.
“The truck’s older than dirt,” Ramirez says with a laugh.
Every Tuesday through Saturday, the brothers leave their Corona homes around 6 in the morning, take the 261 toll road from the 91 freeway, and pick up their truck where Guzmán parks his fleet: International Catering in Irvine, one of the county’s six officially licensed commissaries for taco trucks. Per the California Health and Safety Code, all taco trucks must park in one. It’s not much, really, just asphalt squeezed between construction firms, a Waste Management plant and a cement factory, with a warehouse for food storage, but dozens of trucks park here for a monthly fee that entitles them to daily cleanings, natural gas to heat their grills and ice to keep their sodas cool.
Running the operation is Rasmi Ihmud. “Rasmi is someone who supports la raza hispana,” Guzmán says. “He might not be Mexican, but he’s done it with us. For me, he’s done much by telling us about his experiences and inspirations. He’s been very direct with us and given us a hand when we needed it.”
“Rasmi is a great guy,” de la Cruz affirms. “When we told people we wanted to start a lonchera, they told us to call him. He’s the one who gave us the tip on the taco truck. Before we started, he told us, ‘Before you learn a route, find your spot. Know the kitchen, the commissary.’ Great advice—he could’ve just taken our money for parking the truck, but he’s too kind for that.”
Ihmud, though allowing the Weekly to take pictures inside the commissary, declined to be interviewed.
At 7:30 a.m., the lot is abuzz with trucks. Ramirez starts grilling meat for their first stop in an hour; de la Cruz goes to an icehouse with a wheelbarrow so he can shovel crushed ice, take it back to the truck, and spread it in a cooler, inside which he’ll pack the sodas. Other people clean their windows, gossip, or give one another tips.
“You need to go to Buena Park,” a lady tells de la Cruz in Spanish as he returns to the truck. “It’s my spot, and it gets me a lot of business. But I don’t need it anymore, and I like you guys. Go ahead and get it.”
She gives them directions (the brothers have never visited the city) and tells them to show up at noon sharp. “You have to get there on time,” she tells de la Cruz firmly. “I’ve seen other loncheros pass by there, wanting to take it from me. If you’re not there on time, they’ll take it quickly.”
Ramirez says hola to Ricardo Ochoa, who lives in Santa Ana and has washed trucks at International Catering for 18 years. He’s seen it all—fights, highs, people coming in to find dreams and leaving broke, others getting rich. But Ochoa never had any aspirations to join the industry. “No, here, there are no bribes, no scandals, no threats—I just talk to people and make friends.”
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