Los Angeles is in rightful morning as Raul Martinez Sr. passed away earlier this week at 71. He was the founder of King Taco, one of the first-ever taco chains in Southern California, a place that every Angeleno has visited at some point in their life--and even a couple of us OCers (it continues to produce great food, especially their molten salsa).
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But what the obits so far are giving Martinez enough credit for so far --and what makes his passing cause for a day of national mourning--is that he invented the taco truck as we now know it.
It's always dangerous to anoint someone the creator of anything, especially in the nebulous world of Mexican food, but Raul was definitely it. Before Martinez started selling tacos out of converted ice cream truck off Brooklyn Avenue (now Avenida Cesar Chavez) in East Los Angeles back in 1974, taco trucks simply didn't exist. Southern Californians, of course, have been buying Mexican food from mobile kitchens since the 1880s, and Los Angeles has dominated the food truck industry since the 1930s. But no documented lonchera exclusively sold tacos until Martinez did it (two New York housewives had a proto-taco truck in the early 1960s, but those tacos were premade and had no kitchen). Martinez went on to turn his original lonchera into a 20-restaurant empire.
All of this and more is in my Taco USA book, of course. All of the King Tacos were closed in honor of this pioneer. And what happened to that original King Taco taco truck? Lost to history--it burned in a fire. Man, they should've kept the hollowed-out chassis or something...