Tell me a Story: The Truck (La Isla Bonita)
La Isla Bonita is a taco truck parked on Rose, usually mid-block between 5th and 6th in Venice. I’ve feasted on their seafood since 1989 when taco trucks were a necessity and before they got trendy. Tony, the proprietor quickly befriended me offering a fist pound at every visit and calling out my name. I’d hear, “hey Eric” coming from his mustached smile with a slight accent as I walked up. He’d have to duck down to see me out of the truck window screen. In the beginning, it was the mostly Latin faces who devoured the best recipes. They’d turn to see an Asian kid at “their” spot – the secret of Venice.
I’d order two ceviche tostadas. It was once $1 each. Followed up by a campechana, a cold tomato based soup filled with bits of onion and cilantro along with octopus, shrimp, and even oysters. I’d end my meal with hot tacos like pollo or carne asada that had full beans in them. Some are fast to comment that beans shouldn’t be there, citing inauthenticity, but even in the 80s, that’s how La Isla Bonita did it.
At each visit, Tony’s wife would be both working the truck and taking care of the baby. Soon, it became another, then another, and maybe one more. As I visited, I’d see the kids grow. The tiny one who played on the sidewalk during the day, now deftly chops onions and peeks at the summer girls walking towards the beach. A dry spell in my visits yielded what looked like a new face but they were the same – just taller and mature. On the other side of the window, Tony, his wife and kids might remember me with local friends, visitors from out of town, different girlfriends, haircuts, weight, style, and now glasses.
When I walk up today, it’s the grown-up daughter operating the window saying, “Hi Eric,” and her brother Joseph, now the chef repeating likewise, both offering a smile. Tony and his wife aren’t around as often, but the ceviche remains a powerful constant. I peek and see Joseph crafting a campechana eyeing the portions as he’s now done 1000s of times. The beans in the taco changed, but not many remember their smaller size and darker tone.
La Isla Bonita used to show up around 11am and they’d pack up by 4pm often running out of ceviche-a sign of freshness and a successful day. As of this year, they’re open until 9pm, caught up with the food truck times and run by brother and sister who insist that I text them when I’m coming next time.