‘Million-dollar view with the price of a taco’
By DIANNE REBER HART / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Vincente Chacon knows a deal when he spots one, even if it’s along a busy roadway smack in the middle of a dusty pullout.
Chacon is among the dozens of daily diners who stop by a nondescript taco truck for tasty Mexican specialties and spectacular views of expansive vineyards and rolling hills along Highway 12 in Glen Ellen.
“It’s pretty good. You get the million-dollar view with the price of a taco,” says Chacon, a 28-year-old construction worker and mason from south Santa Rosa who stops by the Lonchera Emely taco truck two or three times a week when he’s working in nearby Kenwood.
He and a couple of co-workers prefer the convenience of the pullout at Dunbar Road over a restaurant meal in Kenwood or Glen Ellen. The taco truck offers an option the men consider quick, easy, affordable and delicious.
After a morning of physically demanding labor, Chacon can down six or seven tacos for lunch, usually the al pastor (barbecued pork) variety prepared with flavorful seasonings and folded over into a satisfying option for $1.50.
Taco truck owner Sabino Coronel, 37, has been serving up roadside Mexican dishes at the scenic spot for the past four years, gaining a regular following of vineyard workers, winery staffers and passersby who make frequent returns.
He started out parking at a gas station in Kenwood, but his popular truck often created a backup, so he headed south for a more spacious location. He pays no rent but has an agreement with the landowner to keep the site clean and litter-free.
Chacon’s 63-year-old co-worker Hank, who prefers to use only his first name, has noticed customers from all walks of life.
“It’s the whole spectrum of folks from around the area,” says Hank, who also lives in Santa Rosa. “One out of four times we come here and spoil ourselves. I always order something different. It’s good.”
Lonchera Emely fans include those who know a thing or two about the culinary arts.
Sonoma food and wine writer Kathleen Hill loves Lonchera Emely. She even impressed a visiting Food and Wine magazine writer with an impromptu visit to the taco truck for a “wonderful” lunch of tortas (Mexican sandwiches).
“It’s very convenient, it’s inexpensive, and it’s very good,” says Hill. “Clouds of dust blow up, but nobody cares.”
Fellow foodie Marcy Smothers of Kenwood, who has a new cookbook/food guidebook in bookstores, couldn’t help but give a shout-out on her Facebook page after her first visit to the taco truck earlier this year.
She stopped by after reading a Facebook recommendation posted by regular diner Christopher Silva, president of the nearby St. Francis Winery. It wasn’t long before Smothers arranged a Taco Tuesday gathering with Silva, two other friends and select wine to complement the menu.
“My surprise to them was bringing a folding table and chairs, dressed with Ralph Lauren linens, flowers and Riedel stemware,” Smothers says. “It was a small way to elevate the atmosphere. Nothing like fine dining on dirt.”
Coronel says it’s exactly that kind of word-of-mouth advertising that brings business to his eatery on wheels. Through interpreter Maureen Crumly, the Spanish-speaking Coronel says customers tell friends, who in turn make the drive to the Dunbar Road attraction.
“They talk to each other,” Coronel says. “There are some people who come every day.”
He estimates between 50 and 60 people stop by each day, either for a quick bite or a hearty combination plate offering carne asada (steak), carnitas (braised pork) or fajitas (grilled meat and veggies) for $8, the most expensive offering on the menu (along with the $8 super burrito).
Open weekdays from 10 a.m. to about 4 p.m., the taco truck has little competition during daytime hours. By nightfall, three or four taco trucks park further south along Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs, well after Lonchera Emely has headed home to Santa Rosa.
Coronel admits it’s a bit tight working within the space constraints of his taco truck, which essentially is a mobile kitchen. He works with the assistance of his wife Laura Muñoz or employee Maria Ortiz, the team carefully orchestrating their moves.
Yet, the benefits are hard to resist. Coronel makes a good living, he says, with a greater profit margin than from running a restaurant.
He spent 11 years working at his cousin’s popular El Coronel restaurant in Sebastopol before getting into the driver’s seat of his own taco truck. He pays for the use of a cooperative kitchen in Santa Rosa, where he also stores the truck. Coronel begins his day at 5 a.m. cooking meat and doing food prep before heading down the highway to his pullout.
He emphasizes that the taco truck meets all health codes and inspections and says he has high personal standards for Lonchera Emely.
“I put in a lot of effort,” Coronel says. “It’s a good job, and I like it.”
When Coronel cruises back home on Friday afternoons, it’s not to rest up over the weekend. He brings his taco truck to the Santa Rosa auto swap on Saturdays and Sundays at the Veterans Memorial Building, offering lunchtime fare to hungry shoppers.
By Monday, his busiest day, he’s back at Dunbar Road and Highway 12, grilling the $7 meat quesadillas he considers his best deal.
Everything is made to order, but don’t expect table service. While the taco truck has a lone fold-up table and a few matching chairs, most diners have to take in the view from a standing position or the comfort of their vehicles.
The few chairs often are occupied by regular customers or unsuspecting passersby who happened to discover the fun – and views – of alfresco dining at the dusty pullout.
Lonchera Emely also is available for catering. Call 623-2482 for more information.