Food News

La Botana's Chef Left Fine Dining Behind to Run a Dallas Taco Truck

La Botana Taco Bar often serves up stellar tacos at events and places like Sisu and Truck Yard.
La Botana Taco Bar often serves up stellar tacos at events and places like Sisu and Truck Yard. Beth Rankin
Joel Mendoza has worked in high-end restaurants focused on Mexican, French and Italian cuisines.

Today, he’s putting those skills toward his passion for Mexican food, and instead of working in a kitchen with a full team, he’s dishing out tacos to customers from a food truck in Dallas.

“It’s a different world,” he says. “Inside the kitchen, there are cooks, chefs, service, managers. In the food truck, it’s greeting people and serving the food.”

click to enlarge La Botana chef Joel Mendoza. - COURTESY OF LA BOTANA
La Botana chef Joel Mendoza.
Courtesy of La Botana
His outlet of choice is La Botana Taco Bar, a food truck that makes its way around town from a home base in Uptown.

Mendoza may be an expert in fine dining for different cuisines — after preparing dishes at the Four Seasons in New York and Mexico City's Pujol — but he absolutely knows what he’s doing with a taco.

The food evokes the flavors of Mexico City, where both he and one of the food truck owners are from.

About four months after its launch, the food truck is fully painted and is growing in popularity for its tacos, which are laced with flowers instead of the traditional cilantro.

“I want to change the idea of tacos,” Mendoza says.

The ingredients are good enough to eat on their own, but when the meat is sautéed on the griddle with melty Chihuahua cheese, as is the case with the costras ($4.99), it’s even better. Mendoza sautés the cheese, stuffed with the filling of your choice, and serves it encased in a flour tortilla topped with avocado and flowers too beautiful to eat (but you will anyway). The costra is a Mexico City specialty that's big and flavorful enough to be an entire meal.

click to enlarge La Botana's chips and salsa - BETH RANKIN
La Botana's chips and salsa
Beth Rankin
An unexpected favorite is the mushroom taco; something magical happens with the way he cooks these sliced guajillo mushrooms. You can also get this on a cauliflower tortilla. This isn’t La Botana's way of jumping into the low-carb trend; Monica Gonzalez, one of the owners, says it’s another item from Mexico City.

The truck also started serving breakfast: a “taco” made out of a pancake with lobster (or crab).

“I love it because I never thought this was going to be the experience of a food truck," Mendoza says. "Being used to serving all these people, high executives, I was used to that, but having the opportunity to serve my own people, provide my food … that’s an experience I haven’t had [at] other places.”
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.