On a recent Saturday morning, Alberto Eugenio Fabian of Tacos Al Pastor, a sidewalk eatery on Oakland’s Coliseum Way, shaves tender slices of scarlet-red pork from a flaming, pineapple-topped trompo, or spit. The taquero hacks off a slice of the caramelized fruit, which dribbles juices as it lands on the tender meat, and adds spoonfuls of cilantro, onions and fresh pineapple.
These family-made tacos — authentic, Mexico City-style al pastor — are hard to find in the Bay Area, even here in taqueria-packed Oakland. But you can score them and a plethora of other Latin American eats, from gorditas to Venezuelan arepas and handmade aguas frescas, on this narrow corridor along Interstate 880, not far from the Oakland Flea Market.
The Fabians — Alberto and his brothers, Al Pastor Tacos co-owners Raul and Hector — are just some of the many vendors who set up weekend stalls along this industrial strip. It is particularly lively on Sundays, when you might spot strolling musicians or dancing couples. Cars are often double-parked, and as many as 20 vendors pack the sidewalks.
That family-vibe is what drew the brothers, who started Tacos Al Pastor about two years ago. Raul and Hector, who were working in a Japanese restaurant at the time, set up their trompo with 60 pounds of pork that they marinate in more than 20 herbs and spices, including the ruby-red guajillo chiles that give the al pastor its signature color. They brought a table and a few chairs. And they sold 500 tacos in a matter of hours, with many customers still waiting in line.
“The following weekend, we added more meat and brought more family members to help,” says Raul, in Spanish. Today, along with their growing crew, the Fabians churn out close to 1,000 al pastor tacos a day. And that doesn’t include the quesadilla-like gringas, which are larger and stuffed into flour tortillas with cheese. Gringas are $7; tacos are $3.50.
Assembling a trompo is complicated, Raul says, and requires meticulous layering of the tenderest cuts. When done right and monitored constantly, the buttery fat drips down, gets blasted with the flame and chars the meat, yielding that ethereal, almost-crunchy texture.
Keep an eye on Tacos Al Pastor, which has plans to open a brick and mortar in Oakland this year. Until then, here are three more stand-out spots we discovered on Coliseum Way.
El Pollo Alegre
You can smell Ernesto Torres’ smoky, Jalisco-style pollos al carbon — and sometimes hear the DJ spinning — more than a block away from this large corner lot at 50th Avenue and Coliseum Way. Torres and his wife, co-owner Rosa Ruvalcaba, arrive early, around 10 a.m., to set up their massive, portable grill and tend the butterflied whole chickens over white-hot coals. It’s a family recipe of 26 years, with a proprietary marinade.
The chicken ($10-$34), served quartered, half or whole, comes with rice, slow-cooked pinto beans, two salsas and curtido de habanero made with cucumbers and onions. Don’t miss the tortillas which are handmade by El Pollo Alegre’s Paola Tibular, who cooks them on the flat-top grill until they puff up to perfection. On a busy day, she’ll go through about 130 pounds of masa to make 1,000 tortillas. Look for the stall from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Nieves Naturales Los Dos Carnales
You’ll find plenty of homemade horchata and agua fresca on Coliseum Way. But Jose Ponce is the only vendor selling tejuíno, a cold fermented corn beverage. The drink, popular in Jalisco and Chihuahua, is made from fresh corn dough, the same used for tamales, plus water and piloncillo, an unprocesssed cane sugar.
Ponce, who is from Puebla, Mexico, keeps the yellow-ish brown elixir in a large ice-filled cooler, and serves it in two sizes ($7 to $10) with the juice of half a lime and a topper of nieve de limón, or lime sorbet. A sprinkle of tajin gives this otherwise very sweet drink a lip-smacking freshness, as does the melting sorbet. He also offers a selection of ice cream flavors from his van, which is usually parked near El Pollo Alegre at 50th Avenue and Coliseum Way.
A dozen terra-cotta colored cazeulas line the long, streetside eatery where Ana Herrera and Eduardo Gonzalez simmer their steaming chicharron prensado. You can order it stuffed into gorditas, quesadillas or tacos using tortillas that are hand-pressed to order and grilled on a silver cazo, a round flat-top grill imported from Mexico.
The couple, who live in Oakland, took over Las Cazuelas from Herrera’s mother when she moved to Texas to open a brick and mortar. The eatery has called this corridor home for about five years. Gonzalez and Herrera say they like the family-vibe and regulars, but hope to launch a mobile truck in the future, and someday, a permanent restaurant. The eatery is typically open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and until 5 p.m. Sundays at 745 50th Ave., in front of Westside Building Material.