La Vida Taco 

A month-long, taco-eating odyssey through Oakland's Fruitvale district.

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Mi Grullense. North end (closer to 29th Ave.), 1301 30th Ave.

Scene: One of two side-by-side loncheras: same name, same lot, essentially identical food, different operators. The name refers to El Grullo, a town in the Autlán region of Jalisco, where many in Fruitvale have roots (check out the painted image on the lonchera's back: a stone crane — a grullo — in the fountain of El Grullo's plaza). Together with the Tacos Sinaloa compound (see prior entries), these trucks represent the omphalos of Oakland taco culture, the inevitable destination for outside-the-barrio cravers of comida.

Comida: The lengua is moist, but suffers from fatty mouth feel — ew. Sloppy-wet cabeza is better, the clump of brisket-like shards rocking a marked beefiness. Both come pre-slathered in fairly wan tomatillo salsa. The taco al pastor is an unequivocal miss: tough matchsticks of pork and wisps of fried onion, splooged up with heavily achiote-laced spicing.

The takeaway: Accessible, but the food's merely middling.

Mi Grullense. South end (near 30th Ave.), Goodwill parking lot, 1301 30th Ave.

Scene: See previous entry.

Comida: Soft, stewy tongue, and cabeza every bit as briskety as that of its rival. Similarly so-so salsa douses both. The pastor is marginally tastier than at the Mi Grullense to your left, with a nicer texture (though still firm) and a warm-tasting salsa with a throbbing achiote heart.

Extra cookie: The yellow corn tortillas here seem extra plush and maize-y.

The takeaway: A pelo or two better than middling.

Tacos el Paisa. Parking lot behind La Parilla Grill, 2900 International Blvd. (enter on 29th Ave.)

Scene: Lovably tarnished stainless, amid the relatively peaceful surrounds of a shrub-lined lot away from the boulevard.

Comida: The coarse-textured, deliciously soapy tortillas are sick, but the stuff on top? Nyeh — the tongue is delicately moist, but the taste skews offal-funky; curds of fat stud the cabeza. The pork in the pastor is on a different plane entirely: agreeably shreddy, and with deft, clove-dominant spicing. Salty.

Extra cookie: Tacos come in Styro butchers' trays — Earth destroying, but cute.

The takeaway: Nicely done pastor, in a parking lot with a whiff of Zen-like serenity.

El Ojo de Agua. Parking lot at Fruitvale Ave. and E. 13th St.

Scene: A popular spot, no doubt as much for its prominent location on car-choked Fruitvale north of the BART station than for the food.

Comida: Lengua and cabeza are both fatty and bland, under-trimmed and over-boiled, beneath a blanket of thick, searing salsa verde. The pastor pork tastes like somebody boiled the crap out of it, then attempted a retroactive sexing-up with clove-spiked chile powder and a big dollop of watery guac.

Oh, hell no: Thin, flavorless white tortillas suck.

The takeaway: The food's terminally waterlogged — somebody throw it a lifeline.

Tacos el Novillo. Parking lot of Guadalajara restaurant, 1001 Fruitvale Ave (at San Leandro Blvd.).

Scene: Along the traffic-strafed corridor between the freeway and International Boulevard, Novillo occupies a broad, shadeless parking lot with zero tables — prepare to eat off your Hyundai's hood, or at the narrow aluminum counter that runs along the lonchera itself.

Comida: Decent lengua; better-than-decent cabeza (big chunks, frankly fatty and satisfyingly gelatinous). A taco de tripa (small pork intestine, aka chitlins) is a trifle greasy, though its shredded texture puts you in mind of carnitas.

Extra cookie: A single squirt-bottle salsa, but it's a good one, vinegary, and with flecks of charred tomato skin.

The takeaway: The ambience flunks, but tacos earn a solid C.

El Rebozo. 3215 International Blvd. (near Fruitvale Ave.)

Scene: Okay, this isn't a truck, but a propane plancha set up on the sidewalk in front of a tiny juice and snack shop. Still, with its little clot of enthusiastic patrons and unusual offerings, it deserves honorary lonchera status.

Comida: Jalisco-style crisp-fried tacos dorados, filled with either stiff refried beans or slushy mashed potato, for a buck apiece. Load 'em up with shredded iceberg, grated cheddar and Jack, tomato, onion, and a vinaigrette-like salsa of pickled jalapeños.

The takeaway: Greasy but jovial.

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