Restaurant review: Taquitos and Pizza Vantastica - fast food from a van can be wheely good
Pizza Vantastica: Tel: 07976 008078. Taquitos: Tel: 07849 958713
Vans, trucks, converted buses and just about anything on wheels big enough to haul a stove, a fridge and an oven are running up and down roads all over the western world, parking in lay-bys, town squares and shopping centres. Street food is now such a big thing that the food itself is the subject of re-interpretation by top chefs.
Take Shelby's in Holywood as reviewed last week. Here is a restaurant which specialises in cocktails and street food but you'll not find any paper napkins, diesel fumes or pinned up menus here. This is the place which turned street food into sit-down, knife and fork in each hand and proper crystal glasses ecole des beaux arts culinaires, as my mum would say.
Yet while the rest of the world seems to be feeding itself largely from vans and trucks, we in the north find it hard to find them. They are not a thing. There used to be a good few kebab and chippy vans about the streets on weekend evenings, but even these have largely vanished. I say largely, but not entirely, because there are two in the Belfast area which are well worth a visit. One is a Mexican taco van, the other a pizzeria in a trailer.
Actually, they're both trailers. First, the Taquitos trailer which you will find parked up near the Big Fish down by the Lagan in Belfast city centre. Chef patron Gary Quinn has been winning hearts and minds since he opened last year to great acclaim it has to be said, from a series of Mexican visitors. There seemed to be such a steady stream of chicanos posting praise and glory to Taquitos on their Instagram pages that I thought at one stage that this was super clever marketing. But it was no such thing. This was genuine acknowledgement by people who know, that Taquitos is a quality taco maker.
While Gary Quinn has never set foot in Mexico, he has gained valuable and relevant experience in the capital of Latin America, Miami. For a year he worked closely with Norman Van Aken, a legendary chef who owns Three, the renowned restaurant in Miami which specialises in Floridian and consequently Latino cuisine. I know Miami and how advanced and sophisticated the clientele can be so much respect to Gary for this.
Visas being tighter than a seal's nostril on a Donegal winter morning, Gary made his way back here and eschewing the career path for the moment, invested instead in the trailer where he now makes tacos, tostadas and rice bowls. Keeping things simple means he can focus on quality. Guacamole is made every couple of hours, the meats including chicken, chorizo and BBQ beef are slow cooked, rich and tender and features including refried beans and the Mexican chorizo are as authentic as you can get.
The second trailer is Pizza Vantastica where the wholesomeness of real pizza, a forgotten attraction of the occasionally maligned food of the heavens, is placed at the heart of everything Italian Alessandro Bianco does. But here is a piece of information I never knew. According to Alessandro, your small individual six or nine-inch pizza is never going to taste as well as the full 12-incher (or higher).
Why this is remains a mystery. Alessandro says he has studied this closely for years but has yet to find the reason why. Having said that, this does explain why in the US and across Italy you will only ever see slices of pizza for sale, never baby versions. Alessandro is also running a pizza school so if you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of the much loved all-in-one meal, here's your opportunity.
As you'd expect of a wheeled takeaway, Pizza VanTastica moves about. Sometimes you'll see him in the car park of Forestside, at other times he could be, well, anywhere. He has fitted a new Vesuvio 4.0 oven which he says makes even better pizzas than before. To find him either phone ahead or check his Facebook page of the same name. Either way, you'll thank me for recommending this. The dough is light and freshly manipulated and his tomato sauce as rich and tangy as any you will get in, er, Italy.
Connoisseurs go for Alessandro's salami which he imports from Napoli. The substantial difference between this and the more common Milano salami which is bigger and finer, is the more coarse and smaller proportion of the Napoli sausage and also its more intense flavour. This, the top quality mozzarella and the burnt bits of the pizza dough make for the perfect simple, honest to goodness pizza experience.
A tale of two trailers to cut out and keep.
Rice bowl £7
Taco x 3 £6
9-inch Margherita £6
12-inch Margherita £12