Photo by Sam Romero
The ambiance of the Grubfest in Granada Hills had a sense of tranquility yet a subtle buzz filled the air. The people present seemed to be enjoying themselves in a laid-back sort-of-way with their plates on one hand, and a taco on another. In fact, I actually noticed that a few people had their mouths full of food and were too busy to talk as they were more focused on their plates than their friends.
As I gently approached this food truck, the aromas and smells of the searing food completely enveloped me. It’s as if I was being welcomed into an evening barbecue at the beach in Baja California Mexico. The smells of corn tortillas, the fried fish and the sizzling sound of the grill invited me to come closer and investigate deeper. An instantaneous smile took over me as I see myself nodding as well…
Ok! Enough about that!
First of all, let me start by saying that Papa Juan’s is not just another “taco food truck” from your friendly neighborhood corner in LA. At first, it can seem as though it actually is. (Ha! They sure fooled me!)
But it only takes a few moments of observation to see the unique perspective on the dishes they actually serve. You see, there are only a few food trucks that serve seafood tacos in the area. And for a place that claims to have Baja inspired dishes, Papa Juan’s sure knows how to deliver. If you enjoy Mexican-style mariscos, you’re in for a real treat! From shrimp cocktails to fish tacos, to their own twist on the classic quesadilla (a fried shrimp quesadilla!), you’ll be transported to the Baja beach of flavors.
These guys have stepped it up a notch in the sense that they have achieved both the “classical” taste of tacos, while at the same time making it their own. For example, their battered fried fish tacos look like any other fish taco. Yet taste completely original. This is due to their recipe, which consists of (SECRET) and a little bit of (SECRET), which makes the (SECRET)taste like (SECRET), and that’s all there is to it.
Ok in reality, not even I know the “secret” to their dishes; they guard it with their life and swear by it. But they seem very passionate about what they do and they do pride themselves in a recipe passed down from previous generations.
One of the things I tried at Papa Juan’s was the Battered Fried Fish Taco. And, well, I hadn’t tasted the thing yet and I was already putting lime on the taco. I guess I was just accustomed to doing my Latino ritual. I felt guilty afterwards because let me tell you, it did not need lime! The fish actually tasted like it should, like fish. I remember smelling the exact same thing on my way there. The aroma was good I could almost taste it.
Next on the things I tried was the Fried Shrimp Quesadilla. It became an instant favorite on my list. Even though it was fried, it was really cheesy the way they made it (no pun intended), so cheesy that if you twist off a piece, a strand of cheese follows. An absolute classic, with a twist.
The other thing I tried was the Shrimp Tostada. It could’ve used a little less cucumber in my opinion, and I suppose the shrimp was a little tough due to the marinating process, but good flavor overall.
I also tried the Coctél de Camarón/ Shrimp Cocktail. The juice of the cocktail was flavorful and very similar to the tostada. After tasting it, I added Tapatío hot sauce and more lime. I actually expected celery, but maybe this recipe is different. And just like the tostada, it could’ve used less cucumber in my opinion. I’ve actually tasted a few varieties of shrimp cocktails of Mexico and I can say this was somewhat pretty close to the Mexican Coctél de Camarón that I am familiar with. Overall, my experience at Papa Juan’s was a pleasant one.
-Written by Manny Romero