Find a white truck and a queue of addicts hungry for fried avocado, kimchi or green chorizo and you’ve found Happy’s Taco Shop.
All summer long, at the appointed hours, nouveau taco evangelists Drue Wright and Drake Nagel turn hundreds of warm tortillas into street food fusions of Mexican, Korean and New American flavors. Panko-dusted avocado slices with rich molten cores find their groove nested in spicy radish sprouts and sweet tomato jam, while roast pork gets piled with piquant kimchee and sesame salsa verde.
Beyond tacos, Happy’s wraps classic and ‘super’ burritos: formidable cylinders filled with smoked sour cream, smashed pintos, salsa and your choice of lamb, pork, or chorizo.
Taco kingpins Drue Wright and Drake Nagel, respective natives of Boyne City and Ellsworth, met as students at Northern Michigan University and launched Happy’s in 2013 with a Craigslist-bought step van and a mission to bring the North next-level tacos. We sat down with Drue and Drake to get a behind-the-scenes peek into the food truck zeitgeist and learn the makings of a truly great taco.
First things first, give us the grit behind the food truck fantasy.
Drue: Everybody steps up to a great food truck and says, “Man, I want to do this,” without realizing how much hard work is behind it. The truck doesn’t just pick you up for work. We’re in the kitchen commissary early every morning cooking food, prepping and portioning all the ingredients and supplies we’ll need for the day’s venues. Parking these trucks is also part of the fun.
With all the options, what called you to make tacos?
Drake: I’ve always really loved tacos. I grew up eating them, and as I began to explore cooking I was drawn to the taco as a kind of canvas for different types of flavors and ingredients.
It’s obviously more than throwing stuff in a tortilla; what goes into a great taco?
I think of each taco as communicating all the flavor and texture of a full meal in four or five bites. So when I think about putting together a taco, there has to be a balance of texture and acidity along with salty, sweet and savory flavors. Roasted meats, hot sauces, salsas, kimchee, lime juice and crunchy lettuce all work together.
Should we want to roll our own tacos, where do we start?
With a good homemade salsa verde. It’s very simple. Husk some tomatillos, toss them with onion, garlic and jalapenos and roast it all at 375 degrees until the tomatillos begin to brown and turn soft. Put everything in a food processor, add lime juice, salt and fresh cilantro to taste and then process until smooth.
Keep up with Happy’s Taco Shop. Here’s their schedule of food truck stops throughout Traverse City, Petoskey, and Boyne City.
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