Manuel Sanchez opens the back door of Taqueria Los Primos, the school-bus yellow food truck he owns with his brother, Hugo.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and there’s much to do before the first customer arrives.
As cars whiz by the truck, parked at the intersection of Route 1 and Guilford Road in Jessup, Manuel Sanchez turns on its gas grill and range. Here the Ellicott City resident will cook authentic Mexican dishes containing everything from chicken and pork to sausage and beef tongue throughout the day.
Less than three feet away, his brother wipes down the counters and then places ladles within easy reach of the range. Above him are two shelves, filled with stacks of corn and flour tortillas.
Manuel Sanchez pulls three large plastic containers from the truck’s refrigerator. One contains pinto beans, a staple in many of the Mexican dishes he prepares. Another contains red sauce, made with jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and Chile de arbol, a small and potent Mexican chili pepper.
“It’s my mom’s recipe,” he says of the red sauce.
So is the customer-favorite green sauce, which fills the third container and includes cilantro, avocados, jalapeno peppers and tomatillos.
In the truck, Manuel Sanchez, 25, cooks food he and his 32-year-old brother grew up with: burritos, flautas, quesadillas, sopes and tacos.
The Sanchez brothers moved to the United States from Mexico about 14 years ago. Five years after they arrived, the siblings began working as cooks at Mimi’s Cafe in Elkridge and TGI Fridays in Laurel.
“When I worked for Mimi’s, I started at 6 a.m.,” Manuel Sanchez says. “I left around 2 or 3 [p.m.] and then went to Fridays at 4 [p.m.] I finished at TGI Fridays at 2 a.m.”
After 10 years of working two jobs, Manuel Sanchez says he and his brother yearned for something different. Cooking Mexican food was a natural choice.
Manuel Sanchez used his savings to buy a food truck online. It took eight months to design the menu, complete all the required paperwork, buy a new refrigerator and get the truck up and running.
In March, the truck served its first meals.
At 8:30 a.m., Manuel and Hugo Sanchez pull more than 20 pounds of pork from the refrigerator.
“I’m making al pastor tacos,” Manuel Sanchez says.
He grabs a container filled with dark brown spices from one of the truck’s shelves.
“This is my dad’s recipe,” he says, pointing to the mix of more than 20 spices.
Manuel Sanchez sprinkles the concoction over the thinly sliced meat as Hugo Sanchez mixes everything together. The brothers then add orange juice, lime juice and white vinegar as a marinade.
Friend and fellow food truck cook Nicho Gonzalez arrives, accompanied by jugs of water, bags of ice and fresh loaves of special Mexican bread used to make tortas.
As he unloads the water, Manuel Sanchez places an onion at the bottom of a vertical metal spit. Then, piece by piece, his brother slides the marinated pork onto the spit, creating a 2.5-foot tower of meat. On the top of the spit, he places a large piece of pineapple.
The pork will cook throughout the day and be used in tacos, burritos and alambre — a dish made with chopped meat and vegetables.
Nearby, a large pot of menudo sits near the range. Manuel Sanchez recently added the classic Mexican soup, made with cow’s feet and intestines, after several customers requested it.
“When I make it, people love it,” he says. “But I only make it on Saturdays and Sundays.”
As Manuel Sanchez warms pinto beans and chopped onions in a pot, his brother heads back outside to collect any trash that has settled around the food truck overnight. He also wipes down the three picnic benches sitting next to the truck and opens the three tiki-style umbrellas.
Just before 9 a.m., Manuel Sanchez turns on the truck’s bright red “open” sign.
On the move
Taqueria Los Primos is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Manuel Sanchez and his brother are usually there every day, arriving an hour before opening and staying an hour after closing. While Manuel Sanchez handles most of the hot food preparation, Gonzalez prepares the cold items, including the red and green sauces and fresh vegetables like onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.
Hugo Sanchez works the window, taking orders from customers and delivering the food.
Both brothers are used to the long hours, but it’s still hard work. Manuel Sanchez gets little family time with his wife and 5-month-old daughter. And there are days the brothers barely sit down, he says.
“Some Saturdays are crazy,” he says. “Then some Saturdays are nothing.”
On a busy day, the truck will go through as much as 25 pounds of pork, 20 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of beef.
On this Saturday, business is steady.
Around noon, during her first-ever visit to the truck, Louisa Glover of Laurel orders the tongue taco.
“I wanted to be exotic,” she says.
After a few bites, she says she is impressed with the dish — and the service.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she says. “I’ll definitely be back.”
One picnic table over, Bowie residents Susan Pridgen and her daughter, Savannah, are also visiting for the first time.
They say they love Mexican food and are eager to try Sanchez’s creations.
A few bites into their flautas and carnitas burrito, the Pridgens say they are sold.
“It’s good,” Savannah Pridgen says. “The combination of flavors they use, the spices and sauces.”
By 1 p.m., 12 customers are either in line for food or seated with meals around the truck.
Manuel Sanchez says he enjoys owning his own business and would like to see it grow in the coming years. But for now, he needs to focus on the range. The next order is up.