ISSAQUAH — When it comes to a taco, what is more important to you — the filling or the tortilla? Some might argue that “you can’t have great tacos with mediocre tortillas.” Others will talk about the importance of meat; garlicky grilled carne asada or tender carnitas. At Xochi taco truck in old town Issaquah, it doesn’t matter if you’re Team Tortilla or Team Filling — you’re going to be happy.
Situated in a quiet parking lot next to the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and Bean Queens Espresso, a chalkboard with the daily menu hangs on the front of a sleek gray trailer. Tacos are the only item on the menu, but you get between eight and 10 options. Plus, half the menu is vegetarian and goes far beyond beans and cheese.
The style of tacos at Xochi is tacos de guisado, or stew tacos, meaning stuffed with rich, braised ingredients. Instead of crispy bits of carnitas or flame-kissed carne asada, you get chicken tinga, in a rich chipotle sauce, or cochinita pibil, a shredded pork slathered with achiote pepper sauce. Even the vegetarian tacos at Xochi are stewed; the Rajas, for instance, feature poblano peppers in sour cream, while the Calabazas have zucchini and corn.
Owner Sandra Diaz is originally from Mexico City and moved to the area with her family because her daughter Valerie wanted to attend the University of Washington. When they arrived, she noticed no one was really making tacos de guisado.
“So the flavor is special,” she says, adding that in Mexico City, every single cook is making it for every day. “It’s very simple, very homey food.”
Diaz’s son told her of a restaurant in Los Angeles called Guisados. She knew that even without handmade tortillas she had better fillings, and her family persuaded her to open Xochi.
Individual tacos come on a larger tortilla here, and are available for $3 each, or you can order a combo featuring five tacos of your choice on smaller tortillas for $9.95. The day I visited, there were five meat options and five vegetarian options, so I persuaded my husband to go all-in with two combos — one that was all meat and the other all vegetarian. There’s also usually a special meat and vegetarian option that changes weekly.
Despite this being a taco trailer, things take a little time at Xochi. The double-stacked tortillas are hot, griddle-kissed and plump with filling. Nearly all are finished with a squirt of housemade salsa. The meat tacos were a smoky Chicken Tinga; Encebollados with steak and sautéed onions; Cochinita Pibil; Chorizo with potatoes; and Chicharron, pork rinds in a spicy tomato sauce.
It’s tough to pick a favorite. The tinga was finished with crunchy pickled onions, cutting the richness perfectly. The Cochinita Pibil had crema and cheese to soothe the heat. The steak in the Encebollados was juicy and tender. The Chicharron was a bit too chewy for my taste, but I like mine with a little more belly attached.
But honestly, I could give up any of these meat tacos and just order from the vegetarian side of the menu. Each vegetable taco came topped with a shot of salsa and cotija. The special taco featured sautéed Brussels sprouts, the Papas taco was stuffed with cubed potatoes and soft yellow onion. There was also a Champinones with mushrooms, and a Nopales, the stewed cactus first charred and finished with raw red onion.
Tacos de guisado are delightfully drippy, but the tortillas hold up beautifully. You almost want to peel one off and eat it alone, without any filling. The fiery salsa is so good you’ll find yourself licking your fingers and even the side of your hand, much like a kid licks errant melting ice cream off a cone. If you’re looking for something extra spicy, Diaz has a garlicky chile de arbol salsa available and occasionally has a green salsa, too — you just have to ask. The fillings are packed full with the kind of flavor that is only achieved after a slow braise or stew. There was a lot of silence as we chewed, eyes widening with the first bite of each new taco, delighted by the flavor combinations and intensity of the salsa.
When asked what makes her tacos so great, Diaz laughs. “It’s because I have a special recipe. It’s love. That’s my special recipe.”
There is a large wooden table with puffy upholstered benches behind the trailer, walled in by plastic for when the inevitable inclement weather hits. You might want to sit there while eating, in case you need to get back to the window and order more.
Xochi; Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday noon-4 p.m., closed Sunday; 145 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah; wearexochi.com