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Truckin’ Delicious

Photos by Shannon Richardson

From Mexico to Los Angeles to Amarillo: That’s the journey of Luis Garcia, the 52-year-old father who brought Tacos Kalifas and its unique style of Mexican food, to Amarillo.

After several years in Los Angeles, Garcia moved to Amarillo in 2013. He spent several years working for the Amarillo Independent School District and also operated his own catering business, feeding large parties, weddings and quincerañeras. “Many people used to tell him that he should get a food truck,” says Sandra García, Luis’ oldest daughter and the manager of Tacos Kalifas.

When the family saw a small trailer for sale on Facebook Marketplace, they took the leap. The “Kalifas” in the name is a reference to their California roots—the graffiti-style artwork even comes from a family friend based in L.A.—and it’s a family business through and through. Luis prepares the meats, his wife, Yudy, is in charge of the salsa, and son Louis helps maintain supplies.

The family teases Yudy that her preference for spicy sauce reflects her personality. “They are always really hot,” Sandra says.

We couldn’t get enough of this Los Angeles-style street food, especially the tortas and flavorful mulitas. The quesadillas were also amazingly good. Sandra says Tacos Kalifas’ signature burrito is the top-seller. “It’s not the traditional burrito with lettuce and cheese. Ours comes with beans, rice, your choice of meat, onions, and cilantro—because that’s how we do it out there on the West Coast.”

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B&E recommends: Sandra is right—the sauces are hot. But not so much that the heat dominates the flavor. The green sauce has a slow, smoky burn and we loved it.

Josh Sturgeon is the “J” behind Fry Daddy J’s, and he’s been cooking professionally for at least two decades. A few years ago, he owned a Hereford restaurant under the same name, until health issues forced its closure. Now that he’s in Amarillo, the food truck scene has won him over. “I don’t like being stuck in one spot all the time. I like to travel,” he says. “I like to see new faces, new scenery. It’s easier to move around to where you’re requested.”

He and his family-owned food truck—his wife, Cassandra, and kids Angel and Justin all work together—typically park at 45th and McCarty but anticipate plenty of new scenery this summer. Sturgeon describes his summer plan as “touring.” On short Panhandle road trips, the truck will be rolling into destinations like Perryton, Pampa, Borger and Clovis. He expects those cities will represent promising new markets for his fried shrimp, fish and gator baskets, along with his extremely popular boiled shrimp and crab.

Sturgeon also loves parking at charity events, which allow him and his family to give back from their sales.

“I’m a mom-and-pop,” he says. “I’m not a food chain. I‘m not a big corporation. I take care of my family with this [food truck].” Typically, Fry Daddy J’s opens Tuesday through Saturday during the lunch and dinner hours.

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B&E recommends: We loved the huge portions—the shrimp and crab boil are definitely shareable. We also loved the spice on the fries and had no intention of sharing them.

“I do not want to make popsicles.” That’s what Cherie Scholz told her brother, Brian Singleton, when he pitched her the idea of a gourmet popsicle business. But seeking a career change after years managing food quality in the dairy industry, Scholz agreed to do it. Four years later, the experiment has been nothing but a success.

“We’ve made 10,000 popsicles since April,” says Scholz, standing in the shade of Purple Flamingo’s converted ambulance on a hot Wednesday evening in June at Sam Houston Park. She’s sold more popsicles the past two months than she did in her entire first year.

Scholz and her family have fully embraced the food truck culture. What started as a simple operation now includes the original trailer, an ambulance, and a permanent storefront in Wolflin Village. All are essential as Purple Flamingo caters at festivals, concerts and private events on a weekly basis. “The mobile aspect of this business is huge,” Scholz says. “Ninety percent of our business is catering.”

We estimate 100 percent of their flavors are worth trying—even the weird ones. (A surprising number of customers love the pickle pops, including adults.) Cookies-and-cream is by far its best-seller, but Purple Flamingo’s fruit-based treats, like the mango/pineapple flavor, are just as refreshing on a hot summer day. The Wolflin shop keeps regular business hours, or look for the purple-and-white ambulance or bright yellow trailer at events like the Amarillo Community Market.

purpleflamingopops.com, 806.517.2131

B&E recommends: The blueberry-lemonade combination of the namesake Purple Flamingo popsicle is worth a try. We were also drawn to the creamy coffee pop.

Annalisa Ramos, a single mother of three, always had a passion for cooking. So when her kids were grown up and she had more time available, she opened Cocina on the Go. This brightly colored food truck offers Mexican food from the grill. “I wanted Hispanic culture to be recognized,” she says. “I wanted the name to be catchy and it says what it is—a kitchen on wheels.”

That kitchen features a variety of classic, fresh Tex-Mex dishes like tacos, nachos and quesadillas. The carne asada fries are the Ramos family’s specialty. “We have a combo box that has half asada fries and half queso tacos. Those are our two top items,” she says.

It’s not all fries and queso, though. Cocina on the Go offers healthier options, including spinach quesadillas. Ramos used to cook for the Good & Healthy Cafe in the Medi-Park area and owns a catering business called FreshBox. “I’ve always been attracted to throwing something healthy in there,” she says. “That’s why I chose the spinach quesadilla.”

Ramos and her family live up to their truck’s name, taking Cocina on the Go pretty much everywhere. They have a few regular spots around town on different days of the week, like Lone Star Liquor (Washington Street) on Tuesdays and almost every Thursday at Pondaseta Brewery. The Curious Loft on 45th is also a favorite base.

But the family doesn’t stay anywhere for long. “Some people ask me, ‘Where are y’all at?’ and I say, ‘We are on the go, baby!’”

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B&E recommends: There’s a reason those asada fries are a best-seller. The meat is just incredibly tender. If you don’t want the fries, get the asada tacos.

This is definitely the cutest food truck in the city. Regularly stationed at the corner of Williams Street and Amarillo Boulevard, just east of North Mirror, Pookie Bear sports polkadots, a bright-eyed panda logo, and a menu of aguas frescas, smoothies and boba tea. Owner Keri Balentine has a background as a dessert cook and isn’t afraid to make a sweet impression. “People see the panda and say ‘Oh that’s the boba truck!’” she says.

Balentine opened the truck last August after impressing her sister-in-law with a boba tea recipe. “I made it, and she was like, ‘Girl you should sell it. I think you would do good,’ Balentine remembers. She couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities. “She kinda gave me the idea, and I went from there,” she says.

Pookie’s top seller is the Blue Dream, an antioxidant tea that combines blueberries and cream—and tastes as amazing as it looks. But lately, Balentine has begun introducing food in addition to her popular drinks. “We just started the bubble waffle,” she says. Yes, it’s a real, actual waffle, but with a bubbly sort of appearance. Then there are the toppings. “You can pick fruit and a sauce to go on top. Then you can add powdered sugar and whipped cream,” she says. Definitely do those things. We advise it.

Balentine makes her smoothies from scratch, mostly from puréed fruits, and can make non-sugar and non-dairy versions of her menu. Just don’t ask too many questions about her ingredients. Some of them are confidential. “I have the secret sauces,” she says. “I’m Pookie Bear.”

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B&E recommends: Not into the texture of classic boba? Balentine offers a number of drinks that use spherical juicy poppers instead.

“I’ve been cooking all my life,” says Denny Antel, as smoke from his cooker wafts over his blue trailer. Around 10 years ago, he entered the world of competition barbecue, traveling across Texas and as far away as Kansas City to see how his ribs, brisket and burnt ends stacked up against the best. Antel found success in that arena, with several high finishes. His barbecue literally is award-winning.

But after 2020, this former surgical first assistant decided it was time for a career change. He transformed his competition trailer into a food truck.

Pork N Things is the result. We caught up with Antel on a Saturday at Cadillac Ranch, but much of his weekdays require more of a drive. “We go out of town a lot,” he says. Food trucks can do big business in places like Claude or Vega, where the limited restaurant options bring steady crowds.

Accustomed to cooking for barbecue judges, Antel seeks to impress customers with his Kansas City-style ribs. “I want people to go, ‘Wow, that was the best thing I ever had,’” he says. We obeyed, gladly. The ribs were juicy and the brisket had just the right amount of smoke. Don’t miss the sides, either.

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B&E recommends: If it’s on the menu that day, try the Green Chile Hominy.

Smoke Show (Gladys’ Rib Shack)

Tony and Donita Terry opened their barbecue truck 18 months ago after decades in the fast food world. Donita’s background includes lengthy stints at local Sonic and Wendy’s franchises, so the husband-and-wife duo are no strangers to commercial kitchens.

That comes in handy at Gladys’ Rib Shack, named for Tony’s grandmother, a legendary family cook who passed away in 1995. Tony inherited Gladys’ skill at the grill and smoker, and after so many years in quick-turnaround environments, the couple decided to work at their own pace. “We wanted to leave a legacy for our family,” she says, including their three children and one grandchild.

Regional styles divide the barbecue world, but Donita refuses to align with any camp. “Ours is Tony-style,” she says, laughing. What’s the secret to Tony-style ribs? “It’s his passion.”

From Wednesday to Friday, they sell that passion in the parking lot of Window World of Amarillo on the Boulevard, from 5:30 p.m. until they sell out. Otherwise, the truck regularly ventures to new locations.

The ribs are as incredible as advertised, along with the potato salad and chopped brisket fries. Donita says her customers love supporting local. “Instead of people just going to this [chain] restaurant, people want to buy from their hometown, if they have that option,” she says.

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B&E recommends: The smoked cabbage is a unique, flavorful side you don’t often find at other barbecue joints.

When Joshua and Jade Gonzales’ children opened a weekend lemonade stand near Tradewinds Elementary in 2019, the family had so much fun Joshua began adding a few baked goods to the menu. “Joshua has always made really good cheesecake,” his wife says. The neighborhood quickly agreed, and Joshua found himself having to take time off from his job at a local prison in order to fulfill orders from friends and family.

“I was like, ‘I gotta go do my cheesecake hustle,” he says. The couple’s food truck, Cheesecake HSTL, grew from that humble start. In January, Joshua quit his job to take the hustle full time. “We went into this head-first, all risk,” he says. “We’ve been flying.”

When we found the truck at Street Volkswagen, the line was five deep despite the 95-degree heat radiating off the parking lot. The simple Dulce de Leche is a customer favorite, but we were drawn to a slice of Eat My Shorts, a secret menu item that combines chocolate and caramel sauces with crumbled Butterfinger. The wait was worth it.

There still aren’t too many dessert-based food trucks in the city, so if you see this one around town, hustle over and grab a slice.

cheesecakehstl.com

B&E recommends: Joshua and Jade occasionally offer a “Nacho HSTL” side menu. Toppings include pulled pork and cool avocado drizzle.

“I was a little apprehensive about the name,” says Chris Kizer, who owns Dirty Uncle Monty’s with his wife, Meghan. She came up with the name while telling their friend, Montgomery, about the 31-foot, 1971 Airstream Sovereign they noticed for sale along Interstate 40. No one wants “dirty” associated with food prep. “I fought it for about six months,” Chris admits.

Eventually he came around, hoping the classic RV’s enormous windows and exterior gleam would dispel misconceptions about hygiene. Kizer has a culinary school background and executive chef experience at local country clubs. His high-end approach to food also upends expectations. In fact, he envisioned the truck as more of a mobile kitchen designed to cater weddings. He’s used it to prepare and serve five-course dinners.

The food itself—almost entirely organic—looks and tastes upscale at an approachable price point. The fresh-made, D.U.M. Sliders feature Black Angus beef cooked in a cast-iron skillet, topped with smoky aioli. Chris and Meghan describe their truck as “Amarillo’s first fine-dining Airstream.” Fact check: Accurate.

facebook.com/Dirtyunclemontys, 806.410.4656

B&E recommends: The Spicy Chicken Sandwich, breaded with crumbled pork rinds, has an unforgettable bite thanks to the corn relish topping and ghost pepper aioli.

First things first: The name isn’t really #YOLO, as in “you only live once.” (Though that’s the only excuse you need to try the indulgent PB&J French Toast served from this bright red, 16-foot trailer.) “Yolo” actually combines the names of owner Yolanda Grazier with her husband, Logan. After a long career managing restaurants for national chains, “I got tired of climbing someone else’s ladder,” Yolanda says.

Two years ago, she realized Amarillo’s food truck scene lacked any breakfast-focused trucks. That became Yolos early specialty, with customers returning for the enormous Palo Duro Burrito. “Breakfast appeals to all people,” she says.

Lately, though, customers have been enjoying lunch options like the Chicken Lil Fries, which put a West Texas spin (cream gravy and fried chicken bits) on classic Canadian poutine. When not working a private event, Grazier and Stacie Hall dish it out at the corner of 45th and Georgia every Friday and most Saturdays.

In early June, Yolos impressed at the invitation-only Food Truck Championship of Texas in Graham, as one of 43 trucks serving 3,000 people. “It was a non-stop line for seven hours,” Grazier says. That’s a lot of breakfast burritos.

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B&E recommends: Order the Mac Attack, which is mac-and-cheese topped with crispy bacon. Then add chicken and chopped jalapeños as add-ons. You’re welcome.

Not everyone will admit it, but Alic Esparza doesn’t care. He has always loved Wienerschnitzel. When he, his wife Whitney, and his mom, Gracie Homer, began thinking about launching a food trailer, he couldn’t stop thinking hot dogs should be their focus. But not just any hot dogs. These are alpha dogs.

The name “Hot Dog Shack” doesn’t suggest a deluxe menu, but that’s exactly what you’ll find. The family-owned trailer is one of the resident weekend trucks at Starlight Ranch Event Center (see below), and their over-the-top, colorful approach to the simple hot dog has won rave reviews from concertgoers as well as Starlight owner Bobby Lee. “We try to be creative,” Alic says. “We want to make our mark.”

For instance, instead of serving food in a closed container, all hot dogs come in an open boat to show off the fresh vegetables and presentation. “The colorfulness is very appetizing,” says Gracie. “There’s so much competition [at Starlight] that we want it to look so good.” It also tastes so good, from the heat of the Junkyard Dog—which is topped with Fritos and fresh jalapeños—to Alic’s version of the classic chili-cheese dog.

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B&E recommends: We loved the crunch of the Hot Cheetos Dog, an all-beef dog topped with nacho cheese, Hot Cheetos and mustard. Not a hot dog fan? The Frito Pie is delish.

Don’t call it a food truck. This is, in the words of owner Samuel Hale, “a restaurant that can move.” He and his wife, Jennifer, launched their business six years ago. They worked with Greg Hudspeth at City Machine & Welding to customize a 20-foot shipping container with enormous windows and a wood-fired brick oven.

Hale says the vehicle is one of maybe 10 shipping container food trucks in the world. It’s definitely the only food truck on the radar of the Ronald Reagan Foundation & Institute, which gave the Hales written permission to use the late president’s face and name in their marketing. “It’s not political,” Samuel says. “It’s time-based. We think of the eighties as a slower time. There weren’t mobile devices. Families sat down and ate together at the table.”

Around Reagan’s, those tables are a little unconventional. The Hales’s teen sons, Tate and Taylor, set out vintage ironing boards to give patrons a place for drinks and pies. The tight family makes a tight crew. “We can make a single pie in four minutes,” Jennifer says. Samuel estimates they send 90 pies an hour through their oven. That includes the popular Honey Badger, a pizza with Italian sausage and pepperoni, drizzled with hot honey.

reagansbrickoven.com, 806.433.5793

B&E recommends: Simple is good, and the basic basil-and-mozzarella Margherita pizza tasted as satisfying as pies we’ve had in New York’s Little Italy.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Carlos Muñoz owns Hibachi Kingdom, Amarillo’s first Hibachi-style Japanese food truck. Muñoz is not Japanese, which sometimes surprises customers who peek in the window to watch their food being prepared. But Muñoz is no stranger to the open, teppanyaki cooking style.

Muñoz hails from Monterrey, Mexico, where he started cooking in 1989 at the first Japanese restaurant to open in that city. The six members of his team also boast extensive backgrounds, including Antonio San Martin, who learned under Muñoz at Kabuki in Amarillo. This family-owned truck opened in November 2020 and is parked full time at 10th and Buchanan, a block south of the ballpark. “It’s a busy street, lots of office traffic, the stadium,” Muñoz says. “There’s no need to move it.”

Even so, he’s planning on introducing a second truck next summer to take his flavorful dishes to another part of town. We loved the House Special, which adds shrimp, chicken and beef to traditional fried rice with just a hint of garlic.

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B&E recommends: Don’t want to wait? Call in your order ahead of time. During our photo shoot, multiple customers pulled up to grab already-prepared orders.

You won’t know it from the name, the menu, or really anything in the marketing of this hamburger-focused food truck with a simple menu. But owner Robert Kisselburg is practically Amarillo restaurant royalty. His grandparents were Denzel and Ann Arnold.

That’s right: He’s heir to the Arnold Burgers legacy.

Fans of that classic Washington Street dive will see and taste it immediately in the juicy, misshapen cheeseburger Kisselburg cooks. He has a lengthy background as a chef in area restaurants and customized his food truck from scratch, opening in early 2020. “Tank has always been my nickname,” he says. “I was ready to be my own boss and set my own hours.” But owning a small business isn’t always easy. With a food truck, he says, “I also have to be my own mechanic.”

We found him at lunch on a weekday near Affiliated Foods, where a steady stream of regulars crossed Washington Street to order the Tank Burger and Tank Melt. “It’s a standard burger,” Kisselburg says. If so, that standard was set by one of the most iconic burger joints in Amarillo history, and these Kisselburgers definitely stack up.

tanksfoodtruck@yahoo.com

B&E recommends: Don’t hesitate to go for the add-ons, like mushrooms and fresh-roasted jalapeños. Don’t hesitate to get napkins, either.

Food Entertainment

Over the past few years, Starlight Ranch Event Center has become the most consistent source of live music in Amarillo, from recent concerts featuring Asleep at the Wheel and Aaron Watson to events like Muttfest and this month’s Hey Amarillo BeerFest. But on any given weekend, it’s also the place to find some of the best food truck fare in Amarillo.

Starlight owner-operator Bobby Lee—no stranger to food as one of the family members behind The Big Texan—has spent several seasons experimenting with the best way to feed concert and festival attendees. This summer, he began offering long-term residencies to a handful of carefully chosen food trucks. It’s been an enormous success.

These include the gourmet street-style tacos of Taco Guapo, unique hand-held comfort food from Yum in a Bun, and what Lee calls “designer hot dogs” from The Hot Dog Shack. (Lee describes that truck’s chili-cheese Junkyard Dog this way: “It’s not food. It’s art.”)

“The level of the food makes for a really good experience with people going [to Starlight events],” Lee says. “It’s been fun and profitable for them. As our crowds get larger, their sales are increasing every week.”

The amount of volume these trucks manage on Friday and Saturday nights at Starlight is significant. In fact, the event center has a waiting list of trucks hoping to gain a spot on the residency list. “I love having my food truck at Starlight,” says Yum in a Bun owner Tanya Mabe. “We get to meet everyone, get to hear the band. We’re in between the bar and the bathroom, so I’m going to get [customers] either way.”

Lee has high expectations for the mobile businesses he chooses to showcase. “I’ve eaten at a lot of different food trucks around town,” he says. “The one thing I really emphasize is that they’ve got to have great food and they have to get it out quick. Otherwise, you’re not going to be able to get the volume you need. You have to turn that food before the show or between acts.”

Food trucks thrive on limited menus and over-the-top presentation, and that visual appeal works well at an event or concert. “When people see these food items going out, that’s what sells it,” he says. The trucks have proven to be so popular, Lee now locates each band’s merchandise booth in the middle of the food trucks. “It makes it more like a carnival midway,” he says.

In fact, thanks to a new kettle corn purveyor on site, it even smells like a carnival midway. That’s all part of the experience, Lee explains. “I call it food entertainment, because that’s what it is.”

Authors

  • Sal is an Amarillo College graduate and a PR and Advertising major at West Texas A&M. He works as a social media strategist and does PR for a local nonprofit. Sal is also the founder of La Dosis and Muliversion podcast, two projects with staff from Latin American countries. He speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese, and spends his free time cooking, hiking with friends, and learning new languages.