Food Truck Cuisine: Yakima’s New Normal

Originally published in Yakima Magazine
By Molly Allen

The Yakima Valley’s food scene has experienced growth in recent years with the opening of restaurants such as Crafted and Provisions. And with the increased focus on unique, handcrafted foods, the food truck scene in the Valley has followed suit.

When Yair Gutierrez opened his food truck, Chronic Foods, in January 2016, the popularity of food trucks was just beginning to grow in Yakima. Gutierrez said there was plenty of food being served out of revamped buses or trucks, but those outlets were stationary. When Chronic Foods came on the scene, it was one of the first trucks with mobile capabilities, moving from place to place.ADVERTISING

“We’ve always had food trucks in the Valley,” said Gutierrez. “But they didn’t move as much as they do now.”

Gutierrez grew up in Baja, Mexico, helping his uncle in his taqueria from age 9. When he moved to the U.S., he knew he wanted to do something in the food industry.

“I did four years in the Marines, and once I was out, I had a hard time finding a job. I always wanted to open up a business, so it was the right time for me,” he said. “I always liked the idea of food trucks. It’s a safer investment than going with a brick and mortar to start with.”

Chronic Foods dishes up unique twists on Mexican cuisine with a bit of a Southern California style, offering items on the menu like the Cali Burrito, which is stuffed with fresh French fries, or Carne Asada Fries, piled high with meat, cheese, salsa, sour cream and cilantro.

“We definitely try to appeal more to the younger generation with cool foods, but still have something for everyone,” Gutierrez said. “For a long time, food trucks have had a bad reputation, but we’re trying to change how people see them.”

Slowly but surely, that view of food trucks is changing around the Valley, as a growing number of trucks are partnering with other local businesses such as breweries and wineries. With the Yakima Valley serving as a premier beverage destination, it’s only natural to pair great food with the great beverages at each location. However, most breweries don’t have the licensing to cook food on site, and that’s where food trucks become the perfect match.

“Food trucks have been around in Yakima for a long time now, but more recently they are becoming more popular,” said Vania Flores-Zuno, who owns 5 Salsas food truck with her husband Jose Flores. “With the collaboration with other local businesses, the food truck scene is growing.”

For 5 Salsas, pairing up with Single Hill Brewing has been helpful in growing their business. The couple first opened

5 Salsas in September 2016 and parked on South First Street for almost two years. But when Single Hill opened in 2018, they established a partnership that has been great for both businesses. “We’re typically always at Single Hill, unless we have other events,” said Flores-Zuno.

Jose had worked in restaurants since he came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2014, so his experience in the industry was a natural fit to bring something great to Yakima, Flores-Zuno said.

“He had always had a talent for cooking delicious food, but before opening up 5 Salsas, he hadn’t had the opportunity to create food from scratch and explore his own ideas,” Flores-Zuno said.

His creativity in coming up with different ideas has definitely paid off. According to Flores-Zuno, their tacos and quesadillas are popular, but it’s the Taquesos from 5 Salsas that have really increased in popularity.

Flores came up with the idea, looking for a faster way to melt the cheese for a quesadilla, and he stumbled upon something incredible. Fresh cheese is grilled to match the shape and size of a corn tortilla. Once it forms a shell, the cheese is placed on top of the tortilla, meat is added and the taco is finished off with all the fixings. It’s the ideal twist on the traditional street taco, adding cheese to every bite. Between the Taquesos and the five different homemade salsas that customers can add to their food,

5 Salsas has become a staple in food truck cuisine in Yakima and Flores-Zuno says she’s excited to see what happens in the industry in the next few years.

But 5 Salsas isn’t the only food truck pairing up with local businesses.

The owners of the mobile pizza truck called Cascade Crust have found they’re a good fit for the Yakima Valley food truck scene as well. The business started in Snohomish County in 2018, but owners Phil Laurx and Alice Childs decided it would be a better fit for the Valley.

“We’ve had brick ovens in our backyards for years and have always loved them,” said Laurx. “You can cook just about anything in these ovens. One day, we decided to see if we could put one on a truck. Well, we did, and it worked!”

But the Cascade Crust truck isn’t your ordinary food truck. It’s a rebuilt 1954 Chevy, with a 48-inch-diameter oven on the back cranked up to 700 degrees.

According to Laurx, he and his family and friends who help with the business have the power to whip up 60 to 70 pizzas per hour in their truck, and people seem to love to be able to say they ate a meal served out of a ’54 Chevy, especially as the food truck scene continues to gain popularity.

“The growth in popularity is happening everywhere, and this just made sense for us,” said Laurx. “There’s a lot of businesses who don’t have food and we can work with them.”

Cascade Crust can be found at a number of wineries and events in Prosser, as well as in Sunnyside at Varietal Brewing Company every Thursday. They say it’s a win-win situation — they bring business to the brewery, while the brewery brings business to them.

“It’s a good way to start out a food business and the idea is catching on,” said Laurx. “We just love the idea of being able to go to people and visit different people. It’s truly so much fun.”