Tasty Tuesday : Pepe Caliente

Pepe Caliente logo graphic

There is a distinctive breed of food cart in Portland. Those carts who do not set up shop in a pod but choose to be mobile. They travel tirelessly across the city taking their culinary wares to multiple locations and events each week. They have dedicated followers who anticipate the days that these roving restaurants will arrive in front of their office building.

While most food carts in Portland are technically mobile, the great majority have established themselves in those mostly permanent locations known to the initiates as pods (hmmm… puts a new spin on the term ‘pod people’). But not all carts around PDX are operated in the ‘traditional’ manner. A notable few have adopted the gypsy lifestyle of their brethren serving the cities that lie outside the singular system of the food cart pods in Portland.

Photo of the Pepe Caliente food truck

Pepe Caliente is one of these vagabond purveyors of victuals who move about the city servicing their clients who are out to lunch and looking for something more distinctive than assembly-line fast food. And the food at Pepe Caliente is about as far from fast food as you could want to be.

José Sastré is the chef and jarocho who’s culinary vision came to be as he witnessed first-hand the cooking done in the family kitchens of his home town of Veracruz, México. Fifteen years as a corporate chef creating meals based upon native cuisines and cultures from across the globe has brought José to Portland with a desire to recreate the food with which he was raised.

Photo of the Pepe Caliente Jorocho

It is here in Portland that José chose to fulfill his dream of a mobile food cart specializing in the authentic Mexican food of Veracruz. Should you ever have the opportunity to experience México as those who live there do, you will find the indigenous food to be unlike what we here in El Norte refer to ‘Mexican food.’

For example; Pepe Caliente’s signature dish is the Jarocho. Named after the colloquial term for someone from Veracruz, the Jarocho is a cochinita pibil (a 24-hour marinated pork slow-roasted in a banana leaf) wrapped in a corn tortilla, covered in broth made from the marinade, garnished with jicama sticks, pickled red onions, habaneros and cilantro. The best way to eat the Jarocho is with a spoon so you can experience the broth with each bite.

Photo of the Pepe Caliente Jorocho

Another specialty of Pepe Caliente is the avocado & Serrano pepper salsa. No, this is not guacamole. This smooth, avocado-green salsa is a sweet and spicy sauce that is used to compliment any of the dishes served at Pepe Caliente. This salsa is what ketchup would want to be if it had an imagination. The avocado & Serrano pepper salsa is available as a take-home item as well.

Photo of the Pepe Caliente avocado and Serrano pepper salsa

Since Pepe Caliente does not have a permanent pod they call home, how do you track and follow Pepe Caliente so you too can enjoy José’s Veracruzian victuals? A full schedule of their daily stops and events can be found at the Pepe Caliente website. You may also follow them through email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Listen now as Steven Shomler and Ken Wilson talk with José and Kia Sastré of Pepe Caliente about the meaning of the name Pepe Caliente and why they chose to be a mobile cart in the pod-powered food-cart culture of Portland.

Ken Wilson
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