Mobile munchies: Food trucks a growing industry in I.F.

Patrons wait to order at the Las Penitas food truck on May 18. Las Penitas is located off North Yellowstone Highway near the Idaho Innovation Center. John Roark/

Salvador Garcia, owner of Garcia’s Street Tacos, poses for a photo in his food truck on May 18. Garcia’s Street Tacos is located at 165 Science Center Drive. John Roark/

Gema Jimenez, in red, makes fresh tortillas as Yesenia Ledesma makes a burrito at the Las Penitas food truck on May 18. John Roark/

Patrons have lunch from the Las Penitas food truck on May 18. John Roark/

Eddy Alvarez makes a fruit cup at Tropical Paradise on May 18. The fruit cup is a mix of melons, cucumber, apples, pineapple, chamoy — a sweet, spicy sauce, and tajin. Tropical Paradise is located at 725 W. Broadway St. John Roark/

Mulacos, a homemade tortilla with melted cheese, your choice of meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa, are seen at the Garcia’s Street Tacos truck on May 18. John Roark/

Sal Garcia takes a customer’s order from the front window of his van. It will be the first of over 100 orders he’ll fill that day.

“Some weekends, we’ll have a 40-minute wait,” he said. “This is true, authentic Mexican food.

“It’s not fast food, it’s good food.”

Garcia’s Street Tacos is one of nearly a dozen food trucks that operate in Idaho Falls. And it has been a healthy business for its operators.

“I have a guy who owns land in Jackson that travels the world, and he tells us ‘dude, I’ve been all around the world and tried all the Hispanic places, but Idaho Falls is still number one,’” he said. “The community in Idaho Falls are privileged to have us in this town.”

Garcia’s is not unique in this venture. From American cuisine, Mexican staples, and even dessert offerings, eastern Idaho has witnessed a culinary revolution in recent years.

And a lot of this comes from the back of a truck or van.

Going mobile

Garcia claims his operation at 165 Science Center Drive was the first food truck in eastern Idaho. His father worked to create a unique business in the area, opening his first operation in the early 1980s.

Since then, Garcia’s family has added Garcia’s Meat Market at 310 Northgate Mile.

But the passion started in the food truck industry.

“If you look back when we opened, the lines used to be two or three miles long,” Garcia said. “We would stay open until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. It was something pretty special at first.”

The city’s approach to mobile food joints has likely played a role in the growth.

Food truck regulations in Idaho Falls are overseen by the city. Bud Cranor, public information officer for Idaho Falls, said the city permit process for these operations is not necessarily different from those wishing to open a brick and mortar restaurant. Businesses must apply with the city to receive a mobile food vendor permit and an east Idaho public health permit. There is also no limit to the amount of permits Idaho Falls will grant for these operations.

“As long as they meet these criteria, they’re able to operate,” Cranor said.

Garcia believes the city is helping to promote these types of businesses.

“If you look around now, they’re all over the place,” he said.

The growth of food trucks in Idaho Falls is rare for a city of its size. Trucks typically dot the streets of large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but vendors are now finding success in mid-sized towns.

“When we originated here, we got the people of the town so used to this,” Garcia said. “It’s sort of become a tradition.”

Isahias Galvan visits trucks at the Idaho Innovation Center several times a week, and believes it is the most authentic Mexican food offered in the area.

“They’re quick about their food and the tortillas are always homemade and fresh,” he said. “And the prices are always way good. If you know the right places, you’ll come here.”

Las Penitas, Galvan’s favorite, typically overflows during the lunch hour, with tacos starting at $1.50. And patrons like Galvan flock to the brightly colored truck for their daily fix of authentic Mexican cuisine.

“They offer a lot of meat,” he said. “At other places, I’ll have six or seven tacos. Here, I get about four and I’m solid.”

This low-cost, high-quality lunch option has become commonplace for food trucks in the region. The average price for a taco from an area food truck ranges from $1.50 to $2, with anywhere from two to six employees operating the business at a given time.

The value in these locations, and the quality of food, brings customers back, sometimes even just for the nostalgia.

“With the growing of the Hispanic population in this town, that’s part of the reason why we’ve had so much success,” Garcia said. “There’s been a lot of population increase from when we started, and this town is big enough to where we can have all these trucks and businesses.”

Unique offerings

Tropical Paradise, operating from a truck at 725 W. Broadway St., is one of the more unique offerings in the Idaho Falls.

Eddy Alverez has been making delectable treats from this location for three years as an employee, designing fruit-based delicacies for customers.

“We sell Mexican fruit cocktails,” he said. “We would go to Utah and find different stuff; different names, and new add-ons to them.”

Tropical Paradise offers over 12 treats from their location, and can cater for other events.

“The wrap on the truck, and the food, attracts a lot of people,” Alverez said.

Ultimately, food truck operators such as Garcia hope the mobile meal trend will help grow the food culture in eastern Idaho. And he welcomes the competition in this quest.

“When I hear a new truck is opening up down the street from us, I welcome it,” he said. “We’ve never seen a decrease in sales from any of this. If anything, we’re on the rise.”

Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.