WILKES-BARRE — In 2002, Laura Castillo took her two daughters on a trip to California. The vacation was planned so the girls could visit Disneyland, but Castillo found a different kind of magic in the Golden State: inspiration for her food truck El Jefe, which now cruises the streets of Wilkes-Barre.
As a girl in Mexico, Castillo worked with her mother preparing food when she wasn’t in school. Her exposure to California food trucks gave the aspiring business owner a new way to use her culinary skills.
“I always had a dream I would have my own business,” Castillo, a Wilkes-Barre resident, said. “When I went there I saw everything is fresh made in the food trucks. One day I wish I could have one.”
When Castillo returned to Wilkes-Barre from her vacation, she worked with her husband, Francisco, at his business, Castillo Stone Company, and the two saved money for Laura to start her own venture. Two years ago, the Castillos made their move.
With her dream rejuvenated in 2013 by the local appearance of mobile vendors like What the Fork, the couple purchased a truck and got to work. Francisco bought and installed items one at a time until the truck was ready in November 2015. By the end of the month, Laura was serving customers Mexican cuisine inspired by her childhood.
Laura’s El Jefe Food Truck visits the corner of South Main and Northampton Streets Tuesdays through Saturdays. The truck’s usual location can be seen from the window of DerbySoft’s downtown location, where 32-year-old Carl Schiel works.
Schiel and his coworkers’ “taco truck” nickname for EL Jefe is proof they approve of Castillo’s take on the dish, but Schiel said one variety stands cheese and tortilla above the rest.
“I love the chicken tacos,” Schiel said. “It’s a good value, I get three tacos for $5 and you really can’t beat it.”
Tacos are joined on El Jefe’s menu by a number of other traditional Mexican dishes, including tamales (corn-based dough packets stuffed with sweet or savory filling), Mexican pizza (pizza topped with ingredients used in Mexican cuisine) and huarache (a smattering of toppings built atop an oblong piece of dough). Department of Human Services employee Megan Wiest intended to order a Cuban sandwich when she stepped to El Jefe’s counter, but she too fell victim to the “taco truck” effect and walked away with three chicken tacos to share with her coworkers.
“I didn’t plan on it, I was just taking a walk before lunch and I was like, ‘ooh, Mexican, that sounds good,’” Wiest said. “I always like to try different things and authentic food trucks are fun because they’re different.”
Castillo hopes to offer that authentic experience at a brick-and-mortar location soon; she’s currently scouting Kidder Street and Public Square in Wilkes-Barre for a future El Jefe storefront. Until then, the taco truck can be found at the corner of South Main and Northampton Streets from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts