NORTH ADAMS -- A recent addition to the culinary landscape of Northern Berkshire has just the thing for those seeking lunch on the go.
While most of the food options in North Adams have storefronts, the El Coche Taco Co. has a truck that has been parking in the St. Anthony municipal parking lot most weekdays from noon to 2 p.m.
With a small menu mainly consisting of steak, chicken and beans in taco and burrito form, owner Robert Rivas has quickly found his niche in North Adams.
"It was something I'd been thinking about for a few years," said Rivas. "I'd been looking for a change, since I'd been doing college admissions for about a decade. I was looking for something different, and the area seemed ripe for the opportunity. I'd seen Brian [Cole] do it to quite a bit of success. When he stopped working his truck, there was obviously demand. Brian was running a taco truck out of Williamstown, so his success made it apparent to me that there was a market for it, and things just fell into place. My wife, Lily, was on board with the idea, so I thought, I'll just do it, and see where it went."
Like Rivas, Cole was a Williams College graduate. Cole began operating a taco truck in 2011, which often parked on Spring Street in Williamstown. Rivas, meanwhile, had spent the last decade working in the Williams College admissions department. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Rivas moved out to the Berkshires to attend Williams and then decided to stick around.
"I went to Emerson for a grad program in poetry, and my wife was at UMass," recalled Rivas. "When the job at Williams opened in 2004, we decided to come back to the area. As far out as I went was Boston, and it kept pulling me back in; I love it out here."
Rivas had no formal experience prior to opening his taco truck, having never worked in a restaurant.
"But I was cooking since I was able to hold a spatula," Rivas said. "My mom taught me early on how to be able to take care of myself. She was working, so when my brothers and I would get back after school, I'd make the food. I can't remember not being by the oven, at least helping out. I've cooked for friends and they've always been enthusiastic about it, so that gave me the confidence to try it out, keeping it as close to how it's done back home as possible. I figured if the food is good, people will come -- and so far they have."
So how does Rivas make sure the food is what he wants it to be?
"It's a matter of keeping things simple, while still giving some layers to the flavor," said Rivas. "I try to make sure every taco or burrito is engineered to fire on all cylinders. Every piece is an integral part, and when you start taking stuff out, it gets ‘hinky.' It's a matter of keeping good, simple ingredients, so the food stays as true to itself as possible. We have salsa, but not a whole line of hot sauces available, I'd rather let the flavor shine through on its own."
Which is not to say that Rivas has kept everything traditional.
"The one thing I haven't been true to form on is that back home, it's lots of pinto and refried beans, but here everyone wants black beans," Rivas said. "I prepare them like I'd do pinto beans, but that's the one way I haven't been as true to the recipe as I could be. Pinto beans are tasty, but they're just not as healthy as black beans, so I've been using black beans instead. It's an executive decision I made, to keep things more healthy."
Rivas's decision to keep things healthy has also kept a number of other Mexican standards off of the menu.
"What you see a lot in Mexican food when you go out to restaurants is fried everything, and that's not how I grew up eating, so I made the decision to make things light, healthy and fresh," said Rivas. "I thought, I may as well be healthy across the board and not fry everything. I decided not to fall into the trap of frying everything because it makes it delicious. Healthy food was pretty much the staple growing up. Tacos, enchiladas ... we occasionally had the fried stuff, but it was kept to a minimum because of the health issues. So it was a concerted effort on my parents' part to stay away from the trappings of the fried food, so I grew up eating the nice, fresh, healthy stuff."
With El Coche -- literally "the car" -- Rivas is hoping to give the people what they want.
"The goal has always been just to have good food people respond to, and I'm always soliciting feedback," said Rivas. I want to know what people think of the food, if there's something they don't see on the menu they'd like. We started with a small menu of chicken, steak and beans, but now we can experiment a little more. I'm highly receptive to feedback, and I'm always seeking it out. I'm hoping to be a little more interactive with the North Adams area, let them tell us what they'd like to see, and we'll try to be responsive."
A taco truck may seem an abrupt career shift after a decade working in admissions, but Rivas doesn't see himself quitting any time soon.
"As long as people want it, I can't see stopping," said Rivas. "As long as it's fun, and as long as people are enjoying it, I will keep doing it."
El Coche Taco Truck also appears occasionally on the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus. For more information, visit www.TacoTruck413.com to see a menu, or follow TacoTruck413 on Twitter to see daily posts of the truck's whereabouts.
Now you try
4 Haas avocados
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium onion, diced
Small handful cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste ("I add between a pinch & 1/4 tsp., depending on ripeness of avocados")
1/8 tsp cumin
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pit and mash avocados in medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine -- "and try not to eat all in one sitting."