Most gym-goers have a favorite post-workout meal. Some swear by chocolate milk with its blend of sugar, protein, and fat, while others swear by cottage cheese, oatmeal, or smoothies. But from Saturday through Monday at the Bladium Sports & Fitness Club in Alameda, you'll find soccer players clad in Adidas track pants seated at the outdoor picnic tables, chowing down on something more akin to my idea of a post-workout treat: giant platters of tacos, quesadillas overflowing with cheese, sopes piled high with toppings, or tortas bigger than their faces.
For this post-workout bliss, we can thank Tacos Super Monilla, a taco truck that opened for business just a couple months ago. But the story of Tacos Super Monilla goes back to 1968 in Mexico City, when Ramon Torres took up a job at a taqueria specializing in tacos al pastor and tortas. His career as a taquero in Mexico City spanned over 35 years, and he worked from 8 in the evening until 8 in the morning every day, taking a day off just once a month.
After years in the business, Ramon and his wife, Silvia, started their own taqueria in Mexico City, but it closed when the economy took a dive. So the couple and their children moved to Oakland. In the early 2000s, Ramon and Silvia started a catering business that they continue to run today. But Ramon and Silvia, along with their three daughters and two sons, dreamed of starting their own food truck. Five years ago, they started planning and designing their dream food truck from scratch. They also devised the perfect location. Several of the Torres family members are soccer players who regularly play at Bladium's soccer fields, and they decided to set up shop at Bladium on weekends, when soccer games are at their peak and athletes are at their hungriest.
The result is Tacos Super Monilla, a massive food truck that's only a little smaller than an AC Transit bus. The bright blue truck is adorned with an image of a Superman-like hero wielding a taco, with "Best Tacos" written in comic book-style letters. But the real superhero behind Tacos Super Monilla is Ramon Torres, nicknamed "Monilla," which Torres said translates to "little doll," because of his non-stop buzzing around the kitchen.
"He doesn't stop. My dad's 68, going on 69, and he's still every day waking up, prepping," said Miriam Torres, one of Ramon's daughters. "We think of our dad as being our superhero."
A taste of Ramon's superhero skills might start with an order of tacos al pastor. The al pastor is made daily on a vertical spit known as a trompo, just like back in Mexico City. Al pastor on a trompo is a rare sight in the Bay Area — and Tacos Super Monilla is the only one offering it in Alameda. Part of the reason why legit al pastor is so scarce is that it takes years of experience to learn to prepare and cook a trompo. But with Silvia marinating the pork in a blend of chiles and spices, and Ramon trimming the meat and slow-cooking it to perfection, their collective years of experience showed with each taco. The slices of meat were tender and juicy, bursting with smoky-spicy flavor from the marinade, while tiny slices of pineapple provided acidity and sweetness. The small corn tortillas were griddled to a slight crisp, adding another dimension of texture to the taco.
The suadero tacos were another hit, with chunks of this brisket-like, finely grained cut of beef cooked to a tender, fall-apart texture with luscious bits of melt-in-your-mouth fat. "That's one of my dad's specialties," Miriam explained. Though the tacos are perfectly enjoyable on their own, add a drizzle of one of three housemade salsas — tomatillo-based salsa verde, tomatoey salsa roja, or smoky chipotle salsa — for a comic book-worthy punch of flavor and heat. If things get too spicy, try one of the homemade agua frescas like the horchata, which was too sweet on my first visit, but sweetened just right on my second visit, or the tart, floral jamaica.
I was particularly pleased with the sopes. While I've found the thick masa cakes at some taquerias to be dry, tasteless, and crumbly, these were crisp on the edges, moist in the middle, and full of fresh corn flavor. Refried beans and sour cream teamed up to provide extra creaminess. The sopes come topped with salsa roja, lettuce, tomatoes, cotija cheese, and your choice of steak, al pastor, or chicken. The steak was juicy despite being a lean cut, with a nice amount of char that added flavor to the sopes. I also tried the steak in the form of a quesadilla, which was nicely toasted, but not cheesy enough for my taste.
After a hard-fought game of soccer, I can think of few things that would be more satisfying than the Torta Super Monilla. It's a Torres family creation that combines pretty much every torta ingredient you can think of — roasted pork, ham, breaded and fried steak, hot dogs, panela cheese, American cheese, avocado, pineapple, lettuce, onions, tomato, and jalapeños — all atop a buttery bun toasted to a beautiful golden brown. When a man passed me the torta through the truck's window, he warned me to handle the box with care, since the torta was so big that he couldn't get the takeout box to close.
Admittedly, I was skeptical when I ordered the torta, thinking that all the ingredients would turn into a flavorless blur. But I was surprised to find the opposite. The torta was so tall that it was impossible to get all the ingredients in a single bite, meaning that each bite was like a choose-your-own adventure. What will be next? A bite of hot dog, a bite of crisp fried steak, a bite of juicy roast pork, a bite of creamy panela cheese? Tortas like these keep us wanting more, and maybe even give us extra incentive to come back to the gym next weekend.