Columbus’s Cool Taco Scene
There are some places you expect to find a rich variety of Mexican cuisine. Columbus, Ohio, isn’t one of them. But as Will McGough found, there’s a surprising food truck trend happening in this Midwest city.
Sometimes when you’re travelling, you see something that’s so shocking, so unexpected, that you just can’t help yourself—you’re drawn to it like a bug to a porch light. Like when you visit Columbus, Ohio.
This summer I found myself in Columbus for a few days, investigating what I was told to be a budding food scene. I quickly became familiar with areas such as the German Village, an historic neighbourhood packed with colonial feel and farm-to-fork restaurants. I drank local gin from the Watershed Distillery, and indulged at the local licking landmark that is Jeni’s Ice Cream, experiencing abnormal flavours such as goat cheese with red cherries and sweet corn with black raspberries.
Goat cheese ice cream? It was unique, for sure. However, that was hardly the highlight of a journey that became a classic example of why travel is important, why it lets you break through assumptions. To hell with ice cream (let it melt); it was the taco scene in Columbus that has burned a hole in my memory. There are approximately 40 taco trucks circling its city streets.
You read that correctly—40! It stunned me, too (still does). And the more I dig, the more bizarre/fascinating it becomes.
Considering its small size, Columbus has no chance to claim a “large” Latino/Hispanic population, compared to cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Antonio, etc. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that it can’t even boast that the culture makes up a large percentage of its population. Based on 2012 data from the U.S. Census, the city’s population is only 4.5 percent Latino/Hispanic. Even Indianapolis—that’s right, Indianapolis—has a larger percentage (7 percent). For the purpose of perspective, note that Los Angeles is 48.4 percent, New York is 27.5 percent and San Antonio is 61.2 percent.
Given those statistics, you can imagine my surprise when I was feasting on tacos of all different kinds—even cow’s head and tongue—throughout the city. Columbus Food Adventures, a food tour company started by Bethia Woolf, helps visitors, locals and travel writers alike to explore the vast food scene, showing off Latin American cuisine from trucks of all different regions: Oaxaca, Mexico City, Michoacán, Jalisco, Honduras, Colombia and Salvador.
As I would learn, food truck trends don’t necessarily correspond with population percentages—it’s more about how easy a city makes it for them to exist (Chicago, for example, makes it very difficult).
“The taco truck scene relates not just to the Latino population size but food truck regulations, openness to food trucks and particularly openness to taco trucks,” Woolf said. “I think one of the joys of the Columbus taco truck scene is that it is unexpected. People don’t expect a vibrant Mexican food truck scene here, but for a combination of reasons there is one.”
Good for the city. Despite the small population numbers, immigration to Columbus is on the rise, and we are sure to see this taco truck trend continue as more Latinos arrive and find food trucks cheaper and easier to manage than restaurants. I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: Next time you’re in Columbus, make sure you get yourself a taco.