New food truck features Southwest tacos, hot dogs

Jan. 12, 2021

A new food truck featuring tacos and hot dogs with Southwestern flavors is making its Sioux Falls debut today.

Ken Leonard and his wife, Calain, took the windfall from selling their house in Arizona, moved to South Dakota with their two sons and bought a new customized trailer for Tacos de Gringo. Leonard said they were drawn here after hearing media reports about the “relatively low” COVID-19 cases and the governor’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tacos de Gringo has been at the Brandon Farmer’s Market a few times, but the Sioux Falls debut is today at Food Truck Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 49th Street and Minnesota Avenue. They’ll be back there next week too.

Leonard researched the market and decided to bring what he calls “new age” or artisanal tacos to the Sioux Falls area. They’re street food tacos with a chef’s touch.

Leonard’s background includes cooking at a resort, an organization for homeless veterans and a retirement community in Arizona. While he gets the food truck going, he’s cooking full time at the retirement community Washington Crossing.

For now, the standard menu offers tacos with barbacoa beef, carnitas and shredded chicken.

The flavor for barbacoa originated in the Caribbean and comes from roasting a whole animal in the ground overnight, Leonard said.

“Obviously, I’m not going to put a pit out here, and health code wouldn’t let me cook it in the ground anyway, so I just adapted my recipe to bring that type of flavor and then, being a chef by trade, adjusting my flavor profiles and all the Latin spices and herbs that go into it. So it’s basically shredded beef.”

For the carnitas, pork is cooked in a copper vat in lard, “so it’s kind of like fried first and then slowly cooks in it until it’s just shredded soft,” he said.

For the shredded chicken, he cooks a whole bird to get all the flavors in the meat.

“And then we’ll try different things. In Brandon a couple weeks ago, I did a smoked brisket taco. I did a fire-braised pork. And once spring goes and we start getting moving, I’ll do duck carnitas and smoked pulled turkey and stuff like that just to put the chef aspect on the tacos.”

Eventually, he’ll make the corn and flour tortillas by hand.

The Sonoran-style hot dog also is new to the market, Leonard said.

“They’re a dime-a-dozen from where we’re from. It’s basically just a regular hot dog that’s wrapped in bacon, has pinto beans, pico de gallo, mustard, mayonnaise. There’s a thousand different ways you can do it.”

His version also includes avocado crema and salsa verde. The bacon-wrapped, all-beef hot dog that’s a quarter pound is smoked over mesquite. He also makes a smoked cheese sauce that goes on the Gringo dog.

The menu also includes rolled tacos and quesadillas.

Tacos de Gringo is taking advantage of the mild winter and making a few outings, with events posted on its Facebook page.

“I don’t think the winter is the right time to try to go full time with the truck, so that’s why we’re doing all these spot things, getting our flavors out there, getting our food out there, getting our name out,” Leonard said. “And then once spring hits, go full time on the truck.”

They envision being out daily and serving lunch at businesses and attending all-day events.

In the meantime, they’re also offering catering and “bundles” for events such as the Super Bowl.

Leonard served in the military, and Tacos de Gringo offers half-price items on meals at the food truck to veterans, first responders and anyone who works in a health care facility whether it’s a nurse or a janitor.

The Leonards also want to give back to the community by getting involved in fundraising events for those in need and by donating leftover food to organizations that reach out to them.

Sons Giovaughni, 13, and Izaiah, 12, will be familiar faces around the food truck, the couple said.

“The goal is to hand this truck down to him,” Calain Leonard said of Giovaughni. “Then get another one, hand it down (to Izaiah) if they’re interested enough that they want to do that.”

“I would love to do that,” Leonard said. “To be able to build a business for my kid, and say, ‘Here you go, buddy.’ And then start up a whole other flavor profile for the other one and then build up a third one as a retirement, just something to do when we’re retired.”

New event to bring food trucks together for Tuesday lunches

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New food truck features Southwest tacos, hot dogs

A new food truck featuring tacos and hot dogs with Southwestern flavors is making its Sioux Falls debut today.

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