For over twenty years, Ernie Mercado has been serving up good eats to the Caltech community from his lunch truck. The Astronomer and I first learned about Ernie from our phở-loving friends—Bao, Hung and Kunwoo. For three fairly quiet gents, they spoke animatedly and highly of Ernie’s food.
The Astronomer and I finally tried the goods on a rainy day in December when I happened to be working on a freelance piece from the Caltech library. Whenever I have an extreme case of writer’s block, I head to Caltech for a change of scenery. It seems that I focus better when I’m surrounded by geniuses.
During prime lunch hours, Ernie’s truck is conveniently parked outside The Astronomer’s physics lab. Even though it was cold and wet on our visit, there was still a good-size crowd huddling around Ernie’s truck.
Mexican fare is the name of the game at Ernie’s, and most items are priced around $3 to $4. All food is assembled to order by either Ernie or his helper. I went with the Tijuana Trio—three tacos filled with pork, chicken and beef. Since chicken is my least favorite animal to eat, I asked Ernie to substitute an additional pork taco instead. He kindly obliged and agreed that chicken was lame. The tacos were sprinkled with chopped onions and cilantro, and served with a lime wedge and two mild salsas (pico de gallo and tomatillo) on the side.
All three tacos were solid in the taste department, but a little chilly temperature-wise. Luke-warm food could be avoided if everything was cooked fresh to order, which isn’t the case at Ernie’s truck. This was my first lunch truck experience, so I’m curious to see how other vendors approach food preparation on wheels.
I added a side of beans and rice to my order. Both items were good, but could have used a few more minutes on the stove or a quick nuke in the microwave. Eating cold food on a rainy day is sad.
The Astronomer ordered a carne asada burrito, which came with a side of tortilla chips and salsa.
The Astronomer enjoyed his burrito very much. I didn’t steal a bite because I like my burritos San Diego-style with all meat and no rice.
Ernie’s Al Fresco
Multiple locations in and around Caltech
Pasadena, CA 91106