When Zack Phifer returned to Richmond from a two-week excursion in El Salvador, a pupusa-sized hole was left in him. According to Phifer, he “ate pupusas for every meal two to three times a day” for the entire trip.
With 17-plus years’ experience cooking for various musical artists and organizations and few local options to fill this void in his heart, he did what he does best when he got back to Richmond: He crafted the foods himself.
Alex Britland – a good friend of Phifer’s and fellow lover of the culinary arts – always had a dream of owning and running a food truck. Pair these aspirations with Phifer’s pupusa fixation and dream of being his own boss and bam – Cocina Calle was born.
From a young age, Phifer and Britland always just clicked. Both very motivated individuals, they made for good business partners. “Let’s do this together,” was the resounding answer for both as they decided to follow their dreams with a new food truck venture.
But when the pair took to the kitchen to perfect the recipes prior to launch, there was always some level of anxiety. “Yeah, these pupusas are good, but are they that good?” was a common sentiment according to Britland.
After bringing their food to the masses, it became apparent that their pupusas were popular. One of Britland’s neighbors who once lived on the edge of Guatemala that borders El Salvador will frequently call up them up to cater any small, backyard gathering. That good.
The food truck is also a family affair. Monica Britland, Alex’s wife, is another co-owner. She is mostly in charge of logistical work -- social media, scheduling, masterminding -- you name it, she’s on it.
If you’re wondering what to order, consider these options: the bean and cheese pupusa, vegan tot-co (they sling tacos too), yucca tots, and everything else in between. These were the team’s selections when asked by Style Weekly what was most popular among their regular customers.
The aforementioned bean and cheese pupusa did not always top this list, though. In the beginning, their pork pupusa would have come out on top. They use their own house-smoked pork in it, cooked low and slow. Over time, vegetarian options like the bean and cheese and newly released spinach and cheese pupusas have gained momentum, overtaking the carnivore options in popularity.
Highlighting Cocina Calle’s laborious yucca tots is a must. Along with being the perfect accompaniment for your pupusa(s) and/or taco(s), they are a true labor of love. From start to finish, it takes about two hours to transform raw yucca into its fryer-ready mash. The process is clearly worth it, as patrons are currently consuming about 70 pounds of the fried root vegetable goodness every week. Among the fried yucca options on the menu: yucca tots with house-made aioli ($6) and loaded yucca tots with choice of protein, topped with slaw (curtido) and cheese and served with choice of salsa. The truck also offers a sweet version of tots for those craving something more dessert-y.
Going forward, this street kitchen is hoping to maintain the momentum they’ve gained and expand their offerings. Brunch service is on the horizon, where their two-hour yucca mash will be prominently featured. Expanding their catering business is another aspiration.
Besides broadening business, the Cocina Calle team has major goals for the future. Ideally, they would love to have their own commissary kitchen to host other food trucks. Their vision comes with endless possibilities: a food truck court, an in-house brewery that also pours local brews, featured food and beer pairings, etc.
But for now, the team is cultivating motivation through seeing repeat customers come back time and time again. As put by Alex, “Seeing people truly enjoy our food and show up at different places, it’s [those] regulars that keep us going.”