Another view of the Taste of Mexico food cart.
While most food cart owners in Madison say they love their customers, perhaps no one embodies this claim more than Liliana Fabela. Fabela and her husband, Felipe Ruiz, operate the Taste of Mexico food cart out in front of the big glass U.S. Bank Plaza on the Capitol Square.
Taste of Mexico is only in its second year of operation, but Fabela and Ruiz already have a large crop of devoted regulars. And they get to know their customers. They take requests, since Fabela's motto is: "If we have the ingredients, we can make what you want." They ask after the well-being of one regular's sister, who is in a coma. The couple even has a dinner invitation this Sunday at the house of another customer.
The personality coming out of the Taste of Mexico cart is, thankfully, matched by the food. It's the only cart at either Library Mall or the Square to offer enchiladas, and the guacamole and pico de gallo taste like they've just been made. Fabela says that they stayed open all the way until December in 2005. If the weather holds, look for another month or two of long lines, friendly service, and a great taste of Mexico.
Fabela took the time to answer some of our questions.
The Daily Page: Why did you decide to open up a food cart?
Fabela: Oh my god, I love cooking. Ever since I was little. I'm the oldest in a family of five, so mom and dad had to go work out in the field while I was the one staying at home. I'm telling you I was ten or twelve, and I had to stay at home and do the cleaning and cooking. So this is what my mom taught me to do.
These recipes go from my great-grandma to my grandma to my mom to me. If you ever come to our house, this is what we eat. Rice. Beans. All good things. And I think we really thought about the cart because we really wanted to offer something good up here on the Square. And, I'm sorry, but this is the best Mexican food you're gonna find up here!
Where do you get your ingredients for all of these good things?
Well, I'm not going to tell you exactly where, but we get some ingredients from Milwaukee. For everything else we go to Woodman's or here and there, because every day this is made fresh. You need to cut up avocados to make guacamole, and you have to find fresh tomatoes to chop up for the pico de gallo. We want everything to taste authentic.
Are you affiliated with a restaurant?
No, no we just have the cart. You know in order for you to have one of these you have to have a license and a kitchen off-site. So we cook at Michael's Frozen Custard. I'm the store manager there, so they let us cook there. No restaurants for us yet, but hopefully one day. You know, everybody dreams.
Until you get the restaurant, it seems like you're pleasing plenty of customers.
This is the one thing that we do really worry about. We really care for our customers. I like people to have what they like not just getting what the menu says. We're open to seeing what people like.
Just today someone asked me "When are you going to have mole?." So I told her, "We'll make it next week as a special." You know we're always ready to change things that people don"t like and keep things they do. We're open to suggestions. We like to make people feel like they're at home. We like to treat them as if they are our friends.
So did you plan your menu with customer feedback in mind?
Yeah, definitely. You have to do some research and find out what people like. We have many American friends, so we kind of know what they might like. You have to be willing to find out what that is and offer people what they want. And people tell us what they want.
That's the best thing you get from a cart. It's person to person [interaction] and you meet so many great people and get to be friends with them.
So you get a lot of returning customers then?
Yes, of course. Once you come here, you're gonna return! All we need is for people to try our food, and then they'll come back.
Is there anything on the menu that is the most popular?
Well, we have people who love enchiladass. Burritos are also everyone's favorite, and the taco salad and quesadillas are really popular. I mean we have a really good variety. You can find things for people who are vegetarian or who for those who like beef or chicken.
So what do you do in your free time, if you have any?
We have two jobs. I have a second job and my husband has two more jobs. My poor husband, we have three kids so we have to work hard! But we really enjoy this. I think that when you like your job it's not as bad, and we really like what we do.
So do you ever get time to relax?
Yes, with our kids. We have a great family and three wonderful kids: Brenda, Miguel, and Karyme. They are three, five, and seven, so our free time is for the family. Because that's more important, our family. Then work. Then everything else.