‘IIf someone had told me back then that this was the person I would one day be, I wouldn’t have believed them,” says Jose Colmenares, 26-year-old owner of Moctezuma Mexican Grill, a new food truck steeped in alcohol. store parking lot at Vickers Drive and Union Boulevard (Tuesday through Saturday). His family is originally from Guadalajara, where his grandfather started a rotisserie chicken business, which is still in operation. his aunts and uncles also ran restaurants at various times, as did his father, who has now moved here to work on the truck with Jose and Jose’s brother. They grew up in a small, predominantly Hispanic town in Fresno County, California, named Parlier. It’s the kind of place where “we didn’t have big dreams,” he says. His father raised them as a single father; their mother, originally from El Salvador, had moved to Mexico when he was barely a teenager. Fourteen years will pass before he sees her again.
Jose and his brother joined the military, and he says the military was ‘the best thing for my future’ because it shaped him and gave him a maturity and confidence he never had. previously. He spent five years, with his first duty station here in Fort Carson, where he returned after being released. He bought a house and then financed this business through the sale of a rental property. “I saw it as a way to help my family and set us up for success and financial prosperity,” he says. The final hurdle along the way: “I had no cooking experience,” he jokes.
So he turned to his father and a chef friend in Guadalajara who mentored him as he developed his own recipes, with lots of trial and error. His friend instilled a no-waste philosophy that taught him to use aspects of one dish to nourish another, such as the cut fat from the tri-tip to marinate other meats and sear tortillas on the flat top. Flavors also improve with cross-use. Jose proved a worthy student, at least based on my sampling of the larger menu of tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, bowls, nachos, and fries with optional meat (or vegetarian) stuffings/toppings.
I have one pollo asada bowl plus a plate of tacos: pastor, carnitas and Birria (with an extra side of consumes for soaking, which I highly recommend). The bowl starts with a lovely traditional Mexican rice base; seasoning and browning the grains before adding the water is a key step. The chicken acquires a yellow tint from the turmeric, and also sees tenderizer, salt, and chili powder for a subtle flavor. José doesn’t like pintos, so he uses Peruvian beans, served whole in the bowl, which are pale in color and softer (cooked with a bit of lard when presented fried with rice alongside the tacos). For the filling, there’s sour cream, shredded cheese, sweet pico, and tangy guacamole with chunks of sharp onions and cilantro pop. Any of the bright salsas provided – mild (thick tomatillo), medium (chipotle brown sugar-tomato Roma; my favorite) or (not so) tangy (chile de arbol with tomato, tomatillo and onion) – work well for adding acidity and more punch to the dish. I would order a side of fries to pick up and add some crunch next time.
Broth made from leftover chicken helps build the base of carnitas, along with lime and orange juice and chili powder. Jose separates the meat from most of the fat during cooking, then shreds it finely and re-incorporates the fat so the bites are even and tender/juicy, without large chunks of fat; it gives it a nice final cooking for an ideal and crispy exterior texture. Instead of a typical pork butt for a spit roast on the pastor, he buys a pork tenderloin and cooks it on a griddle. Guajillo and ancho chiles offer their slightly spicy essence with orange and pineapple juices in the marinade and another touch of brown sugar for a final sweetness in a bite that plays on the sugar of the fresh pineapple chunks also featured in the middle of the meat. It’s a beautiful interpretation. From there I’m all about this birria, beef shoulder and chuck roast (fortified with extra fat three-point carne asada prep) mixed and seasoned again with anchos and guajillos but also oregano, cumin, cloves and cinnamon. It’s delicious, perfectly clove and cinnamon; the skimmed fat from the top becomes the consomé, diluted with water, tomatoes and peppers. Everything is good dipped in it and I even pour some of it over my bowl of pollo to treat myself.