Chatting with chef Teofilo Padron, owner of Mexican food truck Taco Motorizado: Food and drink: Smile politely


When I came to CU in 2016 to study at the University of Illinois, I could solve my taco craving at most places in town, but I hadn’t found one that really hit home until what i try Taco Motorizado in 2018. A little east of the college campus, Taco Motorizado is parked on North Cunningham Avenue.

My favorite combo is two tacos al pastor with an elote on the side. Chef Teofilo never disappoints and the richness of the green and red salsas pair perfectly with the flavors of the tacos. I love the combination of the red salsa with the sweetness of the tacos al pastor and the green salsa on the tacos de lengua.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Chef Teofilo to learn more about the food and the man behind the traditional Mexican food truck. Twenty-five years ago, chef Teofilo Padron, owner of Mexican food truck Taco Motorizado, immigrated from Mexico City to Urbana. Taught by his mother, Chef Teofilo learned how to cook chiles rellenos, enchiladas and other traditional Mexican dishes. Bringing his passion for Mexican cuisine to the United States, Chef Teofilo honed his cooking techniques while working in various American and Mexican restaurants before putting his refined skills into practice in his food truck.

The interview below was conducted in Spanish and has been translated into English for SP readers.

Smile politely: Where did the idea for Taco Motorizado come from and when did you decide to open?

Padron: The idea came from several years ago, about 10 years ago. Right now, the truck is here at Urbana, and it’s always been there. I was working at the restaurant called Mas Amigos and at that time I was working in their food truck. Then they closed Mas Amigos and I decided to continue running the food truck on my own about four or five years ago. I sell tacos and tortas the way they are made in Mexico. Here in Urbana-Champaign, the Mexican restaurants didn’t really sell tortas the way they are made in Mexico City. They sold another kind of style. We’ve revolutionized the idea of ​​tortas here, including pastor’s tortas and Cubans. Now more places are selling them, but we came here with this idea. In Mexico, we eat a lot of tacos and tortas. On almost every street corner in Mexico City there are taco and torta stands, so we brought that idea here by opening a food truck.

    A halved Cuban torta containing the filling of milanesa, hot dog, ham, pinto beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, jalapeños and mayonnaise.  Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page. Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page.

SP: I haven’t tried Taco Motorizado’s tortas yet, but now that you mention it, I notice that tortas aren’t as prominent on the menu at other Mexican restaurants in CU as they are at Taco Motorizado.

Padron: Yes, we sell a lot of tortas. Many of our Hispanic customers come here for the tortas. We also sell a lot of tacos. In Mexico City, we get a mix of cuisine from all the states in Mexico. However, people from other states may not be as familiar with tortas. Here, there are many people from different states, and they know well tortas ahogadas (from Guadalajara, Jalisco, tortas ahogadas are drowned in salsa), but many do not know pambazos (from Mexico, pambazos are tortas stuffed with potatoes and chorizo ​​served on fried white bread dipped in salsa).

A Taco Motorizado taco truck stands in the sun with a wooden picnic table in the foreground.  Photo by Teofilo Padrón.Photo by Teofilo Padrón.

SP: Do you manage the food truck yourself?

Padron: Everything I do here, I do myself. I stay at the truck, I take care of the customers and I cook everything. I used to deliver the food myself, but now I use delivery services to do it for me. I get up every day at 5am and go to the store to buy all the ingredients I need for the day. After visiting the store, I go back to the truck and get everything ready and open at 11am and stay until closing time which is 8pm. Then the next day, I start again. I have another cook who sometimes comes later in the day to help with orders.

SP: Now that you’ve been open for four or five years, have you noticed any differences since you started?

Padron: The only difference I’ve noticed is how busy I am. When I started I could sit down and take breaks and leave if I needed to, but now I can’t because we’re busy every day. I was able to meet more people by having more clients. When I started it was quieter and I could sit and read, but now I don’t have time for that.

SP: Which of the dishes on your menu do you prefer to eat?

Padron: Tacos and tortas. I like pastor, asada and lengua tacos. The torta Cubana is also one of my favorites because it offers different types of meat.

Tacos De Asada: Two tacos de asada served Mexican style with cilantro and onion.  Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page.Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page.

SP: I was pleasantly surprised to see that Taco Motorizado offers tongue tacos. It’s rare to find it offered at many taco restaurants. I also like the combination of your salsas with the tongue tacos and pastor.

Padron: I’ve been to several restaurants in Chicago and their salsas are too runny and easily slide off the tacos making them messy. The salsas should be thick so they don’t fall off the taco and onto your shirt. They should also not be too spicy, so that there is still flavor. If it’s too spicy, you can’t really taste the flavor. That’s what I’m aiming for with mine.

SP: Which dishes are ordered the most?

Padron: It depends. My American customers usually order burritos, nachos and chips, and salsa with queso. My Hispanic customers always come for tacos and tortas. I also have a lot of vegetarian customers, and they come for the veggie burritos, tortas, and quesadillas.

Burrito De Asada: Two burritos de asada filled with rice, black beans, and salsa.  Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page.Photo from the Taco Motorizado Facebook page.

SP: I’m glad to hear that your business has remained busy. With the current pandemic, has this affected your business?

Padron: My restaurant was affected, but it also benefited. This was affected because all the students left and there weren’t as many orders from them. In addition, people did not leave their homes. However, as people were staying home, I got new customers because people started ordering food because it was their only option. I gained new customers because they tried my food and they liked it. I could also stay open because I don’t have tables for people to sit at, so the food trucks could continue to operate as normal. While we’re delivering, people can still come and order from the truck.

SP: What’s your favorite part of running the Taco Motorizado food truck?

Padron: I get to meet more people and serve more people, like right now I’m getting to know you, and now I’m getting to know another person. I love meeting people and learning about them and what they think of my food. I like what I do. It’s a job I’ve always done and enjoyed.

Orders can be placed online through the Taco Motorizado website or in person, cash only.

Motorized Taco
607 N Cunningham Ave
Mon-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Top image by Teofilo Padron.

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