As food trucks have grown in popularity, cities known for their food scene have experienced a swath of mobile food vendors. Tucson is no exception.
Showcasing everything from unlikely cuisine fusions to cleverly themed menu selections, the modern era of food trucks is a testament to the fact that now is a great time to be into food. But with this density, how does a food truck stand out from the rest?
If you ask Paul Reyes, owner of Ciao Down, there’s simply no replacement for hard work and experience. Prior to launching his open-kitchen pizzeria-on-wheels in northwest Tucson, Reyes had already clocked 14 years in food service, working for local hubs such as Firebird and Blanco, before spending nearly half of his career working at the Ritz-Carlton.
But that experience seemed to mean very little as Reyes reminisced about the early days of experimentation with the menu.
“Our first few pizzas were absolutely horrible,” Reyes remembers with a laugh. “They were not good.”
After some serious trial and error, he started playing around with different types of brewer’s yeasts until discovering a champagne yeast that made his pizza truly rise to the occasion.
“Once we tried the pizza with that, we knew our pizza was a hit and didn’t look back,” Reyes added.
Every selection on the menu is made using their original dough recipe, a homemade traditional red sauce, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to give each slice a golden brown crust. There’s no individual slices available - each order grants its own personal-sized pizza. But they’re large enough to share (even though you’ll be fighting the urge to do so).
The crust provides a perfect crispness, walking a fine line between doughy and flat. The cheese is rich and melted to gooey excellence while the sauce is sweet and evenly distributed across each pie so that each bite doesn’t turn into dodgeball with raining drops of tomato.
The variety on the menu is simple and straightforward with just enough creative offerings to keep both purists and more exploratory types happy. The pepperoni offering, The Classic, will meet traditional pepperoni pizza expectations. Living your most vegetarian life now? The Edgy Veggie is all you need and more. Maybe you like more of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to things? The Extreme Supreme, with five fresh toppings, will surely tickle your fancy.
And then, there’s what Reyes calls the pizza that “everyone comes back for.” A pizza dish crafted out of love, innovation, and a pinch of pure, top shelf moxie.
“We knew we needed to have something that stood out. We started brainstorming, [asking ourselves] what can we do that’s savory? What can we do that’s sweet? What can we do that’s creamy?”
The result of this questioning is what’s become Ciao Down’s top-selling pizza: the Snake Bite. The truck’s only pizza that doesn’t feature their signature red sauce, the Snake Bite is composed of a raspberry chipotle jam, sliced jalapeño peppers, bacon, and cream cheese. This pie is a love letter to the type of innovation and creativity that food trucks have a reputation for. With each bite, a barbershop quartet of flavor, a four-part harmony of sweet, salty, spicy, and savory offers a song of flavor.
In addition to the pizza menu, Ciao Down offers a selection of over a dozen flavored Italian sodas. The concoction of flavored syrup, heavy cream, and soda water over ice is smooth and decadent, almost like a milkshake with a light, carbonated kick. From the Raspberry Cheesecake, to the superb Toasted Marshmallow, both kids and adults will find these drinks a delight that’ll keep the cool under the Old Pueblo sun.
For now, Reyes’ plan is to keep on truckin’.
“[We plan to continue] going beyond the traditional pizzas that you see, working on appetizers, desserts...expanding our skills [as we] keep expanding our menu.”
Plans to settle into a permanent home base are still a couple of years away, but the team is hopeful that they’ll be able to move in that direction as their fan base continues to grow.
And Reyes is filled with gratitude for his loyal patrons and their support of his endeavor.
“It’s scary,” he stated. “Especially when you have a little one at home. You don’t know what you’re going to get into. But the Tucson community… they caught us when we jumped.”