Off the Eatin’ Path: Massive flavor, massive portions from JJ Lonches

Bars, Trucks & Everything In between

Let’s get down to brass tacks here: it takes some serious audacia to own and operate a taco-centric food truck here in Tucson.

To say the least, you’ve got some competition. Heck, just casually driving around this fair desert hamlet, you can’t help but pass a few operating eat stations on nearly every corner, most likely offering a sumptuous array of tempting treats from our neighboring country just a few miles south. When you stop for a bite, is it an experience you take a photo of and share online, or do you just whet that appetite and move on with your life? So what is going to set you apart from other carts? What is going to bring the girls and boys to your food yard? There are so many questions.

JJ Lonches

Photo by Mark Whittaker

There is only one solid answer here. Flavor. No matter what vicinity you may hail from, your food has got to represent that heritage and culture in each dish. There is a new food truck scurrying about Tucson that represents all of that and more.

JJ Lonches is the culinary conception on four wheels of Jesus Gonzales, who, through his cooking, celebrates his Sonoran upbringing hailing from the smallish township Empalme, Sonora. Oh, and he goes big — really big — with his food.

What currently sets JJ Lonches apart from other trucks is that he has only been in operation for a little over two months and he learned how to cook while watching other chefs on YouTube. Yep, Gonzales literally took the recipe basics from that channel and ramped it up to a new level of deliciousness. With the help of his partner Jamie Flynn, JJ Lonches is set to launch into the “I don’t care where they are parked. I have to try their torta” category.

JJ Lonches

Jamie Flynn and Jesus Gonzales (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

A chime in from a friend sent me seeking to destroy what she called “literally the best torta I’ve ever had.” Luckily for me, JJ Lonches was parked relatively nearby one night, so I popped in to say hello to my new best friend. That torta.

JJ’s Torta ($12) is a sight to behold. There is a lot going on and a lot to hold on to as it is filled with seasoned carne asada, bacon, ham, green chile, and housemade dressings.

JJ Lonches

JJ Torta (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“I make all of my sauces and dressings from scratch,” said Gonzales, “and the bread comes from a small bakery on the east side. I can’t tell you which one. It’s a secret.”

Well, hold onto that secret because the bun is amazingly soft and held the packed meat and sauce wallop nestled inside perfectly. There are so many flavors going on all at once. It reminded me of a Cubano that decided to take a vacation to Empalme and then hit the gym the whole time it was there.

Best part is that it isn’t heavy or geared to be your later regretful gut bomb. There is a lovely lightness to it somehow, even with all that girth and gristle — another mystery to be delighted by. It doesn’t end or even start with that torta. JJ Lonches offers up plenty of other items one might anticipate from a Sonora-inspired food truck.

The tacos ($10 for three) are fantastic and just as bold. The burritos can either be lunch and dinner ready or eggy and bacon-y for that breakfast motivation.

One thing is for sure, you’re going to need the Quesabirria when you spot the white with the yellow and red-trimmed truck. JJ’s birria is juicy and swimming in flavor, one of the tops to be served from a kitchen equipped with tires here in Tucson (easily).

JJ Lonches

Quesabirria Tacos (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“I just learned how to make birria like three months ago,” Gonzales, admits with a laugh. “I just watched it on YouTube and thought I can make it better.”

All we can say is, “Thank you, YouTube.”

Jesus learned to cook at a young age, outside of online tutorials. At 15, he found himself on his own and in not-so-great conditions. Through needful happenstance, he began to knead together dishes and recipes and discovered he had a knack for the skill.

After Gonzales met Flynn, who moved to Tucson from South Dakota seven years ago to work in migrant services, they formed a partnership on various levels and when Gonzales decided to buy and operate a food truck, she stood by his decision. Thus, JJ Lonches was formed.

There is no mystery about the quality and quantity of food JJ’s provides.

JJ Lonches

Nachos (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

There are a lot of Mexican food trucks in the Old Pueblo, and a lot of them are really good. In just over two months of cooking across town, JJ Lonches is that new kid in the parking lot that serves up seriously good grub, for not a lot of cash and plenty to go around.

Still, how did Gonzales master the art of birria only a month or two before JJ’s took flight? Now there is a mystery to be solved, but we’re too busy eating to care.

To keep up with JJ Lonches, follow the food truck on Instagram and Facebook.

 

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It was a Sonoran hot dog that made Mark switch from music journalism to food writing when he moved to Tucson from San Francisco in 2006. He hasn’t been the same since.

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