In this climate, it is time to salute those that are standing long hours over a hot grill and sizzling fryer, striving to put out amazing food for you in this heat.
Sure, most kitchens have some sort of air conditioning, and a lot of food trucks do as well. Let us consider those that are fully exposed to the Sonoran Desert’s elements while knocking out delicious dishes with no more than an overworked fan to keep them cool, and the occasional breeze blessing them by not being nearly volcanic in its breath.
I’m not even going to mention the monsoon because that’s a windy and wet spectacle we all know is capable of canceling a fun outdoor activity (even though we seriously need that rain).
The new food stand Muncheez is literally a full-line kitchen with only a large canopy above to provide some shade and sanctuary. That might change sometime soon according to owner and head chef Aurelio Garcia. For now, two tables, a fryer, flattop, and mesquite grill will have to suffice. Oh, and that aforementioned overworked shop fan.
The pop-up stand/mobile eatery/out in the open food post, or whatever you want to call Muncheez, has only been in business since May of this year. During that short time of being in operation, Garcia and his grand grub have been getting quick supplies of accolades and encouragement.
That’s kind of rare for a burger and taco depot set out on some grassy plot or parking lot. Those burgers and tacos must be above and beyond in some capacity right?
Yes. Yes, they are.
After taking a bite of a Muncheez burger, topped with housemade avocado salsa and garlic aioli, I immediately tasted the draw to this recently rolled-out station. It was a juicy incantation of quality products, used correctly and cooked perfectly.
At its base and best, the burger itself is quite simple. That flavor, the character balance, and the proper tones with each component are what make it an impeccable product.
A common feature in most American restaurants done this well just doesn’t happen by a happy accident or recipe passed down — normally. Something this extraordinary has to be crafted by someone with some fastidious focus and training. Tweezing gold leaf onto a caviar-topped truffle crusted whatever is one thing, but to take a burger, sit down with it, discuss its hopes and dreams, and take it by the hand into said promise land is another.
It was a culinary class at Ironwood Ridge High School, from where he graduated, that took him into the depths of kitchen culture, even though his instructing chef warned him to do otherwise.
“I was hooked right from the beginning of that program,” Garcia beamed. “I started working in fast food before getting a job washing dishes at Mama’s Hawaiian Barbecue, eventually making me one of their head cooks. From there I moved on to cook at Union Public House and in a few years, I was their kitchen manager. But the real training came when I got the chance to work at Mountain Oyster Club.”
The head chef and good friend of Garcia gave him a chance to cook some of the best food in Southern Arizona in a well-established club that dates back to the ’40s. In his time at the Mountain Oyster Club, Garcia said he downloaded as much knowledge into his “mind library” as he could, utilizing each informative bit to continue his climb into a chef.
Learning techniques ranging from Japanese to French, he began to understand what it took to extract serious flavor from broths and hard-to-get seasonal ingredients. Best of all, he knew exactly what he wanted to cook if, and when, he lit out on his own.
“I love burgers and tacos,” said Garcia.
With the help and encouragement from his friends and wife Morgan, who is side by side with Aurelio during a Muncheez service, he began developing a stripped-down menu with some of the favorite things he, and we, love to eat: Burgers and tacos.
It’s that easy and they are that delicious.
Their setup is pretty stripped down and utilitarian and if they didn’t have a sign out front (they sometimes don’t) you might not know that they are serving up scrumptious food. Although the smoking mesquite grill and line of happy customers might scoot you into the correct direction of “yes, come and get it.”
Garcia knew he wanted to honor his Hispanic roots by using the sweet soft buns you typically find securing Sonoran hot dogs, but in burger form. When it came down to using a certain type of cheese to accent both burgers and tacos, it took him a while to whittle it down. Eventually, he elected one that is flavorful, melty, and universally admired in most food-centric cultures: Muenster.
Muenster cheese on a burger gains an accepted nod as, yeah, that makes sense. But on a taco?
These aren’t just meat, lettuce, tomato, and cheese tacos you can acquire at a drive-thru at 2:16 a.m. These are quesabirria tacos; shredded beef swimming in a rich sauce on tacos dipped in said sauce, heated on the flattop grill, then filled with the birria and Muenster.
Again, it is simplicity elevated to the max.
As I ate my tacos while Muncheez was parked next to Caps & Corks, some folks sitting next to me thought there was some kind of problem. I assured them it was the complete opposite; just needed a moment to silently take it all in, bow my head a bit to contemplate, completely ignoring the fact that the birria nectar was dripping onto my beard, shirt, and shoes.
As a former skateboarder, I used to wear my scars with pride. The dribbles from the food at Muncheez on my face and garb were an indication to those around me that I was there, I made it through, and that such a talented soul such as Aurelio Garcia makes burgers and tacos so good that I am proud to display drippings that will likely never wash out. I don’t want them to.
Like a scrapbook of memories, those stains will just make me smile and muse. But, yeah, I probably should have grabbed some napkins. That one is on me.
To keep track of where Muncheez is serving food, follow them on Instagram.
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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...