Do you want to be successful? Then you are going to have to work hard for it, buddy. Better yet, if you want to really make a hit with the public in a food-obsessed city such as ours, then bring something that has yet to be brought. Offer something that you can’t find here— a dish or product that has yet to see the light of the Sonoran sun. Is that possible?
Sure, you can aim to have the best birria taco in town, or at least something that is madly inventive and adds a bit of competition to those also claiming they offer the best birria taco in town. Because if you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of “the best birria tacos in town” chest-beating going on right now. The same goes with barbecue, hot dogs, or vegan gumbo. To be the best, you simply have to bring your best.
What about combining all of those elements (hard work, being the best at something, and having a unique product) and then stuffing it all in a slightly used yet modified food truck, which can be found near a Greyhound bus station and an abandoned Office Max building? Well, then we are talking about Fatboy Sandos.
Fatboy Sandos is the culinary conception of a man by the name of Raphael De La Cuesta, a native Tucsonan by way of east Los Angeles. He dreamed up the notion to bring Japanese “sandos” to the Southwest by watching a popular YouTube channel. Having never worked in a restaurant kitchen before, and, in fact, his current job is managing a swimming pool build and installation company. His interest in sandos then expanded when he revisited L.A. and happened upon a spot in Echo Park called Konbi.
“I’ve never been to Japan but going to Konbi after watching this YouTube show where this guy eats food from convenience stores, like real meals, cooked and served in Asian bodegas, I knew that I wanted to bring the sando to Tucson,” said De La Cuesta.
What makes a sando a sando? It basically comes down to two things:
Sandos are typically made with milk bread — a spongy, perfectly square bread that’s normally cut pretty thick and involves just a few ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, yeast, and, yes, milk. Thing is, De La Cuesta had a plan and that was to get his sandos into the hands of every kind of eater here in Tucson, which meant he had to go vegan with his milk bread. It took a while to find just the right style and as-close-as-he-can-get-it traditional yet vegan milk bread here in Southern Arizona.
"I was so lucky that August Rhodes agreed to bake my milk bread," said De La Cuesta. "To make it as Japanese as we could, I had to create my own custom five-by-five bread pans, because that’s how they do it over there. Nobody wanted to make my bread but August Rhodes did. We’re keeping it as local as possible which is what I wanted in the first place."
Fatboy’s bread uses an egg substitute and the milk aspect comes from coconut. It’s milk bread but not “milk” bread if you get what’s going on here.
The milk bread had been secured and the traditional recipes, nearly unaltered (both meat and vegan), were getting tested and approved. Now, all he needed was a space to make and sell his sandos. When he was ready to do this over a year ago, obtaining a brick-and-mortar was financially unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, just two years prior, he was incarcerated for a year and a half and the job market for former inmates is limited at best. De La Cuesta then did what most enterprising restauranteurs do when they are just starting out.
“The first truck I got was, let’s just say, not very good. In fact, it was a dumpster fire. I got the one I am using now through a friend and started fixing it up. Only took me about a year to do so and I’m still doing upgrades and repairs but here we are,” he exclaimed.
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Fatboy Sandos found the perfect spot to set up shop, on Broadway just east of Euclid in a relatively unused parking lot. So, until further notice, you can purchase the best, if not only, Japanese sandos in a parking lot nestled across from the locked and gone-dark Welcome Diner.
“It’s the perfect location. It’s a busy street, it's near the university, it's near downtown. We’ve been selling out every day that we are open,” said De La Cuesta with a big smile.
It's not as if he and his Fatboy Sando team have done anything to herald a mass blitz of hungry sandwich seekers outside of starting an Instagram. It has been word of mouth, especially from our vegan community, that has set the sando craze ablaze. In fact, it was opening weekend on Saturday, August 20 when they ran out of eggplant for their Eggplant Katsu Sando in just a few short hours, along with the vegan whipped cream used in their 100% plant-based Fruit and Cream Sando.
Having eaten the Fruit and Cream Sando I am still not convinced that it is all the way vegan. But it is. The fruit, I get. The bread, after hearing the story, sure. But that cream? No way. Without a chemical list resembling a novelty scroll tumbling down countless castle stairs, the whipped “cream” they use is unbelievably creamy. And vegan.
Wow, what a time to be alive.
As a huge tonkatsu fan, I loved that the “Fatboy way” does not involve too much breading or oil. The pork and the eggplant katsu sandos were so delicious and so simple in execution, making them even better. It's just the main components topped with cabbage mixed with Dijon, katsu sauce (a sort of Asian play on barbecue sauce), and either Japanese mayo for the pork or vegan mayo for the eggplant.
If you’re oddly not feeling a sando when you pull up, Fatboy has a refreshing Kimchi Cucumber Salad and Korean Style Elote. The kernels are shaved off the cob, mixed with a coveted spice mix, and then finished with both Oaxacan and Parmesan cheese. Without the cheese, the elote is totally vegan. Just add some lime squeeze to open it up and this too may earn De La Cuesta a permanent spot sometime soon.
My personal favorite was the Egg Salad Sando. It is light and vibrant with just the right amount of mayo and seasoning to allow the very egg-forward approach to shine. Plus, I loved the presentation. On top of the egg salad were two hard boiled eggs split down the center, giving it an almost quizzical appearance.
It’s as if Wall-E was a lovely sando happily waiting to be eaten.
It’s the Tucson food-loving community that is making and made, Fatboy Sandos a brimming triumph almost immediately after they clicked the “Open” light on for the first time. Mix that with hard work and that special something no one else is doing (at present) and the element of sando success will manifest.
Sure, De La Cuesta is still in the process of improving the truck and getting his point-of-sale service to work with far fewer quirks and glitches. Hey, it happens. He’s just getting started! With sandos this good, it is going to happen for him and his crew for all the right reasons.
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,...