Thursday Jun 01, 2023

Mai-O-Mai food truck fuses Mexican, Asian flavors with San Antonio soul

The story of chef Ivan Torres has been told in some of San Antonio’s best kitchens. Just 26, the owner of the Mexican-Asian fusion food trailer Mai-O-Mai already has worked the stoves with chefs Geronimo Lopez at Botika, Luca Della Casa at Nonna Osteria and Steve McHugh at Landrace.

But like so many upwardly mobile chefs, Torres wanted something to call his own. Drawn to Asian cooking by the Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese menagerie at Botika and influenced by the food he grew up eating as a San Antonio native, he lit the fires on an idea to fuse Mexican and Asian styles.

That idea took real-world shape Aug. 15 when Torres opened Mai-O-Mai outside Bruno’s Dive Bar in Southtown. Since then, he’s parked the late-night trailer at bars around town, including Tony’s Siesta, Amor Eterno and Espuelas Bar at the Bridge, with hopes of finding a regular spot.

In the meantime, Torres said he’s enjoying the ride, a ride that includes warming people up to the idea of Mexican-Asian food.

Location: Locations vary. Check the Instagram page @maifoodtruck for updates.

Hours: 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday

Takeout/delivery: Onsite dining and takeout available. No delivery.

“People are scared at first,” he said. “They’re thinking about Mexican street food, and it’s all tacos, tacos, tacos. I have to describe it in different terms to make it work.”

The menu does some of the work, with lines like this to describe pork al pastor steamed buns: “Think tacos, pero in a bao.” That works for me.

Best dish: If pork al pastor doesn’t taste right, it doesn’t matter how it’s packaged. Torres made sure it was right with a spicy, sweet and tangy marinade of achiote, pineapple juice, citrus and vinegar turbocharged with guajillo chiles, chile pasilla and chile de árbol. Finished on the flat-top grill, the pork was piled onto a pair of soft steamed buns with fresh pineapple and pickled onions for a street food experience that connects two culinary worlds ($9).

Other dishes: Because Mai-O-Mai hangs out at bars, the menu favors food you can eat with your hands. That includes a righteous pork carnitas sandwich that combined shoulder, belly and rib meat on a toasted bolillo roll that took on a Vietnamese banh mi personality with herbs, carrots and spicy sauce ($14).

The trailer also turned out respectable spicy-sweet lemongrass fried chicken wings ($11), no small feat for the confines of a trailer, where fryer space is at a premium. Torres maximized the fryer’s capacity with Catfish y Chips ($13), nuggets of catfish soaked in sambal buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal and fried to a shaggy crunch, served with curly fries, all of it sauced with spicy, complex miso remoulade.

A fork came into play for bulgogi fries ($14), a stoner’s delight of curly fries, grilled sweet-hot beef, aromatic kimchi, fresh herbs and a fried egg, all meant to be swirled together. And while I didn’t get how a dish of wide noodles with rich tomato curry, herbs and vegetables was supposed to reflect the vermicelli-twirl of fideo for Fideo Noodz ($10 plus $5 for shrimp), I enjoyed the result.

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