There’s something magical about the words “taco cart.”

It means that tacos can be right around the corner, in a park, under a tree, just beyond the next street I might cross.

And because tacos are often small, and inexpensive, the taco cart means to me that I’ll be able to get a really nice and really cheap snack or lunch.

All these things came true for me when I discovered the Hella Good Tacos cart parked in Monument Square on Congress Street in Portland.

It’s usually there three days a week – Wednesday through Friday – now into the fall.

I’m no taco expert, but these tacos remind me of the best tacos I’ve ever had, at a gas station in the farming town of Pescadero, California, south of San Francisco.

So I was not surprised when I found out that Josh Bankhead, who runs Hella Good Tacos with his wife Melissa, spent his teen years in Manteca, California. It’s a farming town full of taco trucks and carts, located west of San Francisco and south of Stockton. Bankhead says many of the cart’s recipes come from his mother in-law.

The first thing I noticed about the tacos at Hella Good Tacos is that they are cheap, $2.25 for most varieties. On various lunch hours I’ve bought two or three, depending on how hungry I was.

The day I got three, for a total of $7.75, I was quite full.

That day I sampled a fish taco, a carnitas (a sort of Mexican pulled pork) and a pollo verde (chicken in green salsa).

All three came in double corn tortillas, which tasted fresher than most tortillas I’ve had.

The fish taco included white fish, lightly breaded and warm and topped with a lime crema salsa, cabbage and cilantro. The pork was fall-apart tender, and the chicken was as well.

The pork and the chicken were served with a verde salsa, along with onion, cilantro and other greens. All three were great.

You can get sour cream or cheese for 25 cents each, but I didn’t feel my tacos needed anything extra.

The cart offers seven kinds of tacos, as well as seven kinds of quesadillas and six kinds of burritos. The quesadillas range from $4 to $5 while the burritos are $5 to $6.50.

The lines at the cart can be long, and if you wait too long after noon they might run out of certain fillings.

Though it’s really nice to be able to get a taco to go and sit outside in Monument Square or at a nearby park, it’s also nice to know there’s an indoor place where you can get Hella Good Tacos, too.

The Bankheads are now also running Steve & Renee’s Diner on Washington Avenue, billing it as “Home of Hella Good Tacos.”

So you can get the same tacos, burritos and quesadillas for about the same price there. Plus there are other Mexican lunch items, like tamales and tortas, as well as burgers and hot dogs and grilled cheese.

There’s also an extensive breakfast menu with Mexican dishes like tamales, beans and eggs, or chorizo sausage and potatoes topped with eggs.

Besides being in Monument Square, the cart often spends the first Friday of every month near the corner of High and Congress streets, across from the Portland Museum of Art.

That’s when the city’s ever-growing First Friday Art Walk is held, and the cart is parked from lunch through early evening to help feed hungry revelers.

There’s an art walk scheduled for Friday, as part of the new weekend-long Old Port Festival.

And then sometimes you can catch the cart on Friday evenings from 10 p.m. on, at the corner of Fore and Union Street in the Old Port.

But maybe it’s best to forget the times and places of the cart’s operation.

It’s more fun to just stumble upon it.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

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