For the third season at Mark’s Carts on Washington, there’s a new taco trailer and a mini-satellite cart from an established BBQ restaurant. Mark Hodesh has engineered still more gastronomic public service for folks hungry any day and on weekend nights, now with an after-hours path through a tennis-net-draped tunnel in his Downtown Home and Garden store that leads from Bill’s Beer Garden straight into the magical flower-decked world of little restaurants on wheels.
Really, there’s a lot going on at this tiny food court in the shadow of the rising Ann Arbor City Apartments at Washington and First (which, Hodesh says, is generating hungry lunchtime construction-worker customers).
Mariano Rodriguez’s El Manantial is a purveyor of robust Mexican fare. Its attractively folk-arty menu lists a simple lineup of pork and chicken “sandwiches” translated into torta, quesadilla, tostada, and taco varieties. The corn taco duo is a deal at four bucks, and it’s the only option where the meat choice is prescribed–a tasty al pastor pork slow-cooked with red chili sauce. I came across a gristly bite or two and some grease soaked into the taco, but that’s nothing unexpected in country-style fare. There was an intriguing unlisted ingredient that I couldn’t initially identify, although stewed green onion bulbs seemed a possibility. Turned out, duh, to be stewed pineapple chunks, which helped account for the complex sweet spiciness of the sauce.
A sprinkling of poblano chunks, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, queso fresco, avocado, and refreshingly real salsa make the other offerings into full meals. Vegetarians have to hope the daily special will suit them, as did the humble potato flautas I happened upon one day, lightly pre-fried and dressed up in all those veggie and cheese trappings for eight bucks. Quesadillas and tostadas cost the same, and the torta on thick bread is a dollar less.
The country-style offerings at El Manantial are quite different from the fish tacos and trendy Mexican fare at Darcy’s Cart. Hodesh insists the vendors talk to each other to make sure the mix of offerings is working for all of them.
Also new to the mix this year are the BBQ stews and sandwiches at Satchel’s. There’s no heartier bean, corn, okra, and chicken five-dollar lunch in a paper bowl than Satchel’s BBQ take on Brunswick stew–another taste of heaven at this little al fresco urban getaway downtown.