Birmingham’s Cantina Hops on the Food Wagon

By Bob Carlton | The Birmingham News

Guillermo Castro, left, and Rom Mendez are combining their culinary talents to start a taco and cookie truck called Cantina Tacos Locos. The truck is being built in Miami and should be ready to roll in about six weeks. (The Birmingham News / Joe Songer).

The Cantina is taking it to the streets.

Banking on the food truck craze that is sweeping the country, Cantina owner Guillermo Castro plans to crank up a taco wagon of his own.

Cantina Tacos Locos — “Crazy tacos, basically,” Castro says — should hit the streets of Birmingham within the next six weeks.

The truck, which is being custom-built in Miami, will offer several favorites from Castro’s popular Lakeview taqueria, including three or four different tacos, a Cuban sandwich and garlic fries, among them.

Also, the menu also will feature cookies and other sweets from Rom Mendez, whose business, Cocoa, prepares specialty desserts for the Cantina, as well as Castro’s fine-dining restaurant, Sol y Luna.

“He’s a pastry chef friend of mine,” Castro says. “We got together and said, ‘Why don’t we combine tacos and cookies and do a taco truck?'” Castro says.

Food trucks have become one of the hippest dining trends of the past couple of years — even spawning a Food Network reality show, “The Great Food Truck Race” — and Birmingham has hopped on the bandwagon, too.

One of the first and most popular here is Taqueria Guzman, otherwise known as the “Taco Truck,” which set up shop on West Valley Avenue about four years ago and was featured in the January issue of Southern Living magazine as one of South’s 10 best food trucks.

Another is Spoonfed Grill, which serves burgers, wraps and tacos out of a food wagon that parks downtown during lunch hours. Dreamcakes bakery in Homewood also rolled out a cupcake truck last month.

“I think it’s not going to be too long before the city of Birmingham is going to get trucks all over the place,” Castro says.

While Castro plans to park his truck downtown and around UAB a couple days a week, he says his main business will be at special events such as the Magic City Art Connection, Do Dah Day, and races at Barber Motorsports Park.

“Depending on the activity of the city, if there is a big convention somewhere, we will bring the tacos to you,” he says.

Rom Mendez's sweet treats include bourbon brownies, eggnog bread pudding and crushed red pepper chocolate chip cookies. (The Birmingham News / Joe Songer)

Rom Mendez’s sweet treats include bourbon brownies, eggnog bread pudding and crushed red pepper chocolate chip cookies. (The Birmingham News / Joe Songer)

Mendez’s desserts — which include such adventurous creations as bourbon brownies, eggnog bread pudding and crushed red pepper chocolate-chip cookies — will give Cantina Tacos Locos some extra sugar and spice.

Mendez, who grew up in Venezuela, sold his cookies this past year at Pepper Place Saturday Market, and for Valentine’s Day diners at Sol y Luna this year, he prepared a chocolate mousse with strawberry cream cheese filling.

“It’s trial and error, if you may,” he says. “I’ve gained a few pounds just by trying, but that’s rewarding to me, especially because one of the reasons people dine out is to try something different.

“Guillermo has given me a chance,” Mendez adds. “If I want to develop a new recipe at Sol y Luna, I’m more than welcome, as long as he tries it and approves it.”

A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Castro opened Sol y Luna, which specializes in authentic Mexican tapas dishes, on Seventh Avenue South in Birmingham’s Lakeview area in 1997.

Seven years later, he opened the more casual Cantina, whose menu features what Castro calls “street foods from around the world,” in the nearby Martin Biscuit Building.

Castro has since started two more Cantinas — one on Cahaba Valley Road in Inverness and the other in Hoover’s Patton Creek shopping center — and within the next couple of months, he plans to open another in Montgomery in the downtown Alley Station entertainment district near Riverwalk Stadium.