Mariscos German Beyer anchors the back end of the narrow parking lot next to San Ysidro Liquor just off Beyer Boulevard, about 20 minutes from downtown San Diego. The white and blue food truck trades heavily in savory fish tacos, lime-soused aguachiles, and colorful ceviches.
A lunch crowd gathers around the service window—near the drinks, sauce bottles, and napkins—waiting for owner Jorge Fuentes to call their order numbers.
Sign up for the America's Test Kitchen Watch and Cook newsletter
Latest recipes, episodes, and behind-the-scenes stories from the ATK team.
Food in hand, many diners sit at the shaded tables beneath the nearby tent, while others retreat to the comfort of their cars. As the lunch rush fades, Fuentes eases off the truck to chat with the regulars, several of whom he knows on a first-name basis. A handful of customers continue to arrive in small waves, and things remain calm until the crowd picks up again for the evening rush.
Fuentes has been in the mariscos (seafood) business since he opened his first shop in his native Tijuana, Mexico, in 1997. He ran the successful restaurant for four years but decided to close it in 2001 when he got married. His decision was based on the toll that long restaurant hours can take on relationships.
“I said, ‘No more.’ I wanted to enjoy married life,” Fuentes says.
He transitioned to a career in construction in San Diego. But he noticed an opening in the food market, one he suspected he could fill. “When I was in construction, I needed to eat and go. But the only mariscos in San Diego were sit-down restaurants.”
When construction work dipped in 2005, Fuentes and a partner (the “German” in Mariscos German Beyer) turned to the food-truck business. While food trucks were already big in the San Diego dining scene, Fuentes says theirs was one of the first trucks to focus entirely on mariscos. They targeted the construction workers he knew would be interested and eventually grew the business to three trucks. “It kicked off right away. We had a line of people all the time,” Fuentes says.
“We were so popular in the beginning that people started opening more [mariscos trucks]. Some of them had recipes similar to ours, so then I started doing different things.”
But Fuentes’s attempts to innovate and push the boundaries of traditional mariscos clashed with the philosophy of his business partner, who wanted to keep things as they were. “I said, ‘People get tired of [eating] the same thing over and over and over. I’m gonna keep on doing new things.’”
So in 2007, Fuentes split with his partner (although he kept the established name) and focused his efforts on the Beyer Boulevard truck. Once untethered, he allowed his creativity to fill the menu with taco concepts like the Chimichurri, featuring griddled fish dressed in Argentinian chimichurri and topped with arugula, avocado, and mayonnaise; the Gaucho, with smoked tuna and octopus; and the Sweet Devil, batter-fried fish tossed in a spicy sweet-and-sour sauce that Fuentes likens to a marriage of “a hot wing and a taco.”
One of his more playful takes is a riff on an aguachile tostada, which is typically made with raw shrimp tossed quickly with lime juice, chiles, red onion, and cucumber. Fuentes’s version instead swaps in ahi tuna for the shrimp and includes pineapple and extra-virgin olive oil—he calls it an ahi-chile tostada.
Ahi-Chile TostadasSome of San Diego's most innovative seafood, served from a truck.
“When the pineapple is a little sharp, it goes really well.” He ponders the recipe for a moment and then smiles and says, “I love cooking.”