STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Taco trucks. You imagine them beachside or street side. But slopeside?
It has everything a typical taco truck has to make tacos; specialty meats, hot corn tortillas, cilantro, shredded cabbage, pickled red onion and queso fresco. It has four different tacos on the menu plus Mexican street corn, sodas and beer.
The only difference is it’s not a truck.
It’s a kitchen built on the back of a working silver snowcat – one of those giant tracked machines you’ve seen grooming the slopes at major ski resorts worldwide.
“When I fire up the beast, I kind of feel like I’m piloting a spaceship,” says Taco Beast operator Dan Luchs. “It’s still dark outside, you press one button and you light up the sky.”
Every morning Luchs and Chef Sean Hengstler get started hours before the sunrise – about 5 a.m. in winter – and before anyone has made any tracks on the fresh snow powder.
They take the gondola up and head over to the Taco Beast docking station, where it’s plugged in every night at the Rendezvous Lodge, dig themselves out of the snow (using the snowcat’s plow on the front) and head to the day’s new slopeside location.
That’s because it varies daily: Skiers and snowboarders can find the day’s location on the Taco Beast Twitter account.
When they find a good location. they groom and flatten out a spot on the side of whichever mountain they’ve chosen for the day.
“About the time the sun’s coming up, we are setting up and getting ready for the day, building our fence and getting the kitchen all set up while Sean is prepping away in the kitchen,” says Luchs.
Hengstler preps some ingredients in a commercial kitchen at the resort, but all the cooking is done on the back of the beast.
“How many people get to cook in the middle of nowhere? Not many,” says Hengstler. “Cooking outside’s fun man, it’s different, it’s more different than anything else I’ve ever done. You’re not in the kitchen.”
It’s almost all about the view
Hengstler has been cooking in Steamboat for 30 years and says he’s opened many restaurants in town.
He used to work in fancier restaurants garnishing Wagyu beef, and now he slinging tacos from a truck. (He claims his fellow local chefs are jealous of his current gig.)
“I have the best office view in the world, for sure. We look at the flat tops every morning. It’s not a bad day, ever,” says Hengstler.
He is cooking on a flat top with the Flat Top mountain range and national forest to one side and the slopes on the other; that is, when they park at the bottom of Sunshine Express chair lift.
It’s Luchs’ favorite spot on the mountain to park. It is also the first area on the mountain to get sun, he says.
“It’s at the bottom of what we call Wally World, and it’s a big funnel for lots of different runs, from powder skiing to nice rollers on groomers and everyone, everything. Four runs converge into one right at the bottom of Sunshine lift.”
As much as the view is a perk of the job, Hengstler finds the food as the most important part.
“You got to care about food. Serving the tacos is just like serving filet, you still got to care.”
He is rustling up four street tacos in Taco Beast’s inaugural season.
- Beef Barbacoa – Ancho seasoned shredded beef
- Elk Chorizo – Blend of ground elk and pork, seasoned with chorizo spices
- Pollo Asado – Seasoned and grilled dark meat chicken
- Tres Hermanas – Roasted butternut squash, black beans and corn
Elk is common in Steamboat Springs, and a go-to recommendation at the Taco Beast, as is a side of Mexican street corn.
“I’m an elk chorizo guy,” Luchs says.
Hengstler says he likes all of them.
“I cook them. I wouldn’t being doing it right if I wasn’t happy with them.”
Open for lunch if the weather cooperates
The truck is only open for lunch and only until they sell out.
It’s a mob when they open, says Hengstler.
Luchs says, Hengstler “removes the fence, we open the doors and I blow the horn on the Taco Beast and it’s kind of, I like to think of it as a beach. We have the colorful serapes all around. The beach on the mountain.”
It’s a great place to eat tacos on a bluebird day. On days that the snowfall gets too intense, they shut down because not many people like snow in their taco.
“You serve someone a warm taco and they go eat it in snowy conditions, they’re not really happy,” says Luchs.
They also close down the temperature gets down below 12 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when the kitchen pipes start to freeze. But most Thursdays through Mondays, you can find them somewhere slopeside.
Weather permitting, they plan to run through the end of the winter season, which ends April 14.
“People are definitely liking what we’re throwing down for sure,” says Luchs.