When we think of street food, we envisage the bustling back streets of Bangkok or a roadside family stall in Mexico City – but one Belfast chef is keen to put his city on the map.
Gary Quinn, owner of the Taquitos food truck parked up daily on the Belfast waterfront, opened up the business in 2018 and has seen it go from strength to strength in his first year of operation.
The talented chef is now due to move in to a High Street restaurant location before the end of 2019.
With a mixed clientele of city-centre tourists and office workers, Taquitos offers fresh Mexican-style tacos and rice bowls which patrons devour on the street just yards from the truck itself.
Quinn was inspired to open the business following a stint living and working in Miami, Florida, where taco trucks catered to the large Latin American following in the city.
“The idea came from when I was away in Florida for a couple of years, basically just tasting the tacos when I had some time off,” said Quinn, who plans to open up a shop selling his produce in the future.
“Not that I had that much time off, but when I did I went to the taco trucks to eat. There’s a lot of people of Mexican descent in South Florida.”
The chef added that while the food culture in Belfast has adapted for the better in recent years, the city is still behind the times when it comes to street food and food trucks.
“I still believe this city is many years behind a lot of other cities because I’ve been about through Europe and America, and you just see stuff you don’t see in Belfast.”
“You can tell Belfast is still quite far behind, it has some catching up to do. In saying that, the food scene has gotten a lot better than what it was, I’ve really enjoyed it since I got back from Florida.”
He admitted that the process of applying for the relevant permissions to set up such a venture right in the heart of the city may discourage others with similar ideas.
“I first had to go to Belfast City Council. They granted me a license on the basis of the Department of Communities who own the ground, on their approval basically. It was a difficult process, a lot of red tape but we got through it in the end.”
Earlier this year Taquitos’ caught the attention of Belfast food legend Michael Deane, who invited Gary and his partner to cook at one of his restaurants at a special pop-up event.
Deane is keen to help showcase local chef talent in the city with such events, and hopes to collaborate with Taquitos again in the future.
“I love his sense of adventure and freedom – it’s important to encourage the young and the local and to help them take a step up,” Deane said.
The restaurateur added: “Street food isa difficult one due to our history, culture and licensing. Until lately it was difficult to even get tables outside.”
“It will go down to legislation and controls by councils and environmental health bodies. We must remember that restaurants pay heavy rent and rates so there will be issues.”