COVID-19 crisis be damned, La Grana Fish, one of the OGs of the East Bay quesabirria scene, is moving to new digs in the heart of Oakland’s Fruitvale District — an outdoor lot adjacent to the Aloha Club bar, at 952 Fruitvale Avenue, just a couple of blocks away from the Fruitvale BART station. Starting this Saturday, the taco truck will sell its endlessly popular cheese-laden birria tacos — as a to-go item only, of course — for the first time since the the shelter in place went into effect six weeks ago. Initially, the truck will only be open on weekends, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but eventually hours will expand to at least four days a week.
The move itself, ultimately, had nothing to do with the COVID-19 shutdown, explains Ana Morales, who runs La Grana Fish with her husband Alvaro Ramos. Even before the shelter-in-place order came down, the truck had given up its previous spot, outside of Ramos’s uncle’s powder coating shop on 50th Avenue, because it was only available on weekends.
“We wanted to dedicate it all, 100 percent, to our business,” Morales says. That meant finding a new location where they’d be able to operate on more than just those two days — especially now that they’d both decided to quit their day jobs.
The truck is now parked on a lot owned by the proprietor of the Aloha Club, Fruitvale’s 100-year-old neighborhood watering hole, which just saw the departure of another Mexican restaurant. La Guerrera’s had operated the kitchen on the bar’s premises and shared its sweet back patio, but left to open a larger Oakland space. Morales says they had a chance to take over La Guerrera’s spot, which has a full kitchen, but decided not to. Instead, the taco truck will occupy a separate, self-contained outdoor spot on the property, where they’ll have their own little seating area once the coronavirus crisis has passed.
These days, La Grana Fish is best known for its quesabirria — tacos topped with cheese and slow-braised beef, then griddled until crisp on the flat-top — which it started serving in January of last year, well before it became the Bay Area’s hottest taco trend. “Oh my God, ever since we started having them, it was a hit,” Morales recalls.
That said, the truck can’t really be pinned down to any one particular regional influence, offering a mishmash of hard-to-find items that Ramos and Morales happen to like eating: Baja-style fried fish and shrimp tacos, Sinaloan-style gobernador tacos (with grilled shrimp and cheese), and assorted aguachiles. In its earliest days, the business started off as mainly a baked potato truck, if you can believe it, and those spuds — loaded down with Mexican toppings like pickled jalapeños, cheese, and all kinds of grilled taco meats — remain one of its most unique offerings.
Once the shelter in place lifts and they’re able to open fully, Morales says they’ll be introducing a few new menu items as well: massive seafood towers, like the kind you’ll find at restaurants and trucks that specialize in ceviche, and Cajun-style seafood boils.
If anything, the six-foot social distancing rule might be the biggest source of concern for this weekend’s big reopening. La Grana’s Saturday and Sunday morning lines, which often started forming an hour before the truck even opened, are the stuff of legend. Morales says they’re trying their best to prepare for what might be a big rush — they’ve got some cones that they’ll put out to mark six-foot intervals for customers lining up.
Still, Morales says, it’ll be their first time serving food out of the new space, so it’s hard to know what to expect. Those who feel nervous about it can always opt for another of the taco truck’s other new features: delivery service, which it will be offering via DoorDash.