The menu at Tacos El Rulas, Berkeley’s newest taco truck, reads like a rundown of the buzziest taco trends of the moment. There is quesabirria, of course — the red-tinged birria tacos that have taken the Bay Area by storm. There are handmade tortillas. There are quesatacos, mulitas, and even a hybridized “pizza birria.” There’s al pastor sliced off a vertical spit with a pineapple on top.
Any one of these items would make El Rulas a relative outlier in the Berkeley taco scene, which has lagged a bit behind neighboring cities like Richmond and Oakland in terms latching onto these newer taco trends. Doing all of them at once? That’s a formula that’s worked well so far, says Angeles Rodriguez, who helps her father Raul Rodriguez operate the food truck.
Rodriguez tells Eater SF that El Rulas has actually been around for four years, mostly selling in Richmond. But it really started to gain traction when it moved to its new spot in Berkeley three months ago. Parked in front of an auto shop on the Berkeley-Albany border, across the street from a Dollar Tree, it now draws a steady flow of customers — many of them attracted to the items that are hard to find in Berkeley: the mulitas, the al pastor cooked on the trompo, and the various items that feature handmade tortillas.
In Berkeley, Rodriguez says, “People kept asking, ‘Oh, do you sell quesabirria?” So they added that to the menu as well — the truck had already been selling birria as one of its meat options to begin with. In Richmond, they’d be just one of many, many trucks and taquerias that are serving these dishes. In Berkeley, they’re one of the only ones.
Rodriguez, a high school student, explains that Tacos El Rulas is a family business through and through. She’s the one taking lunch orders from customers with her laptop propped open in front of her — attending classes via Zoom — while her father mans the grill. In the evenings, she and her sister Emeris operate the truck by themselves while their father runs errands to get ready for the next day. Back in their commissary kitchen in Richmond, their mother cooks the birria and the chicken tinga and preps all of the other ingredients.
Many of El Rulas’s special items, like the quesabirria, are associated with Tijuana, but Rodriguez explains that the family actually hails from Mexico City, and most of their dishes — that al pastor, for instance — are prepared in the style you’d expect to find at the taquerias in that region. The heart of the menu lies in the items that are made with fresh masa. Any taco, for instance, can be requested on a thick handmade tortilla that gets pressed to order (for $3, only a $0.50 upcharge), which immediately sets El Rulas apart from the vast majority of Bay Area taco trucks.
The truck also sells quesadillas that are made with larger handmade tortillas — topped with a layer of crispy cheese, chopped lettuce, and crema — that makes for a refreshing lunch on its own. It sells Mexico-style huaraches — slipper-shaped masa cakes that come topped with a nopales salad.
El Rulas also sells some of the most monstrous-sized tortas around. In fact, Rodriguez’s personal pick for the truck’s most distinctive and popular item is its take on a torta Cubana. The sandwich traditionally comes stuffed with a wide assortment of meats anyway, but El Rulas’s version is especially extravagant, overloaded with chorizo, a fried steak cutlet, ham, sliced hot dog, a thick wedge of queso fresco, and oozy melted mozzarella. At $13 a pop, it’s good for at least a solid two meals.
Which brings Rodriguez to her other realization about El Rulas’s new customer base: Many of them are used to paying significantly more at the average Berkeley taqueria: “I tell them the price, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, really?’”
Tacos El Rulas is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 1299 San Pablo Avenue, in front of Yen’s Auto Service.