On the main drag in Roseland, Santa Rosa’s predominantly Latinx neighborhood, sits a vast parking lot that for years was dominated by a Dollar Tree. The lot served as a gathering place for the annual May Day march, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and other political rallies. Then in 2013, after 13-year-old Andy Lopez was killed by a police officer, a corner of the lot became a devotional to him that remains to this day. Eventually, the big box store was replaced by a flea market-style Mercadito filled with many local vendors, and resident muralists beautified concrete walls.
So, in a way, it’s fitting that the lot has now transformed into Mitote Food Park, which celebrates its one-year anniversary in June. The park features a collection of seven rotating food trucks, all family-run, representing Mexican cuisine from various regions, from Jalisco to the Yucatan. Live bands, family festivals, and events like the recent Roseland Rumble, an outdoor boxing match, bring the fiesta — which is what the word “mitote” broadly refers to in the ancient Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. “There’s nothing more joyful for me than to see somebody grow,” says restaurateur and head purveyor Octavio Diaz, a self-proclaimed “small business incubator” who selected the food trucks in the park and has helped launch others into more permanent spaces. (You can usually catch him slinging cocktails on the weekends.)
With so many tempting options, the biggest challenge of dining at Mitote is choosing what to order. Birria, succulent goat meat stewed with ancho chilies, is the star of the show at the long-running Gio y Los Magos, served in everything from tortas to tacos to atop French fries, where it mingles with melted cheese and is decorated with onions, cilantro, jalapenos, and crema ($12). Wash it down with one of the agua frescas, like the creamy strawberry horchata variety.
Named after shaman and poet Maria Sabina, who used mushrooms to heal people in 19th century Oaxaca, Lucha Sabina is the place for Oaxacan street food. The truck offers about a dozen taco fillings ($3 each), including asada, pastor, pollo, and luscious (non-hallucinogenic) mushrooms, which have garnered a cult following among vegetarians and meat eaters alike. A rare mamey agua fresca recently appeared on that menu.
Yuca Mami serves classic Yucatan panuchos in which lettuce, avocado, tomato, cucumber, chicken, and bright pickled red onions adorn a small fried corn tortilla, filled with a black bean puree, for the perfect creamy and crunchy bite ($4.50 each or 3 for $12).
More upscale yet still portable, Pezcow is a paradise of seafood: find fresh ceviche ($16), jumbo shrimp cocktail ($16), and Bolsa Mariscos, a plastic bag filled with shrimp, octopus, mussels, corn, sausage, and potatoes floating in a spicy broth ($25). Crispy-on-the-edges melted cheese and grilled fish with house-made chipotle crema make for an unforgettable fish taco ($5 each).
Antojitos Victoria is the place to discover less typical quesadilla toppings, like pumpkin flower, nopal cactus, and huitlacoche, an inky-colored fungus that grows bulbous on corn kernels and imparts a pleasing earthy flavor when cooked. For dessert, La Churroteka has you covered with warm cream-filled churros that can also be served sundae-style with ice cream.
Longtime Roseland resident and artist Todd Barricklow, together with fellow artist Gregory Pagel, was hired to design the space, going analog with their artistic touches. Stencils of corn, scorpions, snakes, and agave plants were drawn and cut by hand, then painted onto metal or burned into redwood planters with a blow torch. “I don’t want to make anything you can go out and buy,” says Barrickow, who repurposed an old prop used by the Fun Bike Unicorn Club at the Maker Faire to construct the park’s entryway.
The food trucks ring a huge 80-foot-by-40-foot tent strung inside with warm white lights and filled cozily with picnic tables, smaller round-tops, and a bar for standing. Tables built around trees are scattered outside the tent near a shipping container-turned-bar, one of the few places that serves hard alcohol in the neighborhood. Look closely at the bar’s bright blue interior to notice that it’s covered in a blown-up photograph of Pagel’s favorite pair of jeans, printed on vinyl.
In addition to local and Mexican beers, bartender Estrella Flores serves mezcal- and tequila-based cocktails. My favorite, La Coqueta (The Flirt) tempers tequila with hibiscus strawberry syrup and blood orange liqueur, while the Una Mas y Nos Vamos (One More and We’ll Go) pairs it with tamarind and ancho chili liqueur. A smoky mezcal is the perfect foil for pineapple, cucumber, and habanero in La Charla (The Chit Chat).
A mural presiding over the west end of the parking lot depicts an indigenous woman battling a masked wrestler against a bright pink background. Muralists Joshua Lawyer and MJ Lindo-Lawyer, also longtime Roseland residents, explain that it represents an underdog story — an apt expression of how the community has come together to center and celebrate homegrown businesses at Mitote.