A New Food Truck Brings Indigenous Mexican Flavors to San Jose

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Hands holding a plate of colorful tacos, with two lime wedges and a tub of salsa on the side.
Even though the food at Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine comes in a familiar format — like the tacos pictured here — most dishes feature Indigenous ingredients that predate Spain's colonization of Mexico by several hundred years. (Octavio Peña)

At the Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine food truck, a taco might come seasoned with a Mayan spice paste, stuffed with huitlacoche or drizzled with fiery xni-pec salsa — all ingredients that predate Spain’s colonization of Mexico by hundreds of years. That makes it one of just a handful of food businesses in San Jose that specialize in Indigenous Mexican cooking.

Chef Jesus Varguez started the truck in 2021 because he wanted to introduce these Indigenous flavors to the South Bay. He’d had years of experience cooking at upscale restaurants such as Alexander’s Steakhouse, Orchard City Kitchen and Zona Rosa, but he decided to pursue a path that he found more personally meaningful: sharing the cuisine of his Mayan roots.

“Pre-Hispanic, for me,” Varguez says, “is a way to bring back what our ancient food tastes like. I always had this interest to open my own restaurant to my tradition in the Yucatán peninsula. What I see from my grandma and [other] Natives.”

A taquero in a baseball cap cooks meat on the grill inside his taco truck.
Jesus Varguez started the food truck as a way to connect to his family's Mayan roots. (Octavio Peña)

Varguez considers his menu the rebirth of the food of his ancestors. The dishes come in a familiar format — tacos, burritos and quesadillas. But almost every item features pre-colonial ingredients and techniques that set them apart from your typical taco truck.

For instance, the truck offers quesadillas stuffed with huitlacoche, which the Aztecs first enjoyed 700 years ago when they learned that the fungus stunting the growth of their diseased corn had a nutty, mushroomy taste. The quesadillas come with a bright-orange salsa from the Yucatán called xni-pec, which dates back to the Mayan civilization and is made by pickling slices of habanero and onions in citrus juice, providing acidity to balance the fat from the cheese.


To make his al pastor Yucateco, Varguez marinates pork in recado negro — a traditional Mayan marinade made by charring chilies and other ingredients — and tops it with fresh pineapple, epazote oil, lime and onion. And while most taco trucks only serve pork, chicken and beef, Varguez also offers an octopus and chorizo taco with a layer of crispy cheese, a drizzle of chili oil and a spritz of lime.

Even the most basic building block of Mexican cuisine, the corn tortilla, has pre-Hispanic roots — especially when they’re made from scratch using a 3,500-year-old technique known as nixtamalization, a process the Mayans used to soften corn kernels and break down the niacin to make it more nutritious. Varguez makes his multi-colored tortillas in this traditional way: He soaks purple and yellow heirloom corn from Oaxaca in a bath of calcium hydroxide, then grinds it to form a pliable masa dough. His freshly pressed tortillas are pillowy and have a more prominent corn flavor than their factory-made counterparts.

Overhead view of a plate of four tacos, with a side of bright orange salsa.
Another view of the food trucks Indigenous-influenced tacos, served with a side of Mayan xni-pec salsa. (Octavio Peña)

Pre-hispanic Mexican Cuisine is part of a larger movement of talented chefs who are recreating the food of Mexico’s pre-colonial past. Xokol in Jalisco, for instance, honors the importance of maize to Indigenous Mexican communities by serving dishes that incorporate corn in different forms. It specializes in making a kind of concentric, tri-colored tortilla that Indigenous people in Mexico would hide in a stack of standard tortillas as a symbol of resistance to the Spanish conquest. Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco’s Nopalito combines its handmade masa with Native ingredients to create tamales stuffed with heirloom ayocote beans and panuchos topped with chicken tinted red with achiote.

Through these restaurants’ combined efforts, more people are tasting a new side of Mexican cuisine — and people with Indigenous heritage are reconnecting with their roots.

Varguez says he’s proud to represent the flavors of his community here in California. While some customers are surprised by the unfamiliar dishes and modify their order to resemble something more traditional, the chef says most people are enthusiastic to try something new. By dedicating his skills to preserve these flavors, he’s giving a new generation of diners the opportunity to taste a cuisine from long ago and far away.

“It’s something that’s happening right now,” Varguez says. “It’s a new way to see Indigenous food.”

Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine’s location changes daily. For the food truck’s weekly schedule, check its Instagram account.