"We try to do healthy food: our beef is free-range, our chicken is humanely grown, our bacon is uncured, tomatoes and cucumbers are organic. But I like to keep …
"We try to do healthy food: our beef is free-range, our chicken is humanely grown, our bacon is uncured, tomatoes and cucumbers are organic. But I like to keep my prices down," said Louise Desmaris, who first opened A La Cart World Street Food in July 2014 just north of Cid's at 625 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.
All of A La Cart's entrees are under $10, and you can get a sandwich for $6.50. "I want everyone to have healthy food," Desmaris added. "Healthy is not just for the wealthy ... no, wait, don't print that," she said, laughing.
One of Desmaris' favorite anecdotes: Someone panhandling next door at the entrance to Cid's saw her putting out her sandwich board announcing shrimp tacos as the daily special. "Hey, how much for the tacos?" he asked. When she told him, he headed right over to place his order.
The daily specials on Sept. 3 were indeed affordable: a Cuban pulled pork sandwich with ham, cheddar, pickles and "mojo mayo" for $8.95; a Moroccan pita with grilled beef, red peppers and onions topped with lime, yogurt, mint and cilantro for $9.50; a Kraut Dog featuring a Nathan's all-beef frankfurter topped with sauerkraut and mustard and served with Kettle potato chips for $5.50.
How does she pull off these prices? For one, she has an arrangement with a farmer from Ranchos de Taos who sells greens at the Saturday Farmers Market. He brings whatever he doesn't sell to her after the market closes and gives her a discounted price.
"I forage for mushrooms myself," Desmaris said, "and one of the other women picks apricots, pears and plums. We incorporate these ingredients one way or another."
You could easily infer that Desmaris revises the menu often, based on her ever-changing daily specials. "Actually, I have a large but fairly stable menu," she said. "Whenever I try to take something off, someone screams 'That's my favorite!' so I keep it on."
While she stays as organic as possible, Desmaris recognizes that going full-up organic would undermine her healthy-but-affordable concept. "Those certifications definitely push prices up," she said, "and a lot of what's labeled 'organic' these days is kind of iffy anyway."
By sourcing certified cage-free chickens that are humanely raised, she knows she's getting a good product but isn't paying the often steep increase for the organic label.
"Affordable" applies to A La Cart's building as well as its menu. "I started with just the cart," she said, "which was a 1978-model refrigerated trailer from a tractor/trailer truck. I cut the wheels off and made it into a commercial kitchen."
The building and business have grown ever since. When Aceq, a restaurant in Arroyo Seco, remodeled its facility in 2016, Desmaris bought the reclaimed windows, doors and beams and added a room for tables onto the front of the kitchen.
When she said she cut the wheels off the trailer, Desmaris wasn't exaggerating. She used to be a builder and had built several entire homes herself. She and one of her employees put up the add-on that adjoins the kitchen as well as a walk-in refrigerator out back. More recently, she added an outdoor seating area with sail-shaped awnings that keep it pleasantly shady. The whole edifice sits on a concrete slab left over from the El Pueblo Café, which was condemned and dismantled years ago.
Desmaris couldn't chat for long. She had to drive to the shipyards in Los Angeles to take possession of a new food cart she'd ordered. "It's coming from China," she said. "They don't make them in this country."
Business is ramping up for A La Cart, so she's decided to add a mobile element. She has no plans to cut the wheels off this vehicle.
"I love Taos because we have such a cross section here: Hispanos, Pueblo people, Anglos, rich, poor and in-between," Desmaris said. "I like to have a cross section of everybody in the restaurant as well."
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