Cart of the Matter: Cali expat brings Mexican fare flair to her West Philadelphia neighborhood

photo by Neal SantosSometimes all you need to bring a community together is a really great taco. West Philadelphian Vanessa Jerolmack, owner of the Taco Angeleno food cart, may not have realized how big of an appetite locals would have for her authentic Mexican fare, but she does now. 

Jerolmack moved from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in 2007 and realized the kind of food that was so abundant in California was lacking in her new city. As a way to fill that void and to get to know her neighbors better, she began cooking vegan versions of the cuisine she loved and inviting people over for brunch with her and her husband, Doug. 

The lively times getting to know their neighbors were so enjoyable that the couple wanted to do more, but they didn't want to start a restaurant. After a visit to the Memphis Taproom’s beer garden, an outdoor space on a small empty lot that housed a food truck, something clicked. The couple had purchased the vacant lot behind their house in 2012 and planned to use it for a garden, but what if they could get the city to approve Jerolmack’s dream to sell Mexican food there?

“I don’t like the restaurant world, but I’m really into my neighborhood,” she says. “I really love how everyone knows each other.”

In January 2013, they purchased a previously owned food cart. In November 2013, the city ruled that Jerolmack could operate her Taco Angeleno food cart at 5019 Baltimore Ave. To bolster her cuisine knowledge, Jerolmack worked for nine months with Fishtown’s Loco Pez, a bar and taqueria that serves L.A.-style street food. 

Jerolmack says she debuted her cart at the Go West! Craft Fest last spring, and the response was “awesome.” She plans on sticking to a seasonal schedule, selling Thursday through Saturday evenings from May to October, so it was only natural that the biannual craft fest bookend her selling season. For now, she sells chicken, beef, pork and seitan tacos. 

“I start with Go West! in the spring and I’ll close with Go West! in the fall,” she says. The popularity of Taco Angeleno at the craft fest is not lost on Jerolmack. “Each time I sold out,” she says. “We had a line the whole time.” 

To learn more about Taco Angeleno, visit facebook.com/tacoangelenophilly.