Oakland’s Tacos El Ultimo Baile tempts with smoky Al-Carbon tacos

A plate of street tacos from Oaklands Tacos El Ultimo Baile. Photo credit: Paulina Kaserne

“El Ultimo Baile” means “the last dance”, but Dominic Prado is only just beginning.

Loyal patrons of Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon are no strangers to Tacos El Ultimo Baile. As the East Bay Express first reported in 2017, Prado’s business began as a stand right in front of the bar, supplying street-style tacos on the busy Friday and Saturday evenings. When approval became an issue, Prado invested in a trailer and now operates the business as a food truck.

The name “El Ultimo Baile” pays homage to his late grandmother, a woman who taught him the importance of a homemade meal and who spent his life to the full.

“[My grandma] loved to dance. I’ve been with her for the last few years of her life and it occurred to me that it was her last dance, ”said Prado. “We never ate out when we were growing up. Seeing her putting things together from scratch was the biggest impact.

Dominic Prado named his shop, which means “the last dance” in Spanish, in tribute to his late grandmother who loved dancing and taught him the importance of a homemade meal. Photo credit: Tacos El Ultimo Baile

Prado grew up in his grandmother’s house in Tipton, California, where he experienced a mix of New Mexican, Southwestern, and Norteño (northern Mexican cuisine). While his family traditions inspire his style of cooking, he also draws heavily on his time in Mexico, as well as his travels through California and Tijuana, where he met several taqueros to learn their stories. An important finding during his trip to northern Mexico was the grilling of charcoal or charcoal.

“Al-carbon is typical of northern Mexico, including Sonora and Baja California, as is the flour tortilla,” said Prado. “After this trip, I knew that I couldn’t do Carne Asada any other way.” Instead of traditional charcoal briquettes, Prado relies on mesquite and oak, which give the grilled meat in his tacos a unique smokiness.

He was also picky about where to get his meat and tortillas, sourcing both locally in Oakland from Mexican suppliers. His flour tortillas come from Tortillas de Harina Mamacuca, where the tortillas are mixed and pressed by a woman from Sonora. Its corn tortillas come from La Finca as well as its meat. (La Finca’s shop front on Foothill Boulevard slaughters meat in addition to tortillas, fries, and masa.)

When the on-site housing ordinance went into effect and the Legionnaires’ saloon was forced to close, Prado was on his feet thinking about how to keep his business going. After a few pop-ups and a slow day in downtown Oakland, Prado asked one of his staff to check out the Lake Merritt scene. Last year, Prado parked the truck alongside other food trucks on the lake, but was forced to relocate in April after the city announced new sales regulations at Lake Merritt. While he moves regularly, the truck parks at Temescal Brewing every Sunday from 12 noon to 9 p.m.

Tacos El Ultimo Baile parks at Temescal Brewing on Sundays. Photo credit: Paulina Kaserne

Moving from a late night to lunch and dinner allowed Prado to connect more deeply with its guests and pay more attention to food trends. “I think the people we find by the lake and elsewhere are more of the foodie types,” he said. “That drives me to add new things to the menu.”

Although initially hesitant, Prado added short rib birria, or braised meat stew, to its menu as a specialty after noticing that quesabirria was growing in popularity during the pandemic. He credits a YouTube channel that he follows closely to learn how to cook the dish. His intuition to include it on the menu paid off; it has been one of its best-selling tacos since its inception.

Although the birria is not always available, the menu at Tacos El Último Baile regularly features Carne Asada, Al Pastor, Pollo and Chorizo. In order to keep the quality of his meat consistent, Prado notes that he doesn’t use strict recipes and keeps his preparations simple, except for his al-Pastor. The Adobo sauce for his al Pastor includes around 20 ingredients, and his efforts result in a sauce that carefully balances the seasoning with the typical acidity of al Pastor. Although the al Pastor is always available al carbon, Prado occasionally prepares the meat on a spit roaster, also known as a trompo, and delivers thinly shaved, meltingly tender slices of pork shoulder.

Another regional inspiration on the menu is Sinaloan Tacos Vampires. For these, Prado grills cheese with a corn or flour tortilla until it is browned and caramelized. The tortilla is then topped with meat and a healthy garnish of chopped coriander, onions and salsa verde. The thin, crispy edges of the grilled cheese make a welcome and unique textural contrast to an otherwise traditional street taco.

Tacos El Ultimo Bailes Vampire tacos on handmade flour tortillas. Photo credit: Paulina Kaserne

Each menu item also includes Prados Salsa Macha, a living chilli oil that was inspired by his 10-year stay in Guadalajara. “I remember pizzerias using it as a spice,” he recalls, “and I started making it myself after wanting it for a long time.” A little bit is enough with his salsa macha – adding just a few Drop of oil provides a pleasant undertone of warmth, a fitting complement to its smoky Al-Carbon meat.

Prado hopes to one day bring his unique vision to his own store.

“I started this business out of necessity and also out of a desire to create something that would highlight our culture and traditions,” said Prado.

Tacos El Ultimo Baile is currently on Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Temescal Brewing (4115 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) and various other locations throughout the week. For updates on pop-up locations and opening times, follow Tacos El Ultimo Baile on Instagram.

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