Former Miami accountant brings authentic Cuban food to the region
It’s no secret that Henderson County is bursting at the seams with killer Latin food. It seems like everywhere you turn there’s a great taco truck, burrito shop, or tamale stand. But after that 12th huarache and the umpteenth tostada, one has to wonder, where is all the Cuban food?
“We’d been talking about doing a food truck down in Florida,” says Raul Taboada, the patriarch of the trio behind the Toasted Cuban Food Truck. He runs the truck with his daughter-in-law Nurashikin (“Nura”) and son Michael. “When we came up here, we realized that there wasn’t a big Cuban food scene here.”
Raised by Cuban parents in Miami, Raul raised his own family there as well. After spending more than a decade as an accountant, he felt burned out, so he enrolled in Johnson & Wales culinary program before opening a restaurant in Key Largo, logging 20 years in the restaurant industry. He returned to his original career as an accountant after Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina wiped out his restaurant, but when the pandemic struck and shut down his accounting firm, he decided to move to Western North Carolina to be closer to extended family.
Between Nura’s experience in the service industry and as a sales manager for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Michael’s passion for barbecue, the food truck seemed like a no-brainer once the family landed in the Carolinas. “[Michael] used to wake up at 4 in the morning to prepare his meat so it would be ready for dinner,” recalls Nura with a laugh. “I told him, ‘You should do this for a career if you love it this much.’”
His specialty, slow-roasted mojo pork, goes on just about everything, from the El Capitan — a Cuban-spiced burger topped with pork, smashed plantains, queso fresco, and potato sticks — to the Cuban sandwich, made with Cuban bread shipped up from Miami every week. There’s also chicharrones made from the crispy skins of all that pork they smoke, tostones (fried plantains), yuca fries, and ham or cheese croquettes.
Those with a sweet tooth will love Nura’s Hot Bunz. “It’s a mix of Asian and New Orleans,” she says. “My mom is Costa Rican, but my dad is Sri Lankan, and he would always want us to try different foods other than just American foods. So whenever we would go out, we would try different restaurants from different parts of the world. And that plays a big part into how we approach our food — taking different flavors and trying to incorporate them into what we do, which is really how Cuban food started. Everybody has their own family traditions that they put into the food.”
“People always ask if our food is spicy,” laughs Raul. “Of course, our answer is no. Our food is just flavorful. We use a lot of citrus — lime juice, orange juice — we use a lot of garlic and cilantro. And there’s this big misconception that all Latin food is spicy, and it’s not, depending on what you are eating.”
“Growing up in Miami, a lot of those staples that are normal for us, stuff that’s always been available, isn’t up here,” explains Nura. “So I’m really excited to be able to share this with people here. I know how much I love it, so I’m happy to share it with everyone.”
The truck mostly travels around Henderson, Polk, and Transylvania counties, and to Greenville, SC, and other points in the Upstate. Typical stops on the packed schedule include popular watering holes (Dry Falls Brewing, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Ecusta Brewing, etc.) and outdoor-adventure spots (Piney Mountain Bike Lodge, Camping World).
They also host regular wine dinners at Overmountain Vineyards. “With the wine dinners, it gives us the opportunity to up the scale of what we serve a little bit. We get to do fish and ceviche dishes that are a little easier [to make in that setting] than just hoping people buy it at the food truck,” says Raul. “We’d like to eventually look into doing a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Either that or expanding the fleet and getting another truck.”
Meanwhile, they’re happy to be serving hungry hikers and bicyclists, Latin-food lovers, craft-beer and wine enthusiasts, and a whole lot of transplanted Floridians.
“When [people from Florida] have our food, they say, ‘Wow, I haven’t had this kind of food in 20 years,’” says Nura, “or, ‘I haven’t felt close to home in so long, and you just brought me back to my family.’
“It’s fun to bring people back home.”
Toasted Cuban Food Truck, Columbus. On Instagram (@Toasted_Cuban_Food_Truck), Facebook, and at streetfoodfinder.com/ToastedCuban. Weekly schedules are posted every Monday. For more information, call 786-271-0119 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.