My first experience with a taco truck was in 2001 in Oakland, California. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was appropriately tipsy and ravenous. I ate several kinds of tacos that night, but the spicy al pastor was my favorite--with its tender, slightly sweet pieces of barbecued pork served with grilled green onions, a side of lime, and a radish rosette. Lately I've been on a quest for Seattle's best taco-truck rendition of the al pastor taco, and I've experienced barbecued pork that is as varied as the barbecue found in America's South. There's the pork that's more wet than dry, the pork that's more spicy than not, and the al pastor that really seems to resemble the meat found in a sloppy joe. But none of this is what I'm looking for--al pastor needs to be sublimely tender and crispy, spicy and savory, moist but not really wet. With this in mind, I didn't find any trucks with fresh tortillas or late hours, but clearly some of Seattle's most authentic Mexican food is to be found on wheels.

In Rainier Valley, Tacos El Asadero (3513 Rainier Ave S, no phone) is located in a bus with stainless-steel counters and swivel chairs. Their carnitas tacos were great--not too dry, but still with a crispy finish. I'd skip the burritos and the unlisted, though requested, al pastor; this was more like a saucy, tasteless adobada. At the newly opened Taqueria El Maguey (4801 Rainier Ave S, no phone) I tried the al pastor and the carnitas, as well as their refried beans. Again, the al pastor was wet shredded pork and the carnitas were overly greasy; my eating companion noted the beans were bland and watered-down. Further up the road was Taqueria Los Potrillos (6230 Rainier Ave S, 465-8288), a truck that shares space with a gas station. Though the al pastor taco was fair, the veggie burrito was better and almost as big as my forearm. Besides all the traditional standbys, the burrito also included some sliced jalapeños and the beans were well seasoned. At White Center's Taqueria La Fondita II (9811 15th Ave SW, 551-0529) the al pastor tacos were wrapped in soft corn tortillas and garnished with lime, a roasted pepper, and a whole onion. Here the meat was requisitely crispy with a nice quotient of spice; the tacos were prepared with sautéed onion that melded nicely with the strips of pork. My friend, a taco connoisseur in his own right, found these to be his favorite tacos. La Fondita also offered lovely carnitas tacos and perfectly delectable carne asada sopitas--small masa discs with meat, refried beans, cheese, lettuce, and crema. Also in White Center, and in another atmospheric white bus, was the Taqueria El Rincón (11066 16th Ave SW, 244-5795). The al pastor tacos were, again, more saucy than barbecued and didn't have as much bite as found in the La Fondita tacos. Despite this, we liked their pork mulitas--two corn tortillas melded together with meat and cheese.

On my next outing, I headed north to Shoreline's La Traila (17964 N 180th St, 542-0150), situated in a yellow wagon next to a tent decorated with cheery fake flowers. The burritos were good-sized and tasty, with whole beans and fluffy, flavorful rice. Their tacos were called al pastor, though they were described as "beef" (this wasn't right since this was clearly the "other white meat"). Unfortunately, this al pastor was not barbecued nor distinctly flavorful. With full belly and heavy heart I headed south to Gorditos Too!, located west of the Ballard Bridge ramp (1521 NW 50th St at15th Ave NW, 409-7674). Not to be confused with the "healthy" Gorditos, this joint was pretty upscale as far as taco-truck dining goes, with a large white tent parked in a former car lot and a smattering of tables and white plastic chairs. Nevertheless, this is where I found my favorite al pastor tacos--they had the required crispy bits of pork with fresh cilantro, diced white onion, a wedge of lime, and radish garnish. No, this wasn't the end of the quest, though I could see myself sitting at Gorditos Too! on a hot summer afternoon, drinking a tamarind Jarritos soda while watching the cars lumber over the Ballard Bridge--all the while contemplating another order of tacos al pastor and the taco trucks that still lay ahead.