Dining at Israel Campos’ Mexican food cart outside Yale’s ‘Whale’ is as much about the food as the experience of watching Israel create your meal. As the queue lengthens outside ‘El Poblano’ at lunchtime on a Wednesday, Israel’s hands and arms only quicken as he throws ingredients into a tortilla. Queso, tomate, arroz, salsa: in they go in a whir of appendages. Sauce bottles are thrown into the air and caught without a glance – a dexterity that comes only with years of experience. He juggles three orders at a time and tells me, “After the second time someone comes, I already know what they want. I can tell them they want sour cream, they don’t want hot sauce.” As I stand and watch, he riles gasps from new customers as he flies around the cart.
Israel has been a local fixture on the New Haven food since he started working for the restaurant by the same name on Forbes Street in 1993. Since that time, he’s taken over the business and set up shop with the carts on the corner of Sachem and Prospect streets. And whilst many Yalies come and go, he has about 30 regulars that have been coming 3-4 days a week since he opened.
When I meet him, it’s a family affair with his wife and kids also at the cart while school is out. Despite his wife’s efficiency, when the customers coming storming in, Israel takes the reins and the show ensues. “I always want to do the cooking. I don’t want the customer to be unhappy,” he says. So what about cooking when you go home to Mexico, I ask. “No, I’ve got my mother there!”
The fare is the standard Cal-Mex but, loyal to his origins in Puebla City, Israel offers enchiladas with mole poblano, green tomatillo or regular tomato sauce. Grab all the plates – enchiladas, quesadillas or tacos – for $5 or a burrito for a measly $4. With rice and salad, the plates are enough to fill the average belly long into the afternoon. It’s hearty, cheap and impressively speedy. If you can’t make it out for lunch, you can always drop into the restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall style establishment with a larger menu that includes Spanish cuisine. But for a quick fuel up between classes, the cart is your bet.
El Poblano Burrito Express
Cnr Prospect & Sachem streets
New Haven CT 06511
Open lunchtime from 11am, Monday to Friday