RED HOOK — A day after her Piaztlan Authentic Mexican food truck won New York’s prestigious Vendy Cup — awarded to the city’s best street-food vendor — Eleazar Perez greeted customers at the same Red Hook ball fields she’s served at for 20 years.
“I was very happy, I was very emotional,” said Perez, whose son, Fabian, acted as an interpreter. “I was very shocked.”
Alongside Fabian and her daughters, Perla and Patricia, Eleazar has served chicharron tacos, carne asada tostadas, and a wide range of Central Mexican dishes at Red Hook's soccer fields since 1992.
Fabian said the family had never participated in the Vendy Awards, which is organized by the Street Vendor Project to honor the tastiest restaurants-on-wheels in the city. After seeing fellow Red Hook vendors Country Boy Mexican win the cup in 2009 and Solber Papusas take the title in 2011, Fabian Perez was inspired, and he asked friends and family to nominate his mother’s business this year.
The daughter of a sheep-herding family in Piaxtla, Mexico, Eleazar Perez said she opened her first food stand at age 11, selling chalupas and hot chocolate near her home.
“I learned from my mother,” said Perez, who now lives in Park Slope.
Previously the family had cooked on-site at the fields, and for 16 years served food "flea market-style" at folding chairs and tables. For a time, they also ran a restaurant, La Asuncion, in Borough Park, which they shuttered recently due to lack of business.
In 2008, the family purchased the food truck just as other food vendors in the area began taking the cuisine mobile and finding a niche in Red Hook.
“We hoped it would get our name out there,” Fabian Perez said, of entering the Vendys. “We want to expand past the ball fields.”
The Perez’s simple yet delicious food features pork, chicken and beef marinated with a blend of dried chilis, spices and traditional Mexican herbs. Tacos are served with lettuce, pico de gallo, chopped onions and diced turnips, wrapped in corn tortillas.
“This is what you find in Mexico City, it’s southern Mexican food,” said Fili Perez, 35, a Mexico City native who lined up to buy a taco plate. “It’s not too spicy for us.”
Fabian said his mother came to the United States in 1977 after cooking for a decade in Mexico City.
The business name, Piaztlan, was chosen for the indigenous name of his mother’s home city, Piaxtla.
Fabian said his mother is so protective of her special meat marinade that she makes even her own son look the other way as she mixes the spices.
“She’d better pass it on,” Fabian joked.
While Piaztlan went home with the Vendy Cup, other businesses won in a variety of other categories, with Melt Bakery winning "Best Dessert," Lumpia Shack taking "Best Market Vendor" honors, Phil's Steaks winning "Rookie of the Year" and Cinnamon Snail awarded "People's Taste Award."