Too often, the meal options at music venues and festivals lack substance. You know the stuff — bad combinations of fried dough and single-serving condiments, all for ridiculously inflated prices.
Last weekend at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, however, a Tampa Bay restaurateur took a big leap to change the mind-set.
And it came as owner Rene Valenzuela prepares to expand the hours of his wildly popular St. Petersburg location. Beginning next month, Valenzuela will operate the St. Pete Taco Bus, 2324 Central Ave., into the wee hours Thursday through Sunday. Currently, the location is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Valenzuela said the new hours haven't been set but will more closely resemble those of the Tampa location, which is open 24 hours.
Valenzuela drove the bus, a large trailer and 11 staff members 14 hours to serve more than 80,000 hungry festivalgoers in Manchester, Tenn.
Nestled between a giant waterslide and Bonnaroo's "This Tent" — the stage where artists like Matt and Kim, Cold War Kids and Florence and the Machine performed — the Taco Bus served Valenzuela's signature "Mex-Mex" cuisine, the kind he made as a boy at street stands in Mexico.
Double-shelled tacos with cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork marinated in achiote and orange, and Hibiscus Lemonade were among the mouth-watering offerings.
The amber-colored school bus, which proudly displayed "Make Tacos, Not War" and "Guy Fieri Ate Here" signs, had huge lines for much of the festival. Only five other food trucks traveled to Bonnaroo, including Miami's gourmet GastroPod Airstream.
Valenzuela said with a smile that the Taco Bus "did very, very well" at Bonnaroo. In other words, it banked. But above all, Valenzuela says this was a trial run of sorts for his St. Petersburg location on Central Avenue.
"The energy and spirit of all of this is what we want," Valenzuela said. "After you go to a show, a club, or whatever, you can come and get some good, home-cooked food."