By Barry Barbe

In the film “Chef,” Jon Favreau plays a creatively frustrated chef who leaves the corporate world to rekindle his passion and along the way reclaims his life rebuilding relationships and self-confidence through food on a cross-country experience in a food truck.

Food trucks, once a niche market with predictable offerings, have shown the ability to adapt and expand their offerings, with local trucks offering pizza, pies, Hawaiian, traditional American, as well as Streets Tacos and Latin American Cuisine. Food trucks require the same stringent food safety certification as a brick-and-mortar store, with their own unique challenges such as the disposal of gray water and maintaining an off-site commissary kitchen.

Originally from Mission Viejo, California, Danny Saldana connected with the film “Chef” and drew inspiration to open his own food truck at the young age of 23.

The family moved to Prescott Valley in 2006 where Danny began cooking at a young age when his mother became ill and unable to cook. Danny stepped in, and taking direction from his mother, learned how to prepare traditional dishes, or in this case those from the Chicano lifestyle.

“There is a difference in food style when you talk about Chicano cooking,” Danny explains. “Being Chicano, you really don’t belong to traditional Mexicans, or Caucasian-Americans, and our food heritage is a blend of cultures that express our individual palettes, ingredients and preparations.”

After experiences in national chain restaurants, and independent chef-driven restaurants, Danny grew his knowledge by attending Yavapai College through its culinary program, all the while working full time.

“Papi’s Kitchen” food truck, which opened in the summer of 2023, offers a variety of Mexican street food through family recipes and a blend of Latin American ingredients and flavors.

“Tortas from my mother’s hometown, and those made in my father’s which is only 10 minutes away, can be completely different,” Danny explains.

“Bringing the flavors of Latin America and presenting it in a style that is true to the region, yet carries a part of myself and my history is a fun challenge. I love feeding people and bringing them something different with a story behind it.”

Family and faith play a large part in not only Danny’s heritage, but also in his food knowledge and preparation.

“I attend Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Church (Pentecostal Church of God) where both my sister and I interpret the message in English and Spanish. It’s a small congregation, but the members are from a variety of regions, and so I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them about food styles and ingredients that I might not have otherwise known of or experienced.

“They have been super supportive, and I even set my truck up for my practice days in the parking lot as I developed dishes and streamlined operations.”

Relying heavily on family recipes, Papi’s Kitchen offers a variety of breakfast burritos, carnitas tacos, chilaquiles, a dish of simmered corn tortillas with Salsa Roja and fried eggs, as well as daily features that may occasionally include the Cubano, a Latin American sandwich consisting of slow-roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, as featured in the film.

“My family is very supportive and involved in the operations. My sister steps in as my cashier, and both my mom and dad help out with both prep and cooking in the truck with me.”

Having opened late in the season, Danny quickly learned the challenges the elements can play on operations and set up an online ordering platform where guests can pre-order and pick up their food curbside at “The Yard,” located at the corner of Willis and Montezuma streets, where a variety of cuisines are offered by multiple food trucks.

And like many people pursuing their passion project, Danny also works part-time during the off-season, including Rafter Eleven in Prescott Valley and Torme in Prescott.

“Building my brand has been the toughest part of the gig so far,” Danny said. “I wanted a logo that was graffiti in style that represented the creative street food I was offering, that is both fun and casual. I also want folks to be able to look at, and taste, my food and know that it’s mine.”

You can find Papi’s Kitchen and other trucks at The Yard as well as special events and other locales throughout the region.

As for the future of Papi’s and Danny, “A brick-and-mortar storefront would be great one day, but right now, I wanna continue being creative and hopefully be able to travel with the truck while I can.”

For hours and location: and on Facebook at Papi’s Kitchen.

Papi’s Salsa Roja

• 1-2 medium jalapenos

• 1 serrano pepper

• 1 chile caribe (Yellow Pepper)

• 5 vine-ripe tomatoes

• 1 small white onion diced

• 1 bunch of cilantro minced

• 1 head of garlic minced

Roast the peppers and remove the stems. Keep all the seeds.

Roast the tomatoes well until lightly charred.

Place all in a blender or food processor.

Add the cilantro and garlic and blend or pulse for 10 seconds.

Place all in a bowl, adding the diced onion and season with salt and pepper.

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