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“El Ultimo Baile” translates to “the last dance,” but Dominic Prado is just getting started.
Loyal patrons of Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon are no strangers to Tacos El Ultimo Baile. As first reported by the East Bay Express back in 2017, Prado’s business started as a stand just outside the bar, feeding street-style tacos to the busy Friday and Saturday night bar crowd. When permitting became an issue, Prado invested in a trailer and now operates the business as a food truck.
The name “El Ultimo Baile” pays homage to his late grandmother, a woman who taught him the importance of a home-cooked meal, and living his life to the fullest.
“[My grandma] loved to dance. I spent the last couple years of her life with her, and it occurred to me that it was her last dance,” said Prado. “Growing up, we never ate out. Seeing her whip up stuff from scratch was the biggest influence.
Prado grew up in Tipton, California, in his grandmother’s home, where he experienced a blend of New Mexican, Southwestern and Norteño (northern Mexican) cuisine. While his family traditions inspire his cooking style, he also draws heavily upon his time spent living in Mexico, as well as his travels across California and Tijuana, where he met with several taqueros to learn their stories. A key learning during his trip to Northern Mexico was grilling al carbon, or over coal.
“Al carbon is typical of Northern Mexico, including Sonora and Baja California, as is the flour tortilla,” Prado explained. “After that trip, I knew I couldn’t make carne asada any other way.” Instead of the traditional charcoal briquettes, Prado opts for mesquite and oak, which lend a unique smokiness to the grilled meats in his tacos.
He has also been selective about where he procures his meat and his tortillas, sourcing both locally in Oakland from Mexican purveyors. His flour tortillas come from Tortillas de Harina Mamacuca, where the tortillas are mixed and pressed by a woman from Sonora. His corn tortillas are sourced from La Finca, as is his meat. (The La Finca storefront on Foothill Boulevard butchers meat in addition to offering tortillas, chips and masa.)
When the shelter-in-place ordinance took effect and the Legionnaire Saloon was forced to close, Prado had to think on his feet about how to keep his business alive. After a couple of pop-ups and a slow day in downtown Oakland, Prado asked one of his employees to check out the scene at Lake Merritt. For the past year, Prado parked the truck alongside other food trucks at the lake, but in April, he was forced to change locations after the city announced new vending regulations at Lake Merritt. While he moves locations regularly, the truck parks every Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. at Temescal Brewing.
Shifting from a late night to a lunch and dinner crowd allowed Prado to connect more deeply with his diners and to pay closer attention to food trends. “I think the people we find at the lake and elsewhere are more the food-lover types,” he remarked. “This pushes me to add new things to the menu.”
Though initially hesitant to do so, Prado added short rib birria, or braised meat stew, as a special to his menu after noticing that quesabirria became more popular during the pandemic. He credits a YouTube channel he follows closely for learning how to create the dish. His intuition to add it to the menu paid off; since it’s been introduced, it remains one of his best-selling tacos.
While the birria is not always available, Tacos El Último Baile’s menu regularly offers carne asada, al pastor, pollo and chorizo. In order to keep the quality of his meats consistent, Prado notes that he doesn’t use strict recipes and keeps his preparations simple, save for his al pastor. The adobo sauce for his al pastor involves about 20 ingredients, and his efforts result in a sauce that meticulously balances spice with al pastor’s trademark acidity. Though the al pastor is always available al carbon, Prado will occasionally prepare the meat on a spit roaster, also known as a trompo, yielding thinly shaved, meltingly tender slices of pork shoulder.
Another regional inspiration on the menu is Sinaloan tacos vampiros. For these, Prado griddles cheese with a corn or flour tortilla until browned and caramelized. The tortilla is then topped with meat and a healthy garnish of chopped cilantro, onions and salsa verde. The thin, crisp edges of the grilled cheese bring a welcome and unique textural contrast to an otherwise traditional street taco.
Each menu item also comes with Prado’s salsa macha, a vibrant chile oil inspired by his 10-year stint living in Guadalajara. “I remember that pizza places would have it as a condiment,” he reminisced, “and I started making it myself after wanting to for a long time.” A little goes a long way with his salsa macha — adding just a few drops of the oil delivers a pleasant undertone of heat, a fitting complement to his smoky al carbon meats.
Prado hopes to one day bring his unique vision into his own brick-and-mortar.
“I started this business out of necessity, and also out of a desire to create something that would highlight our culture and traditions,” Prado said.
Tacos El Ultimo Baile currently pops up at Temescal Brewing (4115 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), from noon to 9 p.m., Sundays, and at various other locations throughout the week. For updates on pop-up locations and hours, follow Tacos El Ultimo Baile on Instagram.