Wednesday, March 28, 2012
A while ago, I was reading the food column in the SF Weekly and I read about a popular Native American whose been selling Indian Tacos out of a shopping cart in-between the alley's of the Mission District in San Francisco, California.
So from then on, I always wondered if I was ever going to bump into him because for a major Bay Area Newspaper to mention a Native American peddling Indian Tacos in the Mission district, there definitely must be something about him for them to do so.
We have good frybread makers all over the Bay Area, all one has to do is visit our local powwows at Standford, UC Berkeley, and other Native cultural events in the area to taste our food.
The question I kept asking myself was why the SF Weekly was so smitten with his Indian Tacos?
Months had past by and I never saw this guy around so on one fateful night as I was scouting a location to produce my, "Hella Gay Comedy Show" , I happen to stop by the El Rio, which is a local nightclub in the upper Mission, and who should be camped out in the back patio of the bar making frybread, thats right, it was Mr. Rocky Yazzie.
At first, when I glanced in his direction, I thought he was a Filipino, which Navajo's are commonly mistaken for in SF, I thought I was in for a treat of lumpia or Filipino noodles.
As I got closer, I was like OMG, is that frybread? And sure enough all the pieces to the puzzle came together as I investigated further.
While I waited in line to say hi to him, Rocky was chumming it up with every customer a head of me. He made everyone feel at ease with his charming personality while taking his time to mingle everybody around him. As I stood there, there were many people that came over who didn't want an Indian Taco but wanted to come over to say hi to him instead. It was easy to see how the 30-something hipster crowd at the El Rio gravitated toward Rocky, he definitely emanated a vibe that he was a man of the people.
When it was my turn to interact with him, the first words out of my mouth were, "what part of the rez are you from" ?
With the biggest Navajo smile I had ever seen, he said, "I'm from Shiprock" .
As it turned out, San Francisco was not his first destination, he first pilgrimage off the rez brought him to Phoenix, Arizona, where he picked up professional chef training at the Le Cordon Blue Academy. "I might as well, the school was on Pima land and they were offering an 80,000 scholarships to Native students so that was a no-brainer. And plus I needed something to distract me from the trouble I was in" .
My first question to Rocky was how he ended up San Francisco, "actually I came out here with my girlfriend and when things weren't working out, we broke up a month later and I ended up staying" .
How has been your experience in SF, "it was rough in the beginning, I was homeless and didn't have any money, thats when I got the idea to sell Indian Tacos" .
Where did you learn to make bread, "I learned everything from my grandmother, shes a good cook" .
Rocky obviously loves what he does, he sets his own hours and makes just enough to get by. When I was hovering around his table I didn't see a sign saying how much his Navajo Tacos were, "its all by donation, people put what they want in my bucket" . When I looked in his bucket, there were 1's, 5's, and a few 10's.
A lady sitting at another table asked if his frybread was vegan friendly, "absolutely, I use nothing but the freshest ingredients, I make Pueblo beans with no meat" , which were really tasty by the way.
Rocky definitely sticks to the aesthetics of how to eat an Indian taco, a lady asked Rocky for a fork and he said, "no, thats why I folded it and wrapped it in foil, you're supposed to eat it like a taco" .
As Rocky was making my Navajo Taco, I really loved how he hand grated the cheese right in front of me for my taco, I have never seen anyone do that, anywhere. That was just a great example of Rocky's personal touch that he gives to all of his customers.
The El Rio must really love Rocky because they advertise Navajo Indian Tacos on their website, "Dawn (the owner) is really cool, shes let me set up and do my thing" .
Whats next for Rocky Yazzie, "I'm trying to get two of my other friends to join me on the Food Network for a food truck competition, we sent in our audition tape and they really liked us, my sell to them was Southwest Cuisine out of a Food Truck" .
Rocky's other aspirations include someday owning a restaurant like the Frybread House in Phoenix, Arizona., "I'm so proud of those guys, they recently won the James Beard award" , which gives accolades to gourmet American food.
Personally speaking, I would love to see Rocky on the Food Network because he has everything they're looking for, he has a professional cooking background, hes got tons of personality, and he wants it.
Interesting enough, Rocky is an accomplished cellist, "I studied cello all threw high school and college. I graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in Music Theory" .
After spending 40 minutes chopping it out with Rocky, I clearly saw what the other patrons were seeing in this Mission foodie phenom.
As Rocky's night was coming to a close, he sold out of his frybread in typical form and graciously had to decline a patron who was visiting his college kids from Ohio. I felt bad for the guy so I offered my taco to him that Rocky made me for earlier, I was going to bring it home to my brother. The guy was very appreciative and offered me money, I politely said, "no thanks but you can throw some money in Rocky's donation bucket" .
And of course in parting fashion like the true gentlemen Rockey is, he said to me, "you're from Oakland right, I don't want to hold you up because I know the last BART train is coming soon" , and to be honest, I would of missed that last train just to hang out with Rocky for a few more minutes because hes an awesome guy just like his frybread.
Check out Rocky on Twitter to see when and where he sets up shop:
Here are some links to Rocky's fabulous write ups online, make sure you read the comments at the bottom of each link, Rocky is the real deal: