No one has ever seen Lloyd, but the lime green trucks bearing his name are everywhere.
Peter Cimino and Chris Dorsaneo, who started the Buffalo food truck movement in 2010, have four trucks dispensing dishes like roast pork burritos and organic black bean tacos, part of a menu of tasty, inexpensive food made with quality ingredients.
In 2015, they opened their first restaurant, Lloyd Taco Factory. Its assembly-line design and prices makes it Buffalo's homegrown answer to Chipotle. The comparison isn't exact, however.
First, Lloyd Taco Factory isn't as fast. At peak times customers can wait up to 10 minutes for their order. The second difference is the food: Lloyd Taco Factory is better eating, with a more diverse menu and a full bar.
If you've only experienced parking lot Lloyd, get to Hertel Avenue to experience canny cooking at prices that invite customers to make Lloyd a lifetime habit.
A whole passel of remarkable restaurants has opened in Buffalo recently. Lloyd, at 1503 Hertel Ave., though, might even be revolutionary. It sells better fast food, made with ingredients like hormone-free meat, and vegetables from local farms instead of factory-made components.
Under the guiding hand of Chef Teddy Bryant and his crew, staples like corn tortillas, cheese sauce and taco sauces are made in-house at this counter-service restaurant. The combination will be introduced to Williamsville this fall with the opening of a second restaurant at 5933 Main St.
The heart of the menu is the proteins: roast pork, braised beef, grilled or fried chicken, black beans, crispy fried fish, fried tofu, and a special or two. Those are dispensed as tacos ($3.14), burritos ($7.99) or El Camino rice bowls ($6.99).
Included with each is shredded cabbage instead of lettuce, for a more substantial crunch. Chimichurri, a cilantro-lime vinaigrette, jack cheese and spicy red chile "rocket sauce" add optional flavors.
Corn tortillas, house-made by a machine visible from the line, taste like corn and don't crack. But they're too small for the fillings they hold, becoming my least favorite way to enjoy Lloyd.
My usual truck order is Tricked-Out Nachos ($6.99, pictured as main photo), a pile of tortilla chips enriched with rocket sauce, pickled onions, cilantro, sliced fresh jalapenos and Lloyd's cheese sauce, a roux-based concoction made with jack cheese that's a refreshing change from the processed orange usual. It comes with choice of protein; I favor the pork, savory from long, slow roasting.
Lloyd is Mexican-inspired, but offers flavors from around the world in original "new school" tacos and its substantial lineup of non-taco dishes. Skinny Thai combines cubes of fried tofu with peanut sauce, Asian pickles, cilantro and radish for a vegan sensation.
Crack-ed potatoes ($3.79) are fried smushed baby potatoes whose skins turn crunchy, a perfect foil for the robust flavorings: garlic oil, scallions, mayonnaise and Korean ssamjang sauce.
Lloyd Taco Factory offers many choices the trucks don't, including a broader lineup of substantial sides that make it easy to eat your vegetables. A recent combination of baby kale, snappy green beans, pickled onions and cherry tomatoes, dusted with cotija cheese, was a blast of freshness ($3.09).
Cortez salad ($4.99) was a hearty Caesar analog with a base of shredded cabbage, kale and romaine with fried tortilla strips and candied pumpkin seeds. Not so striking: Mexicali spring rolls ($3.59), whose poblano-and-mushroom filling couldn't make itself heard over the wrapper and dip.
At Lloyd, fast food isn’t junk food. Its Buffalo chicken hot pockets ($3.99) are a trio of three-bite turnovers filled with shredded chicken, Chihuahua cheese and hot sauce, served over a gently pickled slaw of carrot, celery and cabbage. More Frank's and house-made cotija cream make fitting dipping partners, but the flaky house-made butter pastry made these bites worth eating plain.
Consider also the Crispy Pig ($7.49). Inside a custom-made Elm Street Bakery roll, split and griddled, is a hefty pork cutlet, crumbed and fried to a crunchy bronze. Spicy tomato jam and garlic mayonnaise finish it off.
Flirt with excess with the Street Dog ($5.59), a bacon-wrapped deep-fried hot dog in spicy mayonnaise, avocado-tomatillo-garlic salsa, onion, tomato and cilantro. Trying something new isn't that risky; dishes peak at $7.99, for burritos or the shrimp tostada.
Even desserts deserve a mention, especially the goat cheesecake ($3.59), topped with salty caramel and oat crumble. Next door is Churn, the Lloyd soft-serve ice cream shop. Its premium offerings are the only soft-serve in town made in-house from a base of Ithaca milk, and there's a vegan version made from coconut milk. Despite using better ingredients, the prices are in line with competitors, from $2.79 for a basic cone to $6.59 sundaes like the Unbirthday (soft serve, mini confetti cupcake, macaron).
If you're thirsty for adult beverages, the Lloyd Taco Factory experience is better with friends. That way one can peel off to order custom cocktails, beer and such from the bar while others wait for food. Having to carry out two separate transactions solo is a hassle, especially when the place is packed, which is often. If you want to have a quiet chat, hope that one of the sidewalk tables is open.
Overall, from its trucks to its store, Lloyd provides one of the most consistent fast-food experiences in town.
It also has worked out a business model that works. Their regulars are willing to give up servers and water refills for the chance to choose from a healthy-ish menu where the only thing above $8 is alcohol.
Handmade, homegrown and accessibly priced, Lloyd Taco Factory is a shining star of Buffalo’s restaurant renaissance.
Lloyd Taco Factory - 9 plates (out of 10)
Where: 1503 Hertel Ave. (863-9781)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Prices: tacos, $3.14; burritos, $7.99; other dishes, $2.59-$7.99
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Gluten-free options: Most tacos and salads, El Caminos.