Winston-Salem’s newest food truck specializes in the food of Latin America, but it doesn’t sell tacos or burritos.
Que Viva! Latin Street Grill is owned by husband and wife Erick and Jessica Balseca and Erick’s parents, Bolivar and Patricia Balseca.
Erick, 31, and Jessica, 29, grew up in North Carolina — he in Clemmons and she in Hickory — and met at N.C. State University. Bolivar is a native of Colombia and Patricia is from Ecuador. “They are the ones with all the great recipes,” Erick said of his parents. “But our truck has food from all over Latin America.”
“I brought recipes from Colombia that I learned from my grandmother and mother — their secret recipes,” Bolivar said.
Patricia brought recipes from several countries.
Erick said that when his mother came to the United States from Ecuador as a teenager, she lived in a Latin American neighborhood around Newark, N.J. “She made friends with people all over Latin America, and she learned their recipes.”
The Balsecas’ friends and family members always raved about their food, and Erick had broached the idea of starting a food business for several years. But when a year or so ago his mother became dissatisfied with her job and Erick was asked to make an undesirable job transfer to California, they decided to start Que Viva!
“The time seemed right, and the market was ready for it,” Erick said.
They decided that a truck was the way to go.
“We bought the vehicle in 2018,” Erick said. “My dad is a mechanic, and I studied engineering, so we built the bus from the ground up.”
It took them awhile to finally get the truck on the road. “We had a passion for food, but I’ve never run a food truck before. We didn’t know what we were doing,” Erick said with a laugh.
But Erick’s Colombian grandfather owned restaurants and bakeries, and Bolivar had worked in them years ago.
They made their first sales in April and started marketing the truck in earnest in May. Lately, they’ve been making regular appearances Tuesday nights at Mama Mia Italian Ice in Clemmons, Thursday nights at Reboot Arcade Bar in downtown Winston-Salem, and Saturdays at lunchtime at Winston-Salem Junction Market downtown.
Erick and Jessica work on the truck, usually with either Bolivar or Patricia. “So far, my parents have been doing most of the prep and we’ve been doing most of the managing of the business, but now my wife and I are learning the recipes,” Erick said.
The bulk of the menu centers on Colombian food, but other countries are represented, too.
Arepas — thick corn cakes popular in Colombia and Venezuela — are Que Viva’s biggest sellers.
Its arepas ($6 to $8) are stuffed with cheese, shredded chicken and pork, as well as a ground beef patty with arugula and brie.
Que Viva makes two styles of empanada ($3.50 to $4.50), both from scratch. The Argentinean style is made with wheat flour and served with a choice of cheese or beef. The Colombian style is made with corn flour and filled with chicken, potato and cilantro sauce.
Sides include maduros (sweet plantains), tostones (green plantains), yuva frita (yuca fries) and French fries — with a choice of cilantro salsa, salsa roja, avocado sauce or Que Viva’s signature chipotle sauce.
Jibaritos ($8) are like arepas, except the “bread” for the sandwich is two pieces of jumbo tostones. “About 90% percent of our menu is gluten-free,” Erick said, and the jibaritos are also corn-free.
Jibaritos are available with shredded chicken, pork, beef or Venezuelan avocado-chicken salad.
Que Viva has several rice bowls ($9). One is ropa vieja — shredded beef in a tomato sauce and the national dish of Cuba. Another is pernil arroz con gandules (pork, rice and pigeon peas), a Puerto Rican dish.
Que Viva also serves a potato bowl, made with fries topped with beef or chicken and cheese sauce. “In Latin America this street food is made with sliced fried potatoes — but it’s essentially fries,” Erick said.
For dessert, there’s flan ($4), which is popular all over Latin America, and quimbolitos ($3), an Ecuadoran dish of pastry steamed in banana leaf and topped with raisins.
Erick said that part of his motivation in starting a food truck was entrepreneurship. “I’ve always liked being my own boss.”
“Before this I had an online business,” Jessica said. “But this is better, because we get to work together.”
Erick added that he is excited about sharing Latin American culture with customers. “I think legacy has a lot to do with it. I think people are ready for more than taco and burger trucks. A lot of it is introducing people to my culture here and having that live on.”