In Spanish, “al carajo” is a multi-use expletive for a plethora of occasions, from telling somebody to go away — “vete al carajo” — to expressing disbelief — “$15 for a salad? Al carajo!” to venting anger — “¡Al carajo!”
The phrase jumped out of Javier León at the start of the pandemic, when he was suddenly laid off from the Valencia Street Mexican restaurant Loló, where he had been bartending for six years. Little did he know, “al carajo” would become his future trademark.
Within a month, León was selling cocktails and food from his house — mostly Mexican dishes popular in his home state of Yucatán, like ceviche yucateco and poc chuc.
León’s years at Lolo earned him friends and regulars who were happy to enjoy his food and drinks and help him out during hard times.
“I think what I make is good, because they can keep coming back,” León said, in a mix of Spanish and English, standing on the corner of 24th and Valencia near his truck where he sells his homemade fare all week. “You can go support a friend, but if it’s not good you’re not going to go back.”
Over the summer, León made an Instagram account to promote his nascent business. By September, a friend and fellow business owner in Contra Costa County offered to sell him a food truck to expand the business.
“It’s the help that falls from the sky. … I really feel that when something bad happens, it’s because something better is coming,” León said.
He excitedly began setting himself up to sell food around the Bay Area, including on the corner of Valencia and 24th streets, only a few blocks from his old workplace. But in the rush to expand, León neglected to get the necessary permit to operate in San Francisco, and the buzz also attracted city inspectors in December.
“The city came, checked me, and since I didn’t have the permit, they closed me down,” León said. “I understand, of course; those are the rules.”
León dedicated the next three months to navigating the city’s permit process, and officially received his permit two weeks ago. And now, the Al Carajo truck can be found at the corner of 24th and Valencia streets, Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m..
“But follow AlCarajoSF on Instagram because sometimes we have events elsewhere,” León said.
The menu now offers a few more Yucatán dishes — panucho and salbute — and “Valencia Fish Tacos,” to acknowledge his new home.