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Roasted corn — and machine learning in a food truck — at 23rd and Union’s El Costeño

Moises and Bernardo

Moises Santos is a 24-year-old programmer, food truck designer, and immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico. His food truck holds down what seems like prime territory — the pot purchasing and stoner friendly parking lot at the Central District’s Uncle Ike’s. The truck is not run like a pipe dream but, instead, puts to use a fat pipe of bandwidth and crunches datasets of Seattle to make business decisions like how much carne asada he might serve up on a Tuesday.

“We’re a pretty innovative culture, we’re hardworking people,” Santos tells CHS as he stands by a corn roaster of his own design.

While the corn roaster is a first run concept, the food truck is a state-of-the-art restaurant on wheels that took two years to design and manufacture.

“It’s an artificial intelligence food truck,” Santos said.

El Costeno’s smart technology has been gathering data from the Seattle Department of Transportation, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a year now, and, based on that data, tells Moises how much to prep each day.

“It’s at a 97% accuracy rate and will get better with machine learning,” Santos said. “I’m an immigrant, and I’ve always been into tech. I use the skills that I know to do something I can make money from and still dig into our culture, develop something. Be at the forefront of technology. I haven’t seen anyone do anything similar in terms of efficiency.”

While Santos has had a major hand in the tech, design, and community connections, it was joining forces with his uncle — not Uncle Ike — that helped start the process. Bernardo Mendoza started roasting corn across the street from McPherson’s on Beacon Hill 13 years go and now helps his nephew operate food truck parked in the Uncle Ike’s parking lot.

“He started with the corn roaster in the parking lot, he leased a store, and started selling imports from Oaxaca,” Santos said. “All of our moles are imported every other week” — as is everything else that isn’t a meat or vegetable sold in the food truck. “Everything in the truck comes from the store, everything in the store comes from Oaxaca.”

All of El Costeno’s corn is delivered fresh daily from Kent, and the roasting process begins around 11 AM. “We focus on our moles and tlayuda but the carnitas torta is fire,” Santos said. The tlayudas are large, crispy tortillas, delivered weekly from Oaxaca. The steak is sliced by hand by Mendoza as he was previously a butcher in Mexico.

Although Santos’s merging of tech and food culture seems like a perfect fit for a programmer with a food background, running a food truck isn’t the easiest route to success.

“When you’re pushed against a corner, you can’t do anything but flourish and push forward, that’s what we do where we’re from,” he said. “We come from a poor family, we immigrated and made a better life for ourselves.”

Santos says their success is in part due to the numbers of hispanic workers in the area who “feel really comfortable coming here because they know where we’re from and our customers are very loyal.”

With that kind of dedication based on traditional flavors, El Costeno’s tech underpinnings will have plenty of positive postings, tweets, and updates to collect.

El Costeno is located in the Uncle Ike’s parking lot at 1400 23rd Ave. You can learn more at elcosteñ

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One thought on “Roasted corn — and machine learning in a food truck — at 23rd and Union’s El Costeño

  1. I’ve had that roasted corn at the stand across from McPhearson’s and oh man, it’s flippin amazing!! I didn’t realize the truck was associated!
    What a great accomplishment to bring machine learning to food truck tech!