Don’t tell Mike Minor the food-truck fad is over. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just in a state of transition—and he’s the guy to take it to the next level. Minor is putting his career and his money where his mouth is, stepping away from a 10-year stint as executive chef of a top Strip restaurant to open a rockabilly/tattoo-themed food truck that combines his two passions: barbecue and Mexican cooking. And those who think he’s crazy need only look to the name of his soon-to-launch truck, Truck-U, to see how little he cares about your opinion.
When it comes to making Mexican food, Minor is indisputably one of Las Vegas’ best. As executive chef at Border Grill, he’s been charged with interpreting the visions of celebrity chef owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken. He’s traveled throughout Mexico with them and on his own, developing an appreciation for the many styles of that nation’s chefs. And he’s used what he’s learned to make Border Grill’s menu his own, introducing its famed brunch and countless regular menu items. But at the age of 40, he feels he’s gone as far as he can for his bosses.
“I’ve done everything I wanted to for these guys. And now it’s time to take care of myself,” he explains. “I want everybody to see what I’m doing without being under their umbrella.” Moreover, he wants to move beyond Mexican cuisine. “I’m passionate about barbecue,” Minor says, “[and] I want to live my life cooking the shit I love to cook.”
The chef taught himself the art of barbecue in his own backyard. “I bought a smoker about 15 years ago. It sat in my backyard for about two or three years, and I only grilled on it,” he recalls of his early experience. But as a serious chef, he wasn’t content to leave it at that.
“I started smoking,” he says. “And then I started developing my barbecue. I’ve got a certain way of setting the meat on the grill. I’ve got a certain temperature that I’m cooking on. I’m using a certain kind of wood. And I’m cooking it for an exact amount of hours at an exact temperature.”
It’s a style he says is closest to Kansas City’s: slow-smoked, dry-rubbed and finished with a sauce. But he’s also made it his own, infusing it with the Mexican influences he knows so well, as he does with his sticky molasses-habanero sauce.
For Truck-U, Minor will add a few more Mexican influences, serving his barbecued meats in tacos, tortas and burritos. His recipes include eight different chili peppers from various regions of Mexico. Menu highlights include a pork-butt torta with ancho-honey barbecue aioli, serrano barbecue steak tacos, short-rib enchiladas with ancho-chocolate mole and Oaxacan cheese, and a chipotle fried chicken and cheese grits burrito. They’ll be served from a truck decorated by tattoo artist Dirk Vermin and HGTV star Luca Paganico, as rockabilly blasts from the sound system.
By leaving the casino world, the chef is also hoping to better connect to the growing local food scene.
“I grew up here,” he says of Las Vegas. “I’ve been here for over 30 years. And I want to be more a part of the community. When people say Vegas and the food scene, I want them to think of me and how I’m helping develop that.”
His former bosses couldn’t be more encouraging of his new effort. “After working with Mike for nearly 10 years, we know he is a powerhouse of spectacular flavors and creative ideas,” Milliken says. “His truck is going to be amazing, and we can’t wait to taste all his new creations.”
They won’t have to wait long: Minor is hoping to get the truck (@TruckUBarbeque) out on the streets by early March.