As the pandemic has lingered on, forcing adaptations for almost all facets of life, Taos has begun to see its fair share of food carts pop up. What has become a phenomenon in nearly all parts of the country has finally made its way to our small Northern New Mexico town, with local entrepreneurs seeking an alternative route to business ownership and restaurateuring.
Inside one of the newest, and perhaps the smallest food cart to enter the scene lies one of the largest menus in terms of variety. Aly’s Taos Eats, located in Arroyo Seco through the end of the 2021-22 ski season, serves up an eclectic variety of foods.
From her 7-by-5-foot silver trailer, Aly Hyder serves gyros (the smell of the lamb/beef roasted on the spit is sure to draw in customers), falafels, freshly baked savory pies and sweet treats like muffins and baklava. More recently, Hyder has started to offer a weekend breakfast menu, which includes her unique take on the traditional breakfast burrito, sausage rolls and “pizza egg muffins.”
Hyder was born in New Zealand and moved to Taos 19 years ago after traveling around the world. After turning 20, she chose to pick up and move to London, staying there until she was 32 before ending up in Taos.
The 51-year-old has since found herself busy with local bureaucracy, community and food. “People constantly sort of say that I recreate myself, but I guess I’ve fallen into jobs that welcome a sense of change,” she said of the positions she has had over the years — which include being the director of the Alpine Village Suites and the director of the Chamber of Commerce for the Village of Taos Ski Valley.
During her career with the village, Hyder decided to leave the Chamber of Commerce after seven years to open up a “central reservations booking business” to help visitors book hotels and airfare. Unfortunately, like many businesses, COVID-19 eventually forced its closure.
But thanks to her previous connections, Hyder was able to find a position at the Austing Haus Bed & Breakfast, where she was able to rediscover her passion for food. Hyder said working at the Austing Haus “enabled me to bring back my love of cooking — and that’s breakfast.”
Regardless of the success of the B&B’s menu, COVID-19 eventually took its toll on the Austing Haus as well. From then on, she decided to focus her efforts on creating an environment where she could express her true creative passion.
“I bought those food trucks in February [of 2021] with the anticipation I would lose my job when the ski season closed, and I did,” said Hyder of her position at Austing Haus and subsequent decision to branch out.
The timing was just right. Having a good relationship with those in charge at Taos Ski Valley Inc., Hyder began serving food from her new cart for the first time near the end of 2021.
Hyder said she doesn’t consider herself a chef, but said “I can cook.” The New Zealander said she draws inspiration from a variety of sources, and her menu showcases flavors from many different parts of the world.
Through her travels, Hyder said she developed an appreciation for many kinds of food. She said she is simply serving “a few of my favorite things, like the song… It’s what I can make.”
One staple food she brings from her home country are meat pies. “Every suburb [in New Zealand] has this dairy that sells meat pies. It’s just one of those things that we grew up with,” said Hyder. “Even in the gas stations there’s a stand with meat pies. You can grab a hot meat pie everywhere.”
These days she said the pies have a more elevated status in the dining world, using meats like venison. Hyder offers a chicken chipotle pie, a beef bourguignon pie, a “traditional” minced beef and cheese pie and a vegetarian pie.
Since Hyder began serving breakfast on the weekends, she’s started cooking a unique breakfast burrito with turmeric, roasted potatoes, cilantro and feta cheese. She also makes sage and green chile sausage rolls, a bacon and egg pie, and blueberry French toast — one of her signature dishes.
Her gyros are another popular item. Hyder attributes the addition of gyros to her time spent living in London. “Every night after you went out, that’s kind of what you had. It was just a staple, and I love them. So we’ve just made them better and healthier.”
Making it work during a pandemic
Because of Hyder’s timeline, she has had to juggle many unforeseeable circumstances. When she initially chose to rent her commercial kitchen space at the Quail Ridge Resort (in the location of former restaurant Common Fire), she hoped to expand into the restaurant space. But a fledgling restaurant was no match for a worldwide pandemic.
“I ended up opening up at Quail Ridge to support the swimming pool,” she said, adding that she plans to be open again throughout next summer. Hyder said they have a “really great” pizza oven but unfortunately the commercial access is limited. “It’s just such a weird place to try and get into here,” she said of her space at Quail Ridge. Luckily she had her cart to fall back on.
By the time Hyder received all the permits to get the cart up and running, it was January 2021, and the ski season at Taos Ski Valley was already well underway. She decided to set her cart up close to the drop-off entrance of TSV, attracting customers as they came to ski or headed home.
Hyder began to explore her options throughout the summer, appearing at the Town of Taos’ Fourth of July event, Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance, the Wool Festival, El Comeback Fest and more.
Now, her cart remains fairly stationary, sitting in Arroyo Seco just south of the Taos Cow and across the street from the Wake & Take. Hyder is renting the spot from Seco Live, and said that initially they had given her a trial run through Jan. 8, “but everyone loved it so much and the feedback to Seco Live was so positive that they renewed it right through to the end of ski season.”
Sooner than later, Hyder hopes to make moves in town. She said she currently has a spot in mind for her second cart, but is still waiting for the permitting process to be completed. With two carts, she will be able to cover twice the ground, but she may not stop there. “I’m looking at all the festival routes this summer, so we’re starting to sign up for all of those, which means potentially a third cart, which I’m looking into as well,” she said.
The hope is to branch into Santa Fe events and hopefully the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.
For now, she said things are moving at the right pace. “I’d certainly love it to be busier, but I think the way that it’s all evolving is just perfect,” she said. “It’s given us time to deck the carts out so that we’re super efficient for people, because we’re really small.”
She also plans to evolve the menu. “I don’t like to get bored so we’re constantly adding new things,” she said. The hope is to expand gluten free and vegan options. With the help from her five-person crew, she has a solid base from which to grow.
Regardless of various food cart plans, the future for Hyder remains set on one thing: a permanent restaurant where she can showcase her food.