Chef Alejandro Ceja of El Guapo Kitchen. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Chef Alejandro Ceja of El Guapo Kitchen. Photo by Robert Eliason.

After 10 years of cooking for other people, Chef Alejandro Ceja, the owner of Hollister’s El Guapo Kitchen, is on a mission to change how people think of Mexican food trucks, even as he works to perfect his operation.

“It is so hard to transition from restaurants to food trucks,” he said. “The main problem is storage, so I need to be creative. I’ve torn down the truck three times so far because the flow in the kitchen was not there. I did a lot of video chats with colleagues to see what they would do differently because I could not put into practice what was in my mind.”

Ceja, 30, was born and raised in Hollister and left around 10 years ago to begin his career.

“Fresh out of high school, I didn’t think there was much to do here besides commute,” Ceja said, “so I went to the University of Las Vegas to study hospitality and management. I got picked up by Hyatt Hotels in New York and worked there until the pandemic hit. I came back here, and when the opportunity came to get this food truck, I grabbed it. I was tired of working for others and decided to work for myself.”

Ceja has been experimenting with what the local customers will buy as he tries to expand to more unusual offerings. 

“I have changed my menu four times, trying to figure out what local people will eat,” he said. “When I first started, I was doing bao buns with Wagyu beef, and I had things like black garlic aioli. But a lot of people were not familiar with it and were a little afraid of it. People would look at my menu and tell me it was a little too exotic for them.”

He added, “That was a new experience for me. I was used to having to educate my cooks on the kind of ingredients I use, and so I look at it in the same way as just trying to educate my customers. Some people are willing just to try new things, and there are people who only want what is traditional.”

All of the products Ceja uses are organic and locally sourced, including free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. And he puts the same care into preparation as he has with selecting his ingredients.

“I take time to do things a little bit differently,” he said. “My chicken is roasted and hand-pulled when other people traditionally season it with saffron, so it comes out pretty and yellow. For the beef, I smoke it to break away from the usual asada. I like doing my al pastor Yucatan style, which makes the beef black instead of the traditional red.”

With most of his ingredients sourced within 20 miles of Hollister, Ceja has a lot of room to let his imagination run wild.

“I can get really fresh cabbage and convert that to kimchi, for example,” he said. “And if you have the kimchi, why not convert that into something new? Turn it into a kimchi salsa and add a Mexican flair. Since I am born here in California, to me, you always want to go against the grain and try something new.”

While his menu at his regular appearances at the Farmer’s Market has reverted to a less exotic set of offerings, Ceja is confident that he can help change the way Hollister looks at street food.

“I decided I wanted my food truck to be a mobile restaurant,” he said. “I am not a taquero, I am not the taco guy, but I can make really great tacos. For me, to be a traditional taco truck is really hard because Mexico has such a wide range of ingredients and techniques which I want to bring into my menu. But it will all depend on the clientele. I hope that Hollister is ready for this kind of great dining experience.”


The foods of El Guapo Kitchen

Chicken tacos –  Free-range chicken is lightly basted with a basic olive oil, garlic, thyme and parsley mixture and then roasted, which gives it a slight caramelized sweetness. The hand-pulled meat is garnished with chopped onion and cilantro and Ceja recommends adding some of his salsa verde. The chicken is moist with a full, rich flavor and the tart medium-spiciness of the tomatillo sauce binds the ingredients together, adding heat but not overpowering the more subtle flavor of the meat. 

Carne asada tacos – Made with herb-marinated local grass-fed beef, Ceja recommended the medium-hot red sauce with these tacos. “I love the red sauce because it has a little kick to it,” Ceja said. “I have tried a lot of salsas and some of them just kill your mouth. Five minutes later you still feel it and can’t really enjoy anything else. I want mine to be cooler and more mellow.”  I opted for just a squeeze of lime which added a clean bright note to the more subtle spiciness of the meat.  

Al pastor tacos – “Al pastor is my favorite and I try it everywhere I go,” Ceja said. “I recommend mixing the green and red sauces, which elevate the spices used in cooking the pork.” Ceja makes two different version of al pastor, an argentinian black recipe which he introduced when he first opened his truck, and the more easily found red version, seasoned with achiote, cinnamon, chilies, and garlic, which is what I sampled.  On Ceja’s recommendation I tried the two sauces together and found they nicely complimented the deep earthy spices of the meat.  

Salsa fries – A foray into county fair finger food, french fries are covered in a mixture of melted Queso de Oaxaca, cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheeses, sliced jalapenos, onions, salsa verde, carne asada and a sundried tomato aioli. “Balance is one thing I really try for in my dishes,” Ceja said. “With other places, you can end up with a little bit of protein and a lot of filler. I do not want to overwhelm my dishes with too much cheese or too much sauce so you can barely taste the rest of it.” This one hits all the right notes of sweet and savory, and the layers of flavor and textures just explode out of this dish. It is fun to eat and the ample amount of meat makes it a meal in itself.  


BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.