With a personality to match his flavors, Mike Minor is unleashing his own brand of Mexicue on the masses
It’s late afternoon in downtown Las Vegas and Mike Minor is ready for throngs of hungry locals and tourists to flood the streets at First Friday. Standing inside his new food truck, TruckU Barbeque, he waves a spoon in my face. The plastic utensil is lacquered in crimson.
“Taste,” he insists. “This is just to give you an idea of what I’m doing here. Do you get that Mexican influence coming through? It’s smoky. It’s spicy. It’s sweet.”
His confidence in the recipe is justified. It’s all of those things. It’s also unlike any barbecue sauce I’ve ever tried. Made with habanero chili peppers and molasses, the complex condiment is part Oaxaca, part Kansas City, and 100 percent representative of Minor: unique and in your face.
Armed with that colorful persona, as well as some formidable pitmaster skills, the 41-year-old local chef is using his souped-up truck to chase his biggest dreams.
TruckU (truckubbq.com), which debuted in April, is a four-wheeled mash-up of Minor’s professional experience and personal passions. Up until late last year, he served as the executive chef at Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s local outpost of Border Grill at Mandalay Bay. But when his own interest in barbecue prompted him to leave his decade-long post, he made sure to take his modern Mexican cooking skills with him.
“Over the last 10 years I traveled throughout Mexico with Mary Sue and Susan,” explains Minor. “We would take a week or two on each trip and eat the streets all day and night. Then we’d take notes and develop our own menus.” He cites a particular fondness for Yucatán cuisine — “I love the fact that they love pork as much as I do” — but draws inspiration from various regions for his own recipes.
“His passion, interest in learning, and creativity is inspirational not only to his whole team but also to Mary Sue and myself,” Feniger writes in an email. “I love that he’s taking these steps to go out on his own.”
Ring of smoke
Feniger and Milliken’s influence is clear. A quick scan of the TruckU menu — chock full of chilis — is enough to induce heartburn. Wagyu steak tacos are spiced up with serranos, short rib enchiladas get a bath of ancho-flavored mole sauce, and fries are smothered with jalapeños. Even the mayo is spiked with smoky chipotles.
That south-of-the-border flair may make some barbecue purists wary, but rest assured that his technique with meat is spot-on. “I’ve been developing these recipes my whole life,” says Minor, whose love of good ’cue is also in no way limited to a single region. “The brisket is Texas-style, the pork is Carolina-style, and the ribs are Kansas City-style.” He regrets to say that he hasn’t done nearly as much travel-related research for mastering the art of barbecue. “But in the age of the Internet,” he says, “YouTube can be your best friend.”
The self-trained chef opens the truck’s vertical three-foot smoker to provide proof. He removes and unwraps a foil package to reveal his special “Dinosaur Bone”: a full pound beef rib cooked with Negra Modelo beer and dressed with his Oaxacan barbecue sauce. Once dissected with a knife, each slice reveals a pink “smoke ring” on the outer edges. Anyone in the know recognizes it as the hallmark of proper barbecue.
‘With my people’
Minor hasn’t overlooked the responsible foodie contingent, either. He envisions a sustainable menu down the road, with its ingredients supplied by local farmers. It’s a philosophy he could afford to subscribe to at Border Grill, but for now, he’s doing as much as he can.
“Stop flying things around the world because you want to be the cool chef,” he begs of his peers. “Yeah, I can go get some fancy peach wood that’s been soaked in bourbon from Kentucky for my barbecue. But I use what’s near and available to lower my carbon footprint. That’s why sometimes it’s mesquite, and other times it’s hickory. As a chef, these are some of the things I want to teach to others.”
While most aspiring chefs hope that a food truck will serve as a cheap launch pad for an even more successful brick and mortar, Minor has a different perspective. The Strip veteran says that TruckU represents freedom and an all-time career high.
“This has all turned out to be so much more than I ever thought,” says Minor. “After 10 years of being in a casino, it was time to do my thing and be with my people. I want to be in the community that I grew up with while this exciting thing with food is happening.”
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Short rib torta
Minor’s jumbo beef ribs are sliced to order and served on a rich brioche bun with fresh cole slaw and guacamole. Is it just like the kind you’d find at a street cart in Mexico City? Not at all — it’s better.
BBQ pork fries
Fried in duck fat, these rich fries are made even better (but not necessarily better for you) with the addition of crispy pork belly and chorizo cheese sauce. It puts poutine to shame.