You’ll most likely catch El Doctor del Valle parked on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, midway between the 118 and 101 freeways. Look for a black truck with a stethoscope-wearing shrimp hoisting a beer and the words “Andas crudo ... yo te ayudo” painted on the back panel.
The nominal doctor, Oscar Soto, will be in, but if you ask, you’ll find the nickname doesn’t technically belong to him. It was given to his father nearly a decade ago when he was selling Sinaloan-style seafood from the back of a van. Construction workers came to depend on his aguachiles, campechanas and michelada mix as cures for their hangovers and started calling him “El Doctor” when they’d see him appear at their job sites.
Soto and his wife, Adina, share kitchen duties on the truck, serving a menu of ceviches, aguachiles, cócteles de mariscos, tacos and quesadillas. He was born in the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa, where catches from the Sea of Cortez inform what ends up on the dinner table.
Soto opened the food truck after more than 12 years cooking with his family as part of their catering operation. The truck, marketed through social media and word-of-mouth, is an attempt to bring Sinaloan dishes to a wider audience. “I’ve always loved the kitchen,” he explains. “I love food generally, but I can tell you that I love food from Sinaloa and the place where I was born the best.”
In addition to seafood-loaded tostadas and cócteles, the menu includes a personal invention Soto calls “mochila,” after the sobriquet given to Los Mochis’ inhabitants. It’s a medley of shrimp ceviche and fish aguachile layered with abalone, octopus and oysters wading in a shallow, acidic pool, pinned under avocado slices, red onion ribbons and a dusting of ground, copper-toned chiltepín. The flavors are fresh, oceanic and bracing, and leave a lasting sear.
The whole giant thing comes in a large foil bowl with tostadas, holding enough to take half home for later. Which you’ll want to do. Because there are tacos. Good tacos.
Tacos gobernador come hot and crunchy, with a gooey bedrock of cheese under chopped shrimp, a generous amount of avocado, and a linear splatter of homemade chipotle sauce and cream over the top.
The marlin taco is a standout too, based on a shredded smoked fish that Soto gets delivered twice a month from Mexico. Fried and slipped into a tortilla, the marlin hash shatters with the first bite, delicious, caramelized fish crystals sprinkling your plate in the process.
Also available are cevicheladas, an eye-catching plastic cup that brims with ceviche from a bath of beer-less michelada. Soto sells his father’s michelada mix for customers to take home and put to work. And, in homage to a Los Mochis seafood institution called El Oasis, he’s offering a sparkling grape juice called uvola.
Beyond trying to dish out great Sinaloan seafood, Soto hopes that the cooking of El Doctor del Valle may have the power to affect perceptions about his hometown, which he holds close to his heart.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings about the place I come from,” Soto says. “The first thing some people think about when they hear Sinaloa is El Chapo and narcos and drugs. But we have so many beautiful places, the food is great, the people are awesome. That’s what I want to show to people with this truck.”
Reseda Boulevard between Chase Street and Roscoe Boulevard. Tuesdays through Sundays. (818) 919-9345; Instagram, @Oscar.eldoctordelvallejr