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El Carrito Grill

I needed a gyro. I came away with South American sandwiches instead. I'm plenty OK with that.

When I first stopped at 2616 Stickney Point Road some months ago, I was looking for Max's Market, a gas station kitchen that I heard served gnarly gyros and other assorted Greek specialties. That's when I learned that Max's is no more: The station was sold in July 2014, and in the meantime has become an Orion Fuels petrol stop.

Still, that doesn't mean the address is totally out of the discount food game. These days, on the eastern side of the Orion parking lot sits El Carrito Grill, a small black trailer that promises hot dogs ($2.50) and hamburgers ($5-$8). Fine enough, but what really gets my juices flowing are the truck's South American specialties, like the choripán ($6) and the lomito ($9).

Damian Tranier, who operates El Carrito along with Ervis Ramirez, is manning the flattop today, a surprisingly breezy Tuesday. There's nowhere to sit in the Orion lot, but I've found a small rectangle of shade to wait in. As Tranier works, the trailer bounces up and down and wobbles left and right. The whine of tools from the auto repair shop next door buzzes through the air.

To keep from gnawing off my knuckles while I wait, I'm downing an empanada ($1.75) before my sandwiches. The semicircle comes out of the deep fryer too hot to touch, but that barely slows me down. The skin of the empanada is ultra-crispy, with a flavor most similar to a fried wonton. The empanadas come stuffed with cheese, beef or chicken. The cheese is elastic and chewy; a dose of garlicky oil inside comes as a pleasant surprise.

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El Carrito Grill's choripán

Tranier tells me the choripán he's making is Argentinian in origin. The sandwich is built around a medium-length sausage split down the middle and griddled before being placed on toasted bread and showered with chimichurri that's served out of one of those plastic pitchers Southerners use to make sun tea. The sausage has been cooked with grace—the meat allowed to develop a deep, crunchy char on the outside—and the sauce, heavy with garlic and vinegar, acts as an ideal counterpoint. My only lament: The sausage is too small for the bun on which it's served, i.e. it's too little in the middle. Still, skip the extra bread and you've got yourself a tidy, flavorful lunch. The fries on the side are the same frozen crinkled ones you've had a million times before.

More substantial than the choripán is the lomito, which again hews to Argentinian custom by highlighting a centimeter-thick cut of beef seared on the truck's flattop. The meat is then packaged with a slice of ham, melted cheese and an over-medium fried egg, plus lettuce and tomato. This thing's a monster, with an intense richness punctuated by more of that chimichurri, which I've requested more of. I love it.

I haven't yet exhausted all of El Carrito's South American items, but some are only available on special nights—Venezuelan-style arepas, for instance, only come out on Friday evenings, and Argentinian-style steaks and chicken only appear on weekend nights.

All the more reason to return, assuming, of course, that El Carrito is open. The side of the truck says it opens at 10 a.m. most mornings, but on one visit, that start time was pushed back to 1 p.m. Frustrating—but knowing is half the battle. Don't show up too early, stick to the South American items and you'll have yourself a ball. I love gyros, but I'm not sad I missed out on them at all.

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El Carrito Grill parks outside the Orion Fuels station located at 2616 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota. Hours vary. Call (786) 426-9007 for more information.

Follow Cooper Levey-Baker’s never-ending quest for cheap food on Twitter. Email him at cooperl@sarasotamagazine.com. Read past 10 Bucks Or Less columns here.

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