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Mike Terry

WEST VALLEY CITY — Jose Jimenez has everything he needs to make an authentic Mexican taco right at his fingertips.

He faces one way and takes orders through a window. He turns around and there's the grill. He's got air conditioning when it's hot, heat when it's cold — and very low rent, since his business is based out of a trailer.

Taco stands such as Jimenez's are popping up all over West Valley City because of their mobile flexibility and low overhead — but city leaders aren't sure they like the trend.

After weeks of receiving six to eight applications for food carts every day, the city has placed a moratorium on approving new vendors until they re-evaluate their regulations, tighten restrictions or decide to do away with the carts altogether.

"There are so many big problems for our enforcement people to oversee, do we want to put another burden on them for another thing?" City Councilwoman Carolynn Burt said. "I don't want (vending carts) proliferating all over the city, but at the same time, for somebody who comes in and tries really hard to obey all of the rules, I don't want to stop someone from making a living."

West Valley City currently has 24 licensed vendors, most of whom operate on the weekends. Some of the carts comply with city ordinances, but others cut corners when they don't have appropriate facilities to run their business. Each cart is required to be licensed through the Salt Lake Valley Health Department before West Valley City will issue a permit to the operator.

According to the health department, vending carts are inspected with a frequency determined by their risk level. Coffee carts are a low risk level, and are generally inspected once a year, said health department enforcement coordinator Eric Peterson.

Taco carts are a higher risk level because they use raw meat, and those carts are inspected four times a year, Peterson said. Carts that skirt the rules are difficult to track and regulate, Peterson said, but those that are "honest" are safe to buy food from.

"If we didn't feel they were safe, then they wouldn't be operating," Peterson said. "We do close down facilities if we find violations. We do that on a regular basis ... If they're open and they have a permit, I think it's safe to assume they're not bad enough to close and it's safe to eat there."

Jimenez will tell you his tacos are the best in West Valley City. His "Tacos El Jinete" stand on 3500 South has a water heater, refrigerator and grill, and he buys his ingredients every day from the Mexican market that shares the same parking lot.

Jimenez has been following family tradition for more than a decade — before him, his father sold tacos in Mexico City — and in his past, Jimenez owned up to 10 stands at one time and operated a traditional restaurant. He works from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and he doesn't take vacations.

He's not bothered by the competition — and there's a lot of it — or the stereotypes associated with taco carts like his. He's running a business and he insists you'll love his product.

"Some people don't sell good food, then people think everyone sells bad food," Jimenez said as he fried tortillas and meat and topped it with cilantro and cabbage. "This is fresh meat and fresh tortillas. Everything is fresh ... I think my tacos are the best, but other people say the same thing. I sell real Mexican food."

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