Under new ownership, Mama’s Kitchen still attracting regulars

Chicharron en Salsa Ranchera at Mama’s Kitchen, 504 Hildebrand Ave.

Previously published:
Review: Mama’s Kitchen
Great Tacos: Chicharron en Salsa Ranchera at Mama’s Kitchen

Mama’s Kitchen is a renovated bright yellow house nestled between a hair salon and a jewelry store on 504 W. Hildebrand Ave. Its trademark yellow sign on the front declares to passing motorists: “110% Mexican food.”

For the better part of a decade, the restaurant has been a popular destination for residents of the surrounding Alta Vista neighborhood and for students of the nearby universities, who receive a 10 percent student discount.

Inside, Mama’s looks like your average Mexican joint: aguas frescas immediately to the right of the entrance, fake plants, pictures of lunch plates hung on the vermilion walls. The old-fashioned style of the place has a certain charm, but the restaurant is set to undergo some big changes.

Owner Hanz Estrada bought the restaurant in March from Gloria and Ofelio Mondragon, who started Mama’s as a change of pace from their previous lives as truck drivers. Estrada has worked his way through the restaurant industry over the past 10 years, starting as a drive-through operator at a Steak and Shake. He now manages a Mediterranean restaurant in Plano and lives in McKinney, and has set his sights on Mama’s as his ingress to life as a restaurateur.

When Estrada heard from a friend about a little Mexican restaurant for sale in San Antonio, five hours from McKinney, he was understandably reluctant. But when that friend gave Estrada’s phone number to the Mondragons, who began contacting Estrada personally, he was compelled to take a weekend road trip to check the place out. After he tasted the food and read promising reviews online, Estrada purchased the restaurant.

Estrada, 35, has big plans to modernize Mama’s Kitchen. He wants to open a second location within the next three years, but he’s starting with small steps. His first change is online ordering; customers will soon be able to order their tacos online and pick them up in the store.

“People get comfortable with what they know instead of adventuring to what technology brings out right now,” Estrada said. “I want to solidify that first.”

Estrada acknowledged the restaurant’s parking situation won’t make to-go orders easy — there’s room for about four cars in the front and a smattering of additional parking in the back — accessible by a tight squeeze between the restaurant and the neighboring hair salon. He said he’s in talks with the owners of the salon to use some of their parking space for Mama’s.

He said he doesn’t plan on removing many menu items, but with the help of his mother, Blanca Estrada, who has been working in the kitchen since he bought it, he’s adding new items and tweaking old ones. Blanca Estrada has been a chef for 20 years, and owns a restaurant in Mexico City, where she normally lives. For four years in the late 80’s, she went to culinary school in Mexico, where she said she was taught by an instructor who was the personal chef of the Miguel de la Madrid, the president of Mexico at the time.

Days after buying the restaurant, the Estradas completely replaced the chicharron en salsa ranchera with a new recipe — from a green sauce to a red one and chewy pork skins to soft, slow-cooked ones. That same month, the Tacoist published an article lauding the new recipe and later named it one of San Antonio’s Great Tacos.

In addition to the typical taco combinations, Mama’s is home to some you won’t find in most taquerias — including rice and egg, spinach and egg, and liver and onions. Hanz Estrada said his first instinct was to remove these unusual tacos from the menu, but was surprised at how popular they are. Blanca Estrada said she thought the old menu was “bueno” and required only small changes.

Estrada’s changes so far have been gradual enough that some customers did not know there was new ownership at all.

“I wasn’t even aware there was a change,” Carlos Saavedra, a regular at Mama’s, said.

Saavedra and his friends Thomas Duckworth and Paul Sickler have eaten at Mama’s for four years, Saavedra said. The group convenes at the restaurant, each coming from different corners of San Antonio, to eat breakfast once or twice a month.

“I think it’s always good when you go out to eat that you know that when you go there, you’re going to get what you expect, and that’s that this place is,” Duckworth said.

“And nice service, too,” Saavedra added. “Very welcoming.”

Waitress Silvia Najera has worked at Mama’s for four years, and said she enjoys getting to know regulars.

“I like to be a waitress because I can speak with a lot of people,” Najera said. She said that something as simple as knowing a regular’s typical order can bring them joy when they’re feeling down.

Najera said regulars often enjoy the menudo, which Saavedra also said is one of his favorites.

Hanz Estrada puts a great deal of trust in employees like Najera since he lives in the Metroplex and only comes to San Antonio on weekends, and Blanca Estrada will soon head back to Mexico to tend to her own restaurant. He said running a restaurant that way requires trust in his employees.

“It’s a matter of believing in people,” he said. When he trusts his employees, he said, they feel empowered to run the restaurant in his absence.

“Whenever you empower the people to do stuff, I think you can achieve great things,” he said.

Najera worked alongside the Mondragons for years. She described the restaurant under their leadership as “classic.” She summed up Estrada’s ambitions in six words that could easily replace the restaurant’s old motto with:

“More modern, more fresh, more new.”


Mendez Cafe has become a Southside institution

Previously published
» Great Tacos: Ham and Egg, Mendez Cafe
» Taqueria Report: Mendez Cafe, 201 Bartholomew Ave.

The maple-glazed ham and egg at Mendez Cafe. Photo by Ben Olivo / The Tacoist

Delores Mendez rolls out little balls of dough into discs and tosses them on the griddle — a routine she’s practiced on the same griddle for 31 years. Outside the kitchen, in the small and packed dining room of Mendez Cafe on the Southside, servers carry plates of enchiladas, fajitas and tacos to customers who recognize and greet one another as they walk in.

On a wall in the back are several photographs of a baseball team that Mendez’s husband and co-owner Lupe Mendez played on for nine years. A small picture of the Virgin Mary hangs by the ticket holder in the kitchen.

“You have to like what you do,” Mendez said as she began to separate more balls of tortilla dough from a larger mass.

In June 1986, when Delores and Lupe Mendez bought the property at 201 Bartholomew Ave., they didn’t have any experience cooking professionally. When they bought the restaurant, they planned on Delores Mendez’s sister to cook the food and her family to be the staff.

The building was in bad shape: The ceiling was caved in and the floors desperately needed to be replaced.

“It was horrible,” Delores Mendez said.

The Mendezes took out a loan and put thousands of dollars into repairing the building and getting it ready for business. Then, her sister suddenly lost interest in the business, and the Mendezes were left with a restaurant they couldn’t afford to quit and had no idea how to run.

“I really thought I was just going to shut it down and that would be the end of that story.”

Lupe Mendez talks about Mendez Cafe’s history recently. Within 10 years of opening the restaurant, the Mendezes added another room to the building and more parking space. Brianna Rodrigue / Special to The Tacoist

She didn’t know where to turn, so she went to church. There, she met Sister Angele, the principal of Saint Margaret Mary Church & School. Mendez said Sister Angele encouraged her to stick with the business a little longer.

She began developing her own recipes based on the food her mother and grandmother cooked when she was growing up. She slowly started finding workers, and Mendez café began to build its clientele.

“After that happened to me with my sister, I said, ‘From now on, I’m not going to depend on anybody for anything.’ If I have to sweep, mop, wash dishes, I’ll do it,” she said.

Thirty one years later, the Mendezes have built a gathering place for their part of the Southside. They’ve seen children, once brought to the café by their parents, become adults who now bring their own children.

Edward Mendoza has come to the restaurant since he was in high school, when one of his friends worked at the restaurant as a cook.

“It’s that nostalgic, home-cooked type of things that we grew up with,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said that Delores Mendez’s enchiladas are the must-try dish at the café. Mendez said they’re the place’s best-selling dish.

Mendez said her tacos sell even better than the lunch plates. The carne guisada is the most popular. She said the secret to good carne guisada is finding the right balance of spices — garlic, cumin, chili powder and black pepper, to name a few.

“I just put enough (spices), but not to where it stands out,” she said.

Mendez’s ham and egg taco is another stand-out item. Maple-glazed ham from the local H-E-B is chopped up and fried on the grill before being folded into eggs and delivered in one of Mendez’s fresh tortillas. The ham is so memorable that some regulars substitute slices of it for bacon in their huevos rancheros and other plates.

Mendez said regulars at the restaurant often substitute items or go off-menu. “If people prefer something else, it doesn’t have to be on the menu; we’ll make it for them,” she said.

Yessica Reynoso makes a carne guisada taco; she’s been working the line at Mendez Cafe for eight years. Brianna Rodrigue / Special to The Tacoist

When you’re a regular at Mendez Café, you start to recognize the faces of other Mendez obsessives. In fact, most of the customers in the restaurant are regulars. You don’t eat Mendez’s tortillas just once.

“We have made friends with our customers,” Delores Mendez said. “They’re not just customers, they’re friends.”

The Mendezes have worked to build not only the community within their walls, but the surrounding area as well. They, along with other business owners in the area, started a neighborhood association shortly after establishing the café, advocating to their council members to improve sidewalks, clean up graffiti and other neighborhood upgrades.

“I feel that I have a lot of important people that come in here,” Mendez said. “Even though it’s just a little restaurant … I feel that the neighborhood should be a nice place for people to come and eat.”

Vanessa Mendez, the Mendez’ youngest daughter, grew up in the café. She started working in the kitchen when she was 12.

“I don’t know any other life,” she said. “This is life to me.”

Now, 33-year-old Mendez brings her young sons to the restaurant sometimes. Her 9-year-old says he wants to work there when he’s older, too. She said she loves getting to know the café’s regulars and hearing their stories.

“I feel like they’ve created something, I don’t know, amazing,” she said.

It’s not always easy to run a beloved café. Delores Mendez said she’s had many issues with staff and customers throughout the decades, but she always finds a way through them.

Her business is “like we say in Spanish, muy celoso — business is jealous,” she said. “If you don’t give it what it needs, it’s going to mess you up.”

Despite those hardships, however, the Mendezes don’t see themselves stopping any time soon.

“I’m not a really good stay-at-home mom,” Delores Mendez said. “I’m that type of person that has to be doing things.”


Waiting an hour for Maria’s Tortillas, a Fiesta virgin’s experience

I’ve lived in San Antonio for about six years and understand Fiesta is a big deal, I’ve just never been.

So when I was given this assignment by The Tacoist, to tell the story of Maria’s Tortillas before the start of A Night in Old San Antonio, I decided it might be best to actually go and wait in line and taste the tortillas for myself.

For those of you who don’t know, Maria’s Tortillas is one of NIOSA’s most popular booths. It was founded by Maria Luisa Ochoa, who was housekeeper to Ethel Harris, San Antonio Conservation Society president from 1951-1953. NIOSA is the society’s largest fundraiser every year.

The booth debuted in the early 1950s after Harris enlisted Ochoa to make tortillas for NIOSA, according to Ochoa’s obituary in the San Antonio Express-News. And that time, each tortilla sold for 15 cents.

So I was looking forward to tasting this fabled delicacy.

Last night when I entered La Villita, I was in a crabby mood after paying $20 to park.

If you don’t know where La Villita is, it’s not too hard to find. Just follow the hordes this time of year.

At 5:40 p.m., there aren’t lines to get in and the festivities are in full swing. The crowd is large enough to fill the streets of La Villita, as people walk around with kabobs and chickens on a stick in one hand and an alcoholic beverage in the other.

Most guests wear colorful Fiesta-themed halos with ribbons streaming down and hats decorated with medals and flowers. There are quite a few people wearing Spurs paraphernalia, likely because the game is later in the evening.

As I make my way to the Haymarket area, where Maria’s is located, I notice the booth — several booths, actually — already buzzing with activity. Older Hispanic women wear pink and black Mexican Puebla blouses and work on risers that put them above the booths where customers are served. The ladies are put on display for everyone to see as they tirelessly pat the masa and cook the tortillas.

Down below, volunteers add cheese and red salsa to the tortillas before they are distributed to patient customers.

The Hispanic ladies are a good sign. I learned there was a time when volunteers, not the older women, made the tortillas.

In 2014, the NIOSA chairman at the time decided to try something new and use volunteers to make the tortillas, rather than the pros who had long since been doing it after Ochoa died in 1987.

NIOSA’s media coordinator, Jeanne Albrecht, said a mistake was made in doing so and the replica tortillas only lasted about one or two days before the older women were back — and have continued to be.

At first, looking around, I notice the line doesn’t seem too bad — definitely long, but nothing too crazy. As I make my way towards what I thought was the end of the line, I’m directed by people already waiting, saying “the back of the line’s that way” as they point to the other half of the line I hadn’t seen.

My eyes widen as I realize the line loops around into a U and the end of the line is parallel to its front.

After standing in it for some time, I hear “Oh my God, is this the line?” and “This is crazy!” often. I feel a sense of seniority at this point. Every now and then someone asks me if this is the line to Maria’s Tortillas; I tell them it is and they respond with a look of dread.

People often jump out of line to grab a beer or more food and then return. I assume that’s to satisfy their hunger as they wait in line for the tortillas. It’s actually a good idea, but unfortunately for me I didn’t have anyone to hold my place in line.

Since this was my first NIOSA, I wasn’t really sure what to expect since everything I’d heard about it had been through word of mouth or seen through pictures.

Honestly, it’s really nothing too special. I mean, it’s great and seems like a good time, but I’m from the Valley and we have festivals similar to this back home. Sombrero Fest in Brownsville and the late RioFest in Harlingen (rest in peace) have similar atmospheres to NIOSA; NIOSA is just larger.

That’s not a knock on the event or the people who enjoy it. Just an observation. After all, I had a good time even though I went just for a couple of tortillas.

After about 30 minutes in line, people have walked in front of me to get through about 40 times. I’m exaggerating, but it sure seems like 40. For some reason, I seem to be the only one they don’t mind getting in front of to get by. Maybe I’m just a friendly looking guy?

A band is staged right next to Maria’s and the singer constantly checks to make sure the crowd is having a good time. By the fourth or fifth time, I’m kind of annoyed by it; I’m just grumpy I guess. Maybe it has to do with the constant flow of people brushing past me, or the parking, which I still can’t seem to drop. I’m just thinking this tortilla better be worth it.

After about 45 minutes, I’m not sure if the line is moving because people are being served or if people are leaving to get food or beer elsewhere. Either way, it’s moving and I’m happy.

People keep nudging me — now with kabobs and fried pork chops on sticks and I keep thinking I’m going to get stabbed or poked on accident.

A woman named Liz and her husband are my line buddies throughout this wild ride that is the line for Maria’s Tortillas.

Liz says they sell these same tortillas at El Jarro De Arturo on San Pedro Avenue, but that they aren’t as good as they are at NIOSA. She says it might be the freshness and the overall setting of the festival that lifts them.

Liz and her husband are some of the people who hop in and out of line to get food and drinks throughout the wait. She keeps fumbling her food and dropping some here and there.

She drops a piece of meat from her kabob, then one of her fried mushrooms bites it. Shortly after complaining about dropping said mushroom, she drops another. Poor Liz.

She says she’s been coming to NIOSA for a while now, not remembering exactly how long though. She looks forward to Maria’s and it’s one of the highlights of NIOSA for her.

The band starts playing Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and I’m really hoping these tortillas are worth it. I’m not a fan of country at all, and the woman in front of me nonchalantly line dances by herself.

I know, I’ve never been to NIOSA in the six years I’ve lived in San Antonio, and I dislike country music, but I swear I’m a native Texan.

After an hour, I finally make it to the front of the line. I have my tickets ready to go and before one of the volunteers could finish asking me how many tortillas I want, I signal for three.

And now the time has come to taste one of these renowned treats.

The yellow corn tortilla was thick, but soft, almost like a stress ball — a tortilla stress ball. The cheese melted quickly and was flavorful; the salsa was tasty and fresh.

Unfortunately, I’m no food critic. The extent of my culinary knowledge goes as far as: “this taste’s good/bad” and “yup, that’s salt alright.”

Nevertheless, it was good. That’s all that matters.

After I finished my tortillas, booth chair Dolores “Dee” Doss took the time to speak with me.

This was Doss’s first year working at Maria’s, but she said she’s been a part of NIOSA for many years.

According to Doss, the ladies who make the tortillas are contracted through Labor On Demand.

One of the ladies, Martha Cantu Gonzalez, has been working at the booth for 20 years. Doss said she’s the backbone of the group.

“She’ll kind of tell the girls who are helping her how to make the tortillas . . . when to put the butter, and how much water to put on the masa so it doesn’t dry up,” Doss said.

The masa comes prepared, but behind the booth volunteers knead it into softball-sized spheres for pressing.

On Tuesday night, Doss said she received 320 pounds of masa and that they would sell about 4,200 tortillas each night of NIOSA.

“We follow a recipe that’s been in existence since the beginning,” Doss said. “We cannot change it.”

Doss said the NIOSA committee has the recipe for the salsa, but couldn’t share it since it’s a secret.

I left the festivities shortly after I ate my tortillas pleasantly surprised. I have to say it was worth the hype.

From the first bite to my last, all I could think of was younger me sitting at the table at my grandma’s house eating her tortillas, or the days my family would take trip down to Matamoros and eat at the local taquerias and street vendors.

My only complaint is that I wanted more between the tortilla. More cheese and more salsa. I heard some people bought fajitas from the booth next to Maria’s and combined them for the ultimate taco. I kind of wish I had done that.

Wally Perez

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email The Tacoist at hello@thetacoist.com.

When tortillas flew, a Cornyation story

Classic rockers show up to concerts armed with lighters. For about 15 years, Cornyation fans came armed with tortillas.

Longtime Cornyation audience member Karlos Anzoategui remembers when the tortillas flew.

“Thank gosh there were no lettuce, tomatoes or beans!” he said laughing. “If you hadn’t been hit by a tortilla, you hadn’t started Fiesta!”

For about 15 years, Cornyation diehards upheld the tradition of showing up to the raunchy variety show to basically engage in one giant foo—er—tortilla fight.

“Some people would come with two packs of 20 or 30 tortillas. It was mad,” says Ray Chavez, longtime Cornyation organizer.

The zingy Fiesta event pokes fun at current events and issues, but also raises funds for the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, BEAT AIDS and Thrive Youth Center, an LGBTQ homeless shelter.

Cornyation has raised an estimated $2 million for these organizations as well for the Robert Rehm Scholarship, which helps college students majoring in theatre arts.

According to Cornyation’s website: The event started in 1951 by the San Antonio Little Theater and was held at the Arneson River Theatre during A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA). From the beginning, the show has poked fun of the crowning of the Fiesta queen, also known as Coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo.

Cornyation was removed from NIOSA in 1964, probably because the jabs were so harsh. A few years later, the show was dead for more than a decade. It was resuscitated in 1979, before dying again. And in 1982, Chavez and Bob Jolly brought it back for good. Since then, the event was been held at the Bonham Exchange, The Magik Theatre and Sunset Station — and is held now at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

In 1991, the legend was born.

Kinser (inside the taco) and Slangal pose with their taco costume in 1991. Courtesy Photo

Local artist Curt Slangal designed a costume in the shape of a taco for actress Ann Kinser, who was the Queen of the 100th Anniversary of Fiesta. The act was a parody of — and an homage to — Maria’s Tortillas, a NIOSA staple event even then.

A brief history: Maria Luisa Ochoa, housekeeper in the 1950s, sold homemade corn tortillas at NIOSA. The tortillas have become legendary and there’s always a long line for them.

The costume was of an overweight Spanish ballerina and was designed to fold into a taco. It was so heavy, it had to be placed on wheels. Kinser, who served on The Court of Outrageous Pretentiousness, portrayed the ballerina and would throw the tortillas into the audience as the costume lighted up.

“Flipping the tortillas . . . wasn’t enough so throwing the tortillas added to the movement of the design,” Slangal told The Tacoist. “It aroused the audience.”

Slangal didn’t think his creation would start such a tradition onto its own.

“It’s an amazing, crazy and fun part of Cornyation that everyone remembers,” Slangal said.

The next year, audience members took tortillas into their own hands. They would bring in red corn tortillas, some flour — whatever they could get their hands on.

However, the tradition stopped after a woman was hit in the head nearly 15 years after the tradition started. The show, which had been held at the Empire Theater for years, moved to Sunset Station because “The Lion King” production had commandeered the Empire stage, which shares the same building as the Majestic Theatre, to store its massive costumes.

Audience members would still try to bring tortillas into the event, Chavez said.

“We put a [human] tortilla detector at the door, it was like the airport,” he laughed.

When Cornyation returned to the Empire, the tradition was brought back for one more year before Chavez and the board decided in 2006 that it was time to retire the tortillas.

They didn’t want to get sued again. But also, the clean up was excessive.

Chavez remembers the tortillas being “practically knee high.”

Chavez also remembers during Cornyation’s tortilla era, how the aroma of burnt tortillas would linger during subsequent shows. Chavez said the Empire Theatre employees told him after Cornyation finished, the performances after would smell of a strange odor. It turns out the tortillas that were thrown had gotten stuck in the light fixtures in the mezzanine.

“Every time they used the stage lights, the tortillas would get even crispier and it would smell like burned tortillas,” he said chuckling.

Rest in peace, flying tortillas.

Cornyation is 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday (April 25), Wednesday (April 26) and Thursday (April 27). The show is recommended for adults. Click here for tickets.

Cynthia Herrera

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email The Tacoist at hello@thetacoist.com.

Garcia brothers talk brisket tacos, longevity, changing clientele

The brisket taco at Garcia’s Mexican Food. Benjamin Olivo / The Tacoist

Garcia’s Mexican Food would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the cars parked around the building and up and down the streets in the surrounding neighborhood of Beacon Hill.

If you walked by the place when it was closed, you might think it’s a pawnshop because of its melon green walls, and burglar bars that cover the windows and entrance.

It’s a different story on the inside.

The dining area bustles from open to close. Guests fill every table, and seat at the counter. Through the lunch rush, which starts at 10 a.m., it’s typical for lines to form to the door.

Unusual décor hang on the chipped-stucco walls, such as five cockfighting paintings — which co-owner John Garcia, 45, says were gifted to their father in the 80’s — and an Elvis Presley clock whose hips shake with every second that passes.

Garcia’s, which opened in 1962 across the street from its current location at 842 Fredericksburg Road, receives the most praise for its brisket taco with guacamole and pico de gallo, according to John.

The most recent praise came in December, when Eater.com named Garcia’s one of the best restaurants in America.

“I didn’t see the article initially and we were slammed for about two months,” he said. “We had people waiting in line outside from opening to close.”

Handling the sudden rise in business proved difficult at times — as many as 30 to 40 guests would wait outside at a time.

The crowd also got younger and more diverse, he said as he pointed out a younger tattooed couple sitting across the 400-square-foot dining area.

Or, as Andrew Garcia, co-owner and John’s brother, calls them: the foodies.

“They say they want an egg taco with a slice of brisket, and they’re changing it all up,” Andrew, 55, said. “I say, ‘OK, I’ve never eaten that.’ They put a slice of brisket with an over-easy egg. They know what they want, so we do it.

“Now it’s like they want huevos rancheros, beans and two slices of brisket. Instead of the bacon, now it’s brisket. It’s taken over. … The other thing is that they want migas, and they want two over easy eggs on top.”

Although business hasn’t been as hectic since the Eater article was first published, John said that overall it has increased.

“Every now and then another publication will hear about us and write an article,” John said. “We’ll see another increase in customers for about a month or so; it dies down, then the process repeats itself.”

Since Garcia’s opened, nothing has changed much aside from a recent roof remodeling. The sign, now faded and weathered, has been the same since the 80’s. They use the same cast-iron pots their parents used when they opened the restaurant.

The walls are half stucco and half wood paneling; the bathrooms are still located on the outside of the building, which John says must have been common in the 60’s.

John and Andrew grew up living the restaurant life.

Their father, Julio Garcia, started the business in 1962, along their mother Yolanda, across the street from its current location as a 10-foot-by-10-foot “shack,” as John calls it. It moved to its current location in 1970.

“We’ve been working here since we were kids,” John says.

When their father retired in 2002 because of health complications, the brothers took over.

“I was born into the business so we didn’t really have a say in career choices,” Andrew said. “I don’t regret it now that I’m older, but when I was younger, well, it was work.”

John (left) and Andrew Garcia talk about their family business just outside the kitchen. Benjamin Olivo / The Tacoist

For the most part the menu has stayed the same over the years. A relative new addition is the brisket taco, which was added more than 10 years ago.

Andrew remembers where he got the idea from.

“Probably early in the 70’s at Five Points there was a friend of ours, Fred’s Barbecue, and that’s the first time I ever had brisket and guacamole tacos,” Andrew recalls. “I had never made brisket, I didn’t know how to do it. So I bought my little barrel, little 55 gallon drum, and start making barbecue every single weekend. … Little by little it took off from two to 30 to 35 (briskets smoked a week). Little slices at a time. Tortilla and guacamole. Simple. That’s what I remember back in the day. That’s why I call it the home of the brisket (taco) because no one else had it (on the menu).”

Aside from the brisket, other favorites of customers are the carne guisada, enchiladas and pork chop taco, according to John.

“We used to do a bit more barbecue as well, but it got to be too much of a hassle so we narrowed it down to the brisket and pork,” he said.

Andrew has slightly altered the recipes since he and his brother took over, but credits his grandparents for setting the cooking standards in the Garcia family.

John and Andrew are in the kitchen doing the cooking every day.

“It’s consistent; we’re always tasting while we cook and we’re here every day,” John said.

Briskets on the smoker outside of Garcia’s Mexican Food. Benjamin Olivo / The Tacoist

In addition to the food, John credits his staff with the success of the restaurant.

Waitress Juanis Garcia, 32, no relation, has worked at Garcia’s for five years.

“I like everything about this place,” she said. “My role, the company, my coworkers, the food . . . it feels like home.”

Celebrities like standup comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias and ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons have visited Garcia’s more than once, John said.

Country music artists Joe Nichols and Tracy Byrd are also fans of Garcia’s, according to John. Nichols had brisket delivered to Cowboys Dancehall before a performance there two years ago.

John didn’t recognize Byrd at first when he dined at Garcia’s, since he doesn’t follow country music, but was ecstatic once he found out who he was.

“We’ve had a lot of publicity in the last three or four years with the Eater.com article and others,” John said. “We’ve been really fortunate.”

Wally Perez

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email The Tacoist at hello@thetacoist.com.