The Shy Sisters Behind Austin’s Breakout Breakfast Tacos


AUSTIN, Texas – It was early morning in the lobby of the Line Hotel and everyone was eating migas.

migas from a restaurant called Veracruz All Naturalhas long been an obsession for Austin’s breakfast taco-obsessed population: omelets speckled with pico de gallo and freshly made tortilla chips hung on crispy chips, then messily topped with Monterey Jack cheese, cilantro, and a sliver of avocado. Everything is placed in a tortilla and tightly wrapped in foil, like a gift.

“This is the food I eat when I go out of town, before I leave, and this is the food I eat when I return to the city,” said Nadia Chaudhury, the newspaper’s editor. eating Austin. Theirs is by far the best example of Austin’s tacos.

But if the migas sold at the hotel and five other places attract attention, their creators are just the opposite. Veracruz All Natural’s owners, Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, are shy and relaxed, often dressed in jeans and sneakers.

The Vazquez brothers did more than serve popular tacos from a food truck. They changed the landscape of Austin food by paving the way for more regional Mexican food in a city long defined by Tex Mex cuisine and helping other immigrants and their families form restaurant groups with minimal capital.

“Without them, there wouldn’t have been so many new and different styles,” said Armando Rayo, a journalist and producer. Identity Productions Writing about tacos in Austin. “They did a lot for the immigrant entrepreneur.”

They accomplished this by making the dishes they grew up with in Veracruz, Mexico, and not succumbing to the pressure many immigrant chefs felt to change their food to adapt. trends in Austin. The city certainly had food trucks, breakfast tacos, and freshly squeezed juices before the Vazquezes arrived, but Veracruz All Natural feels forward-thinking because it brings together so many elements that would become an Austin signature.

In September, following requests from customers across the country, Vazquezes will launch a food truck in Los Angeles and expand the business beyond Texas. “If we can go and succeed there, we will try it elsewhere,” said Reyna Vazquez, 38.

While the sisters are proud of their achievements at home, they are sometimes conflicted about how it turns out. Without a large following in their own strong community, they have built an overwhelmingly non-Hispanic client base. East Austin, where they started in Veracruz, has become significantly gentrified, and many of its longtime Mexican-American residents have moved elsewhere.

The sisters don’t feel like they fit into their mainly male chef circles in Austin, either. Customers often assume that restaurants are run by their white husbands. “It’s interesting that people automatically think that a successful business has to be a white-owned business,” Reyna said.

“We’re trying to change that,” he added, not by following some templates for success laid out by other restaurants. They create themselves.

Their arrival in Los Angeles will be characteristically modest. They go with what they know: a truck parked at the Line Hotel in Koreatown. An ultimate brick-and-mortar restaurant is also part of the plan.

The truck, called Hot Tacos, will have a less regional menu than Austin locales: taco bowls, tacos (including migas), quesadillas, and nachos. The sisters say the idea is to offer high-quality Mexican food at a reasonable price—$11 for a steak taco bowl, for example—occupying a middle ground between fancy places and street carts.

They say they have received lucrative offers to open up in several states, including Colorado, Washington, and New York. But Los Angeles was always their dream. The city’s thriving, diverse taqueria scene can be daunting to some newcomers. “Exciting for the sisters,” Maritza Vazquez, 42, said in Spanish. (The brothers are bilingual.) “We want to show that we can succeed in a diverse city.”

Their move to Los Angeles comes 22 years after they came to the United States, when their mother, Reyna Senior and Maritza, crossed the border illegally with her ex-husband and step-daughter Lis-ek Mariscal.

While working at an Austin taqueria, the sisters noticed that the Mexican food was little like the one their mother served at the restaurant they had escaped from their home in Veracruz. Tex Mex, with its rich chili con carne and queso, was by far the city’s predominant Mexican dish.

In 2006, Reyna bought a truck for $6,000 and opened Antojitos Veracruz on North Lamar Avenue, giving the city a taste of home with juices, smoothies, and snacks like elote and raspados. Two years later Maritza joined, They started serving tacos according to their mother’s recipes on East Cesar Chavez Street.

Reyna said the city would become the center of the national food truck boom in just a few years. Both sisters did not speak English at the time, and they feared people would discover their undocumented status. (Both are in the process of applying for citizenship.)

Things escalated after Veracruz was featured in the local papers – 2009 article He featured pork tortas in the Austin Chronicle and a short feature in the Austin American-Statesman in 2011.

Journalist and producer Mr. Rayo said there are Mexican restaurants all over East Austin. However, Veracruz All Natural stood out for its emphasis on fresh produce and vegetarian food. The truck was easily accessible due to its proximity to Interstate 35, a major highway widely considered a freeway. informal barrier Among Austin’s white and non-white populations.

Although Veracruz attracted many customers to East Austin for the first time; some who lived there thought the tacos were too expensive and not the Tex Mex they were used to.

“The product we were selling was not really geared towards the community we were in,” said Ms. Mariscal, who is now Veracruz’s director of education. “What is this healthy thing?” they said.

In 2012 the sisters were invited to set up a food caravan on East Sixth Avenue. South by Southwest Festival. Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and other celebrities stopped by and ordered. All Natural in Veracruz in 2015 highlighted In the Food Network program “Top 5 Restaurants” Blue caravans with straw umbrellas had become a destination.

Today, diners can find Veracruz in Austin. All but three of their 60 or so employees were Hispanic, the sisters said. But they are still trying to form a stronger bond with their communities.

Because Veracruz receives so much attention in English-speaking broadcasts and attracts a very large non-Hispanic audience, Hispanic people may feel terrified to visit, Reyna said. They make up just one-fifth of customers.

To make Veracruz feel warmer, last spring the sisters started hosting salsa nights featuring musicians from the Latino diaspora. Friday Friday ATXis a monthly market named after Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and featuring local color suppliers. “I miss talking to people in Spanish,” Reyna said.

Regina Estrada, whose family opened the Tex Mex restaurant Joe’s Bakery In 1962, he said his place in East Austin was long enough and Mexican American customers who had moved from the area would make a special trip to dine there. Veracruz, he said, may not have trained these regulars because he’s newer.

Ms. Estrada, 40, lived near the first location of the restaurant. “Watching them grow up and seeing the appreciation and praise they receive is truly a testament to the Vazquez brothers’ work ethic,” he said. At the same time, he added, no single location could ever represent Austin’s wide variety of taverns. “But I think it’s much easier to say it is. It’s a nicer story to spin.”

Still, 31-year-old Luis Robledo, who grew up in East Austin, says Veracruz has had a positive impact on food and restaurants in Austin. Robledo grew up in Tex Mex, as Beto said, but his restaurant, Cuantos TacosOpened in 2019, it focuses on the food of Mexico City. “People unknowingly,” Veracruz said, “opened their minds to new ways of eating tacos.”

His is one of the few taquerias that have recently opened on the East Coast, run by people of color and focusing on a variety of regional styles. Nixta Taqueria and in disc. He said the Vazquez brothers offered him and other owners free business advice.

It’s the kind of help the sisters say they don’t get from the chefs who run other popular restaurants in town. “They don’t invite us to their events or collaborations,” Reyna said.

Ms. Chaudhury of Eater Austin called Veracruz’s exclusion from major Austin food festivals “an unintentional form of watchdog” because the people who organize these events tend to be white men who want others like them to attend.

That doesn’t bother sisters who aren’t looking for traditional success traps for a chef, like a television show or a cookbook. Three years ago they were asked to make tacos on the Food Network show”beat Bobby Flay” but Reyna refused because she was planning a vacation. (Business managers initially said they were too busy to be interviewed for this article.)

Their expansion in Austin isn’t over. Last Wednesday, the sisters gathered at what will become their second brick-and-mortar location in Austin, scheduled to open early next year. This area at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport used to be a Youngblood’s Fried Chicken, part of an old Texas chain. Black-and-white photographs of young couples filled the walls, and above the passage, “Save room for cake!” There was a big sign that said.

The sisters will replace these decorations with vibrant murals inspired by Mexican street art and the Veracruz coastline. Their menu will have tamales veracruzanos and cochinita pibil. Quietly and without apology, they will make this place their own.


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