Taco Sabroso

Rosa Santis sets up shop on East Seventh

Taco Sabroso

5100 E. Seventh, 247-3333

Wednesday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Sunday, 11am-11pm

The first thing that the Peruvian-born Rosa Santis will tell you if you ask about her business ethic is that her goal has always been to provide jobs and to serve the community. This was how she approached her construction business when she took it over from her ex-husband 20 years ago. An acquaintance of mine worked for her for eight years and remarked, "Rosa's good people," when I asked him about her. "She was always real fair, treats her employees like family." Santis' business philosophy seems to have paid off. Since the Eighties, she has made a small fortune in the utilities construction business, expanding rapidly with Austin's own dizzying growth.

However, when the slowdown hit two years ago, Santis saw her business contract and, for the first time, worried about having to lay employees off. So she turned her attention to a new venture – a taco stand called Taco Sabroso, which she placed on a vacant lot purchased several years earlier as an equipment yard on East Seventh. She staffed it with three of her employees who had previous restaurant experience, and then hired a cook from Guanajuato. "My goal," Santis says, "was to keep my employees and to offer the surrounding community a quality service."

What started out as a taco stand perched near the street soon expanded to a full-fledged restaurant serving classic Mexican fare. At night, festive white lights twinkle in the pecan trees that shade the lot. Live Andean and Latin American music enliven the place on Saturday nights, while the occasional wedding spills out into the surrounding parking lot. Santis says she plans to build a banquet hall to accommodate the unanticipated crowds she has had on the weekends.

Taco Sabroso, as its name implies, is primarily a taqueria featuring real foods, cooked slowly to allow them to infuse with flavor. Out of Taco Sabroso's canteen kitchen comes a tender carne deshebrada (a stewed spiced beef cooked until it falls apart) that is soulful and complex or a gently assertive carne al pastor flavored with achiote and onions. Carne asada or guisada are prepared with equal dexterity, in a taco, torta, or on a plate. However, the real showstoppers at this ever-evolving restaurant are the homemade salsas designed to accompany the meats. These are some of the best I've tasted. The fiery yet creamy green chile salsa is probably my favorite. But no less delicious is the dried red chile salsa with its salt-and-vinegar twang. The kitchen regularly turns out four different varieties.

Since Santis built the sit-down restaurant, the kitchen has also started serving such seafood dishes as citrus and tomato coctel de camarones and steamed fish dishes. These dishes are now drawing almost as many habitués as the tacos. A regularly scheduled Peruvian food night, requested by many of Taco Sabroso's clients, is on the agenda for the months ahead.

Oh, and by the way, she still hasn't had to lay off her employees, either.

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Taco Sabroso, Rosa Santis

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