Cuantos Tacos Celebrates One Year of Mexico City-Style Street Tacos

Suadero y secret salsa

Courtesy of Cuantos Tacos

The small yellow food truck serving Mexico City-style street tacos on 12th Street will celebrate its first birthday in a few weeks, and Cuantos Tacos owner Luis "Beto" Robledo is embracing the chaos of pandemic life and collaborating with other taco shops while selling out of food just about every night. But it's not just beginner's luck: The intensity of the flavor and function is very strategic.

"One thing that a cook wants to focus on is not creating so much waste. It's very hard for us to waste food because even the stems of the cilantro that we use for garnish — we mince those up and throw them in the beans. And the meat, the onions, you just use it all," said Beto. "There's really not much waste. And this menu, this style, it's very efficient. It's working out."

“We’re in Austin where there’s so many types of tacos that are all really great, but I felt like we are missing that ‘standing on the curb at night with one light bulb hanging over you’ kind that you really miss when you go back to the family.”

Beto, born and raised in North Austin and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2011, has been staging and working in restaurants around town for nearly 15 years. After a previous culinary venture with a business partner ended after 2.5 years ("we were young, 23"), Beto kept the food trailer, having decided he wanted to give the food biz another try before he turns 30. "I know I wanted to do something simple but also complex with depth of flavor, so I decided to focus on Mexico City-style tacos. We're in Austin where there's so many types of tacos that are all really great, but I felt like we are missing that 'standing on the curb at night with one light bulb hanging over you' kind that you really miss when you go back to the family. So I took a good year of researching – YouTube was my mentor – until I was able to save up enough to travel. And then I finally got to go out to the mecca."

With his wife, Beto traveled to Mexico City and ate tacos at every meal every day so he could "memorize the taste and technique." He returned with the same kitchen tools the Mexican vaqueros use and some menu inspiration, ready to host family and friend pop-ups. Beto said, "I've never done this type of vaquero setup – it's all new to me."

In September of 2019, Beto scored a parking spot on Airport Boulevard and Manor Road at Fast Eddie's, and he opened up his small menu to the public. (After 10 months of operations, amidst a global pandemic, the taco truck lost its lucky spot when Fast Eddie's lost their lease, kicked out with what Beto described as two weeks notice instead of the guaranteed two years. Beto moved to his current 12th Street spot.) "So, so thankful for the peers and people I've met through the restaurant industry and the new people I've met now, like Nixta [Taqueria] and Discada and Vaquero Taquero and La Tunita – they just embraced me from the get and we have a really great relationship – and the customers, for giving us a chance to show them what we've got. Thankfully, I think people are liking it."

The Cuantos Tacos menu focuses on small, street-style tacos or quesadilla, and just like in Mexico City, there's a list of six filling options to select for either. "One is the suadero, we use brisket for that, and the other is cacheta, which is beef cheek. There's buche – which is pork stomach, the actual lining of the stomach – and carnitas. The longaniza, which is Mexican chorizo, it's leaner and has more spice in it, and then the last thing I threw on was a veggie option. You have to have a veggie option in Austin and I didn't want to do just anything. I remembered these mushrooms I had in the disos when I was down there. They sauté them and hit them at the very end with dry chile red sauce. That's what I'm doing – champiñones, grilled with adobo sauce and it's really good. People think there's meat in it but there isn't. It's just really savory with that sauce." In addition to specials like mollejita, lengua, and empalmes, Beto also makes his signature frijoles especiales, a twist on charro-style beans, and because the meats are chopped to order, every morning the leftover meats – "You can't throw it away. You just can't, there's so much flavor" – go into the beans "and it just blows it up." And you guessed it, they sell out of the beans every night.

Beto was having difficulty finding the right tortillas ("true street-style tacos have to be really thin, small, and already pre-sealed") because purely made nixtamal-processed tortillas are hard to find in bulk in Austin. "I was about to give up, but I went to a stand in San Antonio and had some tacos there. And as soon as it hit the table, I smelled the corn right away. I finished my plate, asked the vaquero and paid, and shot straight over to the factory. Before you even get off, you can smell that heavy corn aroma. It looks like a little casita in Mexico where they make fresh tortillas in the morning." Beto makes the drive to San Antonio Colonial Tortilla Factory once a week. "It's worth it."

Where there are tacos, there's salsa. Beto's mainstay is the suadero taco and it took time to develop his own unique red salsa that traditionally accompanies it, so he keeps it close to his chest. "I can't give details into the recipe, but ever since I made it – on a whim actually, just testing to see if a certain technique would work [with red dried chile and a bunch of spices], and thankfully it did – at friends and family trials people were like, you should bottle that ASAP. And that's something later down the road hopefully. We just really run that red, and the green – I can tell you about that because it's something people do already – is tomatillo and avocado."

On September 16, Cuantos Tacos will hit the one year mark, despite many obstacles. "I opened on that day on purpose – it's Mexican Independence Day." And as with any birthday celebration, big wishes and lots of hope are in order: Beto's new secondary trailer will (hopefully) open next month, allowing more storage and (hopefully) a new breakfast concept; in October (hopefully), they'll have their own vehicle to offer delivery service. "And hopefully, with everything allowed, we're going to do some more cool stuff next year."

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Luis "Beto" Robledo, Cuantos Tacos, Fast Eddie's, tacos, Hot Sauce Festival 2020

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