The shy sisters behind Austin's breakfast tacos

AUSTIN, Texas – It was early morning in the lobby of the Line hotel, and everyone was eating migas. The migas, from a restaurant called...

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

The migas, from a restaurant called Veracruz All Natural, have long been a fixation for the breakfast-obsessed population of Austin’s tacos: scrambled eggs sprinkled with pico de gallo and freshly made tortilla chips that cling to their crunch, then topped with Monterey Jack cheese. , cilantro and a slice of avocado. Everything is nestled in a tortilla and wrapped tightly in foil as a gift.

“When I go out of town, it’s the meal I have before I leave, and when I come back to town, it’s the meal I have,” said Nadia Chaudhury, editor-in-chief of Austin Eater. “Theirs is by far the best example of Austin’s tacos.”

But if the migas, sold in the hotel and in five other places, attract attention, their creators are quite the opposite. Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, the owners of Veracruz All Natural, are shy and laid back, often dressed in jeans and sneakers.

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

“There wouldn’t be so many new and different styles without them,” said Armando Rayo, journalist and producer at Identity Productions to Austin who writes about tacos. “They have done a lot for the immigrant entrepreneur.

They achieved this by cooking the dishes they grew up with in Veracruz, Mexico, and by not giving in to the pressure many immigrant chefs feel to change their food to adapt. trends in Austin. Granted, there were food trucks, breakfast tacos and freshly squeezed juices in the city before the Vazquezes arrived, but Veracruz All Natural feels prescient about combining so many elements that would become the signatures. from Austin.

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

While the sisters are proud of their success at home, they sometimes feel conflicted over how it went. They’ve built a predominantly non-Hispanic clientele – without a large following within their own strong community. East Austin, where they founded Veracruz, has become significantly gentrified and many of its longtime Mexican American residents have moved elsewhere.

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

“We are trying to change that,” she added, not by following a model of success set by other restaurants. They create theirs.

Their arrival in Los Angeles will typically be discreet. They leave with what they know: a truck parked at the Line Hotel in Koreatown. A possible brick and mortar restaurant is also part of the plan.

The truck, called Hot Tacos, will feature a less regional menu than Austin’s: taco bowls, tacos (including migas), quesadillas, and nachos. The idea, say the sisters, is to serve high-quality Mexican food at a reasonable price – $ 11 for a steak taco bowl, for example – striking a happy medium between fancy places and street carts.

They say they have received lucrative offers to open in several states, including Colorado, Washington and New York. But Los Angeles has always been their dream. The city’s thriving and diverse taqueria scene could be intimidating for some newcomers. For the sisters, it’s exciting, said Maritza Vazquez, 42, in Spanish. (The sisters are bilingual.) “We want to show that we can be successful in a city that has a lot of variety.

The move to Los Angeles comes 22 years after they arrived in the United States, illegally crossing the border with their mother, Reyna Senior, and Maritza’s ex-husband and daughter-in-law, Lis-ek Mariscal.

While working in an Austin taqueria, the sisters noticed that Mexican food looked little like what their mother served at the restaurant she had left their home in Veracruz. Tex Mex, with its rich chili con carne and queso, was by far the city’s predominant version of Mexican cuisine.

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

“People weren’t used to buying from a food truck,” Reyna said, although the city became the center of the national food truck boom a few years later. None of the sisters spoke English at the time, and they were concerned that people would find out about their undocumented status. (Both are in the process of applying for citizenship.)

Business picked up after Veracruz grabbed the attention of local newspapers – a 2009 article in the Austin Chronicle featuring their pork torta, and a short in the Austin American-Statesman in 2011.

There were Mexican restaurants all over eastern Austin, said Mr. Rayo, the reporter and producer. But Veracruz All Natural stood out for its emphasis on fresh produce and vegetarian dishes. The truck was easily accessible due to its proximity to Interstate 35, a major highway widely regarded as a unofficial barrier between the white and non-white populations of Austin.

Although Veracruz drew many guests to East Austin for the first time; some who lived there thought the tacos were overpriced, and not the Tex Mex they were used to.

“I guess the product we were selling wasn’t really targeting the community we were in,” said Ms. Mariscal, who is now Veracruz’s training manager. “They were like, ‘What is this healthy thing? “”

In 2012, the sisters were asked to set up a food trailer on East Sixth Street for the South by South-West Festival. Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and other celebrities stopped in and ordered. In 2015, Veracruz All Natural has been highlighted in the Food Network show “Top 5 Restaurants”. Their blue caravan with the straw umbrellas had become a destination.

Today, diners can find Veracruz across Austin. All but three of its roughly 60 employees are Hispanic, the sisters said. But they are still trying to build a stronger bond with their own community.

Because Veracruz has garnered so much attention in English-language publications and has drawn such a large non-Hispanic audience, Reyna said, Hispanics may feel too intimidated to visit. They only represent about a fifth of customers.

To make Veracruz feel more welcoming, the sisters started hosting salsa parties last spring with musicians from the Latin Diaspora, and ATX Friday, a monthly market, named after Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, which highlights local purveyors of color. “I miss talking to people in Spanish,” Reyna said.

Regina Estrada, whose family opened the Tex Mex restaurant Joe’s bakery in East Austin in 1962, said his house has been around long enough that Mexican-American customers who have left the area make a special trip to eat there. Veracruz, she said, may not have cultivated these regulars because it’s newer.

Ms. Estrada, 40, lived near the restaurant’s first location. “Watching them grow and seeing the recognition and accolades they have received is really just a testament to the work ethic” of the Vazquez sisters, she said. At the same time, she added, one place could never be representative of Austin’s wide variety of taquerias. “But I think it’s so much easier to tell. It’s a nicer story to tell.

Still, Luis Robledo, 31, who grew up in East Austin, says Veracruz has positively impacted Austin restaurants and eateries like his. Mr. Robledo, who is called Beto, was raised in Tex Mex, but his restaurant, Tacos Cuantos, which opened in 2019, focuses on Mexico City cuisine. “Without people knowing it,” he said, Veracruz “has opened their minds to new ways of eating tacos.”

This is one of the many taquerias, run by people of color and focusing on a variety of regional styles, that have recently opened on the East Side, including Nixta Taqueria and Disk. He said the Vazquez sisters freely offered him and other owners business advice.

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

Ms Chaudhury, of Eater Austin, called the exclusion of Veracruz from major Austin food festivals an “unintentional form of control” because the people who organize these events tend to be white men who ask others like them to participate.

This doesn’t bother the sisters, who haven’t sought out the conventional attributes of success for a chef, such as an animated TV gig or a cookbook. Three years ago, they were asked to make tacos on the Food Network show ”Defeat Bobby Flay”, But declined because Reyna had planned a vacation. (Their sales manager first said they were too busy to be interviewed for this article.)

They haven’t finished expanding to Austin. On a recent Wednesday, the sisters reunited at what will become their second physical location in Austin, slated to open early next year. This space, at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, was once a Youngblood Fried Chicken, which is part of an old-fashioned Texas chain. Black and white photos of young couples lined the walls, as well as a large sign above the collar that read “Save room for the pie!” “

The sisters will replace these decorations with vibrant murals inspired by Mexican street art and the Veracruz coast. Their menu will include veracruzanos tamales and cochinita pibil. Quietly and shamelessly, they will appropriate the place.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The shy sisters behind Austin's breakfast tacos
The shy sisters behind Austin's breakfast tacos
Newsrust - US Top News
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