When she was a child growing up in the city of Monterrey, Mexico she was tasked with learning the art of cooking at the tender age of nine.
If the sublime food served at her eponymous East Austin taco truck is any indication she learned from the masters of that art.It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in the former Cesar Chavez barrio. I say former as the tides of change have long since come to the once gritty neighborhood where nowadays you can easily spend a half a million bucks for a small, wood-frame home.
Little bungalows that you could have turned the key on for $20k back in the 90s now command a premium as Austin has refashioned itself from a dusty little college town into a gleaming cityscape of hyper-modernity.Yolanda Guerrero is carving herself out a career vending $2.50 tacos one at a time.
It’s certainly not an easy path.
A few blocks away at a much-feted Mexican interloper of fine dining you can expect to drop a tidy two bills if it’s date night for you and your beloved. Throw a few $15 spritzers in the mix and you’re looking at an easy three hundred.But business is booming for our hard-working taquera. A steady stream of tradesmen driving dump trucks or old Chevys are queuing up in paint-spattered Dickies work pants.
They are making Guerrero’s cash register fairly sing.
I’m hard up against Pleasant Valley Road where an endless stream of Mercedes and Lexus roll by, their perfectly coiffed occupants never chancing a glance at the tiny lonchera squatted down in the half-busted parking lot.
Their loss.I spy an old cast-iron tortilla press sitting on a work bench near the entry door to the trailer. Miss Yolanda explains that when she was a girl her community had a molino where hard grain corn was nixtamalized before being turned into fresh dough.
In the states she uses maseca, a convenience product which, in the right hands, can still turn out a good tortilla.
And oh those tortillas. Austin has never been a land of scratch ones; most taco houses just buy them from whichever commercial purveyor they favor; when you run into homemade tortillas it’s always a time for celebration.
Guerrero’s are some of the best in the city. They’re thick, have a tiny bit of elasticity and a good flavor of maize. This is where we find our cook operating at peak power.Each taco is stuffed with whatever protein you fancy. I choose carnitas, beef fajita and al pastor.
The carnitas are the soft wet sort; Texas is a land of several different carnitas styles and this is one of my favorites. The pork is stewed then spends a moment on the plancha to give it a little sizzle.
The beef fajita is less satisfactory. This is not the ranchero-style fajita that Texans are accustomed to. Yolanda’s rendition is a new fashion to me; tiny tidbits of beef are cooked on the flat top then garnished with cilantro and onion. This is not a bad taco per se but it does not hew to the fajita customs of the region.Al pastor is better. A hog leg is slow roasted in the oven before being carved off the bone, tossed with a little pastor seasoning then served a la minute.
It’s an unusual take on the old classic but it works fine. Two fresh salsas are available: a fiery green that sings of limón and a slightly tamer red that looks evil but goes down smooth with just a faint whisper of chile.
I have a 10 hour drive in front of me so I say my goodbyes. I ask after her hours of operation and she proudly states that she works from seven in the morning til three in the afternoon every single day.“When do you rest?”
“There will be plenty time to rest when I’m dead!” she proclaims with a fetching cackle.
A 70 hour work week for this sexagenarian is just part and parcel of her version of the American dream.
96 N.Pleasant Valley Road
Hours of operation
always call ahead