AUSTIN, Texas – It was early morning in the Line Hotel lobby and everyone was eating migas.
The migas from a restaurant called Veracruz All Natural have long been a fixation for the breakfast taco-obsessed population of Austin: scrambled eggs with pico de gallo and freshly made tortilla chips hanging on their crunch, then messy topped with Monterey Jack- Cheese, coriander and a piece of avocado. The whole thing is nestled in a tortilla and wrapped tightly in foil like a present.
“When I leave town, I eat this before I go, and when I come back into town, I eat this,” says Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin. “Yours is by far the best example of Austin’s tacos.”
But if the migas sold at the hotel and five other locations attract attention, their creators are just the opposite. Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, the owners of Veracruz All Natural, are shy and relaxed, often dressed in jeans and sneakers.
The Vazquez sisters did more than serve popular tacos from a food truck. You’ve changed the gastronomy landscape in Austin, paved the way for more regional Mexican offerings in a town long dominated by Tex-Mex cuisine, and helped other immigrants and their families build restaurant groups with minimal capital.
“Without them, there wouldn’t be so many new and different styles coming out,” says Armando Rayo, a journalist and producer at Identity Productions in Austin who writes about tacos. “You have done a lot for the immigrant entrepreneur.”
They achieved this by preparing the dishes they grew up eating in Veracruz, Mexico and not bowing to the pressure many immigrant chefs feel to adjust their food to trends in Austin. Sure there were food trucks, breakfast tacos and freshly squeezed juices in town before the Vazquezes, but Veracruz All Natural feels forward-looking to combine so many of the elements that would become Austin’s signature.
In September, at the request of customers across the country, the Vazquezes will launch a food truck in Los Angeles and expand the business beyond Texas. “If we can be successful there, we’ll try elsewhere,” said Reyna Vazquez, 38.
While the sisters take pride in their success at home, they sometimes have conflicts over how it went. They have built a customer base that is mostly non-Hispanic – without a broad following within their own robust community. East Austin, where they founded Veracruz, has become significantly gentrified, and many of longtime Mexican Americans have moved elsewhere.
In Austin, too, the sisters don’t feel as if they fit into the predominantly male cooking circles. Customers often assume that the restaurants are run by their white men. “It’s interesting how people automatically think that a successful company has to be a white-owned company,” Reyna said.
“We’re trying to change that,” she added, and not by following a pattern of success from other restaurants. They create their own.
Your arrival in Los Angeles will be characteristically reserved. They ride what they know: a truck parked at the Line Hotel in Koreatown. A possible restaurant is also planned.
The truck called Hot Tacos will have a less regional menu than their Austin eateries: taco bowls, tacos (including migas), quesadillas, and nachos. The idea, say the sisters, is to serve good quality Mexican food at a reasonable price – say, $ 11 for a steak taco bowl – and strike a middle ground between the fancy restaurants and the street carts.
They say they have received lucrative opening offers in several states, including Colorado, Washington, and New York. But Los Angeles has always been her dream. The city’s thriving, diverse taqueria scene may seem daunting to some newcomers. It’s exciting for the sisters, said Maritza Vazquez, 42, in Spanish. (The sisters are bilingual.) “We want to show that we can be successful in a diverse city.”
The move to Los Angeles comes 22 years after they illegally crossed the border with her mother Reyna Sr., Maritza’s ex-husband, and stepdaughter Lis-ek Mariscal.
While working at a taqueria in Austin, the sisters noticed that the Mexican dishes bore little resemblance to what their mother served at the restaurant she ran back home in Veracruz. Tex Mex, with its rich chili con carne and queso, was by far the predominant Mexican cuisine in town.
In 2006, Reyna bought a truck for $ 6,000 and opened Antojitos Veracruz on North Lamar Boulevard. 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 shopping at a food truck,” Reyna said at first, although just a few years later the city would become the center of the national food truck boom. None of the sisters spoke English at the time and they feared that people would discover their undocumented status. (Both are in the process of applying for citizenship.)
Business picked up pace after Veracruz found coverage in local newspapers – a 2009 Austin Chronicle article that featured her Pork Torta and a short 2011 post in the Austin American-Statesman.
There were Mexican restaurants all over East Austin, said Mr. Rayo, the journalist and producer. But Veracruz All Natural stood out for its focus on fresh produce and vegetarian dishes. The truck was easy to get to because of its proximity to Interstate 35, a major road widely considered an unofficial barrier between Austin’s white and non-white populations.
Though Veracruz drew many guests to East Austin for the first time; Some who lived there found the tacos too expensive and not the Tex Mex they were used to.
“I think the product we were selling wasn’t really aimed at the community we were in,” said Ms. Mariscal, who is now Veracruz’s instructor. “They said, ‘What kind of healthy stuff is this?'”
In 2012 the sisters were invited to set up a food trailer on East Sixth Street for the South by Southwest Festival. Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, and other celebrities stopped by and ordered. In 2015, Veracruz All Natural was featured on the Food Network Show “Top 5 Restaurants”. Their blue trailer with the straw umbrellas had become the target.
Today guests can find Veracruz all over Austin. All but three of the roughly 60 employees are Hispanic, the sisters said. But they are still trying to create a stronger connection with their own community.
Because Veracruz has received so much attention in English-language publications and has attracted such a large non-Hispanic audience, Hispanics can feel too intimidated to visit. They only make up about a fifth of customers.
To make Veracruz feel even more hospitable, the sisters held salsa evenings last spring with musicians from the Latin American diaspora and the Frida Friday ATX, a monthly market named after Mexican artist Frida Kahlo that puts local paint suppliers in the spotlight. “I miss speaking to people in Spanish,” Reyna said.
Regina Estrada, whose family opened Joe’s Bakery Tex-Mex restaurant in East Austin in 1962, said their house has been around long enough that Mexican-American customers who have moved to the area will take a special trip to see it to eat. Veracruz, she said, might not have looked after these regulars because it’s newer.
Ms. Estrada, 40, used to live near the restaurant’s first location. “Seeing them grow and seeing the recognition and awards they have received is really just testament to the work ethic,” said the Vazquez sisters. At the same time, she added, a place could never be representative of Austin’s wide variety of taquerias. “But I think it’s so much easier to say that it is. It’s a nicer story to shoot. “
Still, Luis Robledo, 31, who grew up in East Austin, says Veracruz has had a positive impact on Austin fine dining and restaurants like his own. Mr Robledo, who is called Beto, grew up on Tex Mex, but his Cuantos Tacos restaurant, which opened in 2019, focuses on Mexico City cuisine. “Without people knowing,” he said, “Veracruz opened their minds to new ways of eating tacos.”
His is one of several taquerias run by colored people, focusing on different regional styles, that recently opened on the East Side, including Nixta Taqueria and Discada. He said the Vazquez sisters volunteered to offer business advice to him and other owners.
That’s the kind of help the sisters say they didn’t get from chefs who run other popular restaurants around town. “They don’t invite us to their events or collaborations,” Reyna said.
Ms. Chaudhury of Eater Austin called Veracruz’s exclusion from the major Austin food festivals “an unintended form of gatekeeping,” since the people who organize these events are usually white men who invite others like her to attend.
That doesn’t bother the sisters, who don’t look for the traditional trappings of success like a television appearance or a cookbook for a cook. Three years ago they were asked to make tacos on the Food Network show “Beat Bobby Flay” but declined because Reyna was planning a vacation. (Your store manager originally said they were too busy to be interviewed for this article.)
The expansion in Austin is still ongoing. On a Wednesday, the sisters gathered at their second stationary location in Austin, due to open early next year. This room at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport used to be a Youngblood’s Fried Chicken, part of an old school Texas chain. Black and white photos of young couples filled the walls, along with a large sign over the pass that said, “Save space for cake!”
The sisters will replace these decorations with vibrant murals inspired by Mexican street art and the Veracruz coastline. The menu includes tamales veracruzanos and cochinita pibil. Quietly and without apology, they will make the place their own.