In 1980, three blocks from his grandmother’s house in the Mexican city of Matamoros, Eloy Saenz regularly passed a food cart serving queso fresco with a slice of avocado—a combination he could not find anywhere else. Around 15 years later, Saenz brought the dish with him to Central Texas. Now the owner of three brick-and-mortar El Taquito restaurants in Pflugerville, Round Rock and Austin, Saenz regularly serves up traditional Mexican dishes.
“It started as a way of bringing a little bit of Mexico to the Central Texas area,” Saenz said.
In the years since, El Taquito has evolved into a full restaurant atmosphere. Saenz said popular dishes include El Especial: six taquitos topped with traditional al pastor—thinly-sliced pork seasoned with chilies and pineapple; Los Originales: six taquitos served with bistek—pieces of salted and peppered sirloin; Gringas: a tortilla with melted cheese and choice of meat; and the Tampiquena plate, which includes steak, enchiladas, quesadillas, guacamole, rice and beans.
Queso fresco, a mild, soft cheese, with a slice of avocado was not the only first Saenz claims in Central Texas. He said El Taquito stands out as being the first taqueria to bring bistek, chile relleno—or a stuffed chili pepper—and Gringas tacos to the area.
“We’re innovators,” Saenz said.
Saenz said another notable, but initially difficult first for El Taquito was the taquito itself. He said many Texans were used to bigger tacos made up of American cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. However, Saenz did not give up on traditional Mexican tacos.
“Not only did I want to share, but I also wanted to educate our customers to know and to taste the true tradition of Mexico,” Saenz said.
As such, Saenz said all El Taquito recipes come from Mexico, family and traditions. In addition, all restaurant decorations come from Mexican artists.
Saenz avoids describing El Taquito as a fast-food restaurant despite the taqueria’s use of a pickup window. He said unlike fast-food restaurants, El Taquito’s sauces and marinades take 24 hours to prepare, and popular menu items like barbacoa cannot be quickly remade after it runs out.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Saenz said.
Saenz said the taqueria’s audience is a diverse crowd as a result of each location’s unique offerings: the South Austin location stays open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and 4 a.m. on Saturdays, the Round Rock location hosts live music and the Pflugerville location attracts a large breakfast crowd.
130 Louis Henna Blvd., Round Rock
Hours: Tue.-Wed. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 7 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., closed Mon.
20007 FM 685, Pflugerville
Hours: Mon.-Sun. 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
1713 E Riverside Drive, Austin
Hours: Sun.-Thur. 9 a.m.-midnight, Fri. 8 a.m.-3 a.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-4 a.m.