The oil-slicked tacos al vapor available across Texas are predominantly of the northern Mexican style. These are small bites cooked in a metal steamer and available all day at many taquerias across the state. The Mexico City version of the dish, available only in the morning, is called tacos de canasta, and they’re still tough to find north of the border. These tacos are filled and folded, then splashed with heated, chile-infused oil as they’re being stacked in a plastic-lined, woven basket (canasta). The final step is covering the vessel to allow for steaming on the back of a bicycle en route to the vending location. It’s an elaborate, time-consuming process. But at a walk-up window inside an Irving beer store, just past the fantastical brews released by Martin House Brewing and the racks of cabernet, you’ll find an uncommon example of a taco de canasta. That’s where A. Molina (he didn’t want to share his full name) opened his taqueria, the simply named Taco Canasta, in early November.
The location came as an opportunity Molina couldn’t pass up. Though he hopes to open a chain of Mexican restaurants someday, he wanted to start small. Finding the right place proved tricky. Then he stumbled upon the space that would house Taco Canasta inside a Discount Beer & Wine store in a strip mall. As Molina says, the beer store owner was looking to lease its kitchen. Molina came across it and snatched it up. “I wanted to find something that would make more financial sense for me initially,” he says, “and then open the door to the next locations with the profit.” In a sense, this is a test kitchen.
Molina, 40, has worked in the restaurant industry all of his life, juggling a variety of roles. “I have all the skills in inventory, management, human resources, quality control, and, of course, cooking,” he says. But he’d always dreamed of opening his own restaurant. For Molina, Taco Canasta is an ode to childhood nostalgia. Growing up in Mexico City, he filled up on inexpensive tacos de canasta for breakfast on the way to school or for lunch from vendors who always set up on the same corner or outside a subway station. “They were always there. They were always delicious,” he remembers. “And when they’re done, they’re done,” he adds. Tacos de canasta are sold primarily on the street in Mexico; it’s rare to find them in a restaurant, so if your favorite vendor sells out for the day, you’re out of luck.
Read the full story at Texas Monthly.