Danny and Ale Sanchez recently upgraded their food truck, El Sancho Tex Mex BBQ, in Mission, to make the summer heat bearable. “We finally converted to a full-size trailer with all the bells and whistles,” Danny Sanchez said. It now has air-conditioning, which is a good thing for any food truck, but essential for this one since it has warmers, a flattop, and a stove top. Thankfully, the Sanchezes smoke the barbecue off-site. All of these heating elements combine to make some spectacular barbecue tacos.
Sanchez comes from a family of entrepreneurs. He figures all of his aunts and uncles, along with his parents and grandparents, have at one point run taquerias of their own (a detailed history can be found in taco editor José R. Ralat’s profile from last year). “Cooking is in my blood,” he told me, and he is able to draw on his family’s culinary talent for his menu.
“We’re able to create so much of what we grew up eating,” Sanchez said, but the barbecue is his own contribution. He started cooking barbecue with the help of his late father-in-law. He felt confident enough with a smoker by 2019 to open the trailer, and by 2021, he no longer needed the tech job that had been paying the bills.
El Sancho is parked behind the Jitterz Coffee Roasters location on North Conway Avenue in Mission. It opens early—at 7:30 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 8 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays—and routinely sells out by noon. That means the menu, which doesn’t change during the day, leans heavy on breakfast tacos and, more recently, biscuit sandwiches, with biscuits supplied by Your Sweets by Kacy.
Sanchez loads the latter up with brisket, egg, cheese, and bacon, or with thick slices of brisket and blackberry jam, which is the way I tried it. The tender brisket’s saltiness played well with the sweet jam between the buttery biscuit halves. The beef gets a good dose of pepper and smoke from mesquite, which Sanchez has tamed well. “Down here, that’s what we all grew up with,” he said of his preferred wood, which also comes much cheaper in the Valley than post oak.
There were ten different tacos to choose from when I visited. Most came on locally made flour tortillas large enough to hold the generous fillings. The Iron Mike starts with a slice of fatty smoked brisket and is topped with a fried egg, shredded cheese, and a slice of bacon or breakfast sausage. A splash of jalapeño salsa made mine sing. No additions are needed on the El Rey, which combines the same brisket and egg with crunchy chilaquiles and sliced avocado. Either would make for a filling breakfast, so I ordered them on back-to-back days.
Smoked beef-cheek barbacoa is available every Saturday and Sunday. The taco was a mix of pleasantly chewy bark and lusciously fatty beef sprinkled with cotija and topped with sliced avocado. I loved it with another salsa that gets its orange tint from roasted roma tomatoes and chile de arbol. It had a surprising sweetness, almost like orange juice. “Since we’re so close to the border, we get the best produce,” Sanchez said, including sweeter tomatoes and sometimes even jalapeños with a distinct sweetness.
Sanchez had just added a couple special tacos served on blue corn from Mission’s Tortilleria San Augustin. They featured the smoked meats a little more prominently. In the brisket burnt-end taco, smoky, tender cubes sat atop a layer of browned Oaxaca cheese. After one bite, I thought it was going to be the hands-down winner from the menu, until I tried the chicharrón de pork belly taco. Sanchez smokes a whole pork belly, then slices it and panfries the slices to get the edges browned and crisp. The crust broke open with the first bite, and the soft center of the perfectly smoked pork belly collapsed. A deep-fried chicharrón garnish added to the crunch, and it all paired well with the fluffy guacamole Sanchez whips with salsa verde.
Serving next to a coffee shop has been great for business and has informed El Sancho’s menu and operating hours. Sanchez said he considered pairing up with a brewery early on, and he assumed he’d primarily be serving trays of smoked meats and barbecue by the pound. Doing breakfast hours demanded tacos, and the rest grew from there. Slip into the coffee shop while waiting for your taco order to get a spectacular cortado, or try Sanchez’s favorite, the flash-chilled cold-brew coffee. Jitterz takes credit cards, but be aware that El Sancho does not. Bring cash, or be prepared to pay via Cash App or Venmo.
Sanchez doesn’t want El Sancho to just be known for either its barbecue or its tacos. “I want to bring something new, something fresh, something innovative in barbecue, at least on this side of the Valley,” he said. And he’s doing it. Folks serving Tex-Mex barbecue elsewhere in the state could draw some inspiration from the creative ways Sanchez has brought the two styles together. And with everything else on the tacos, he could have put less effort into making the barbecue great, but you get the best of both worlds here.
The other thing I noticed at El Sancho is how the tacos are served open-faced. At other places, a folded tortilla often hides the taco’s ingredients, making the food a challenge to photograph. “We’ve gotta display it,” Sanchez said, referring to the variety of colors and textures in his tacos. He said he’s trying to mimic the aesthetic of a barbecue tray, and he’s doing it well.
In the end, Sanchez said his goal is to help highlight the growing barbecue culture of the Rio Grande Valley. “The barbecue scene here in the Valley has taken off in the past three or four years,” he observed. But specifically, he said, “I want to put the city of Mission and its barbecue on the map.” Mission is often overlooked, he said, because of its location, just west of the larger cities of McAllen and Edinburg, the county seat of Hidalgo County. Communities to the east of McAllen rarely go that far to shop or dine. By partnering with other businesses in Mission, Sanchez is trying to bring some attention and curiosity to his town. I can confidently say, after two meals at El Sancho, that no barbecue tour of the Valley is complete without a stop here.
El Sancho Tex Mex BBQ
1625 N. Conway Avenue, Mission
Hours: Thursday–Friday 7:30–noon, Saturday–Sunday 8:30–12:30
Pitmaster: Danny Sanchez
Method: Mesquite in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2019