Rick Muniz lives two lives. Mondays through Thursdays, he’s a consultant for the Texas Department of Public Safety in its Houston anti-gang unit. Fridays through Sundays, you can find him working the window of his food truck, Los Muertos BBQ in Katy. During his thirty-year career as a Texas state trooper, he cooked barbecue for DPS holiday functions and training events. For his work feeding victims of Hurricane Harvey two years ago, he was awarded the Spirit of the Trooper Award. Now he’s serving his barbecue specialties to the public from a strip mall parking lot.
The native of Carrizo Springs in South Texas had always dreamed of starting a barbecue business, so he seized the opportunity after retiring as a full-time trooper in 2016. “DPS was my job and my career, but barbecue was my passion,” he told me, wiping sweat from his forehead on a steamy Saturday afternoon. The barbacoa was long gone. He starts serving it at 8 a.m., but there was plenty of smoked brisket left at one o’clock, and I couldn’t resist ordering the only barbecue-stuffed puffy taco I’ve seen on a menu.
A puffy taco is fried, but it’s not your standard hard-shell taco. The raw masa is dropped into the hot oil just long enough for it to puff up. The texture is both chewy and crisp at once. Muniz and his team drop fresh tortillas in the fryer for every order, so it takes a bit of time to assemble. You can order versions loaded with grilled fajita beef, smoked chicken thigh, or smoked brisket at Los Muertos, and they’re all topped with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and shredded cheddar. Add a slice of avocado, and it may seem like too much stuff to be contained by one puffy taco shell, but it compressed nicely and the shell held up. I enjoyed the cool toppings along with the smoky beef and hot tortilla and wished I had saved room for everything on the menu.
I talked to Muniz about the timing of opening his trailer—four months ago, amid a rise in popularity of Tex-Mex barbecue. “All of my culinary influence is from South Texas, where I was born and raised,” he told me. “We’ve been cooking like this our whole lives.” In other words, he isn’t capitalizing on a fad. He’s just bringing his family’s style of cooking to the public in Katy. That means brisket that’s smoked with mesquite and heavily seasoned. “I use salt and pepper, but I put a little bit of granulated garlic, a little brown sugar, and a couple of other things,” Muniz said, clearly holding some secrets tight to his vest.
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I asked Muniz if running a trailer in the heat of a Texas summer made him rethink his retirement plans. “If you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter,” he said, then he gave me a guided tour of the artwork on the trailer. The appearance of the phrase “Powered by Rix Pit” is a reference to the name his family and friends gave his unofficial cooking operation back home. Along the lower panel, there’s a roadrunner and a rattlesnake, representing good and evil. A stylized DPS badge on the back of the trailer reads, “Department of Puro BBQ,” blending his two professions. As we got to the front of the truck, he laughed and pointed to his personal motto: “Made in Texas with Mexican parts.” It’s as good a description for Muniz as it is for his barbecue.
Los Muertos BBQ
25600 Westheimer Parkway
Hours: Fri-Sun, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.