Orlando Reyna’s parents, Felipe and Rosa, owned Reyna’s Bar-B-Q in San Angelo for nearly thirty years. They served barbacoa that glistened in the West Texas sun and crunchy, rolled tacos tapatios, a type of flauta doused with crema. When Orlando and his wife, Anna, decided to open a taqueria, it seemed like they were carrying on the family legacy. Orlando was going to gain expertise from his father, and Anna, who had moved from Austin to marry Orlando, pulled from her retirement fund and stocks to help fund the endeavor. They bought restaurant equipment, leased a space in Sunset Mall, and renovated it. Life looked promising.
In March 2016, their shop, Taconmadre, opened. But the location, according to Anna, was less than perfect. The Reynas’ lack of business experience didn’t help either. “We really had no idea how to run a restaurant,” she said. The shop was on the verge of tanking when Orlando decided to purchase a rickety trailer with a three-foot grill for catering gigs. Six months after it opened, Taconmadre closed.
Discouraged but not defeated, Anna put the family’s little red food truck to use. She parked outside of friends’ businesses in San Angelo’s downtown district, serving tacos, like onion-forward carne asada, from midnight to 3 a.m., to the crowds leaving the bars. Orlando went to work in the oil fields to support the family. Their first child was born that year. It was a rough patch for the growing Reyna family. They also had to contend with West Texas’s extreme weather. “When the winters hit, it was cold. When the summers hit, it was hot,” Anna said. “It was really hard to do it, but this was the only way we could support our family.” Their perseverance slowly paid off. “That’s how we got our name out there,” Anna continued. That name was Reyna’s Tacos.
In 2017, Anna came across a 1910s gas station. She envisioned a new taqueria in the spot, but Orlando was hesitant to open another restaurant. “We’ve already had one failure,” Orlando told Anna. “What are we going to do if that happens again?” The couple prayed on it, and according to Anna, “Somehow, some way, God blessed us with the deposit money to get the building.”
One bite of the chopped bistek tacos and I was hooked. The tacos were wrapped in a nixtamalized corn tortilla—a blend of yellow and white corn supplied by 77-year-old Mrs. Rios Corn Products—and loaded with caramelized onions, a lattice of crema, and velvety queso fresco. They were a delight to gobble down. The smoky fragrance emanating from the charred tortillas was deliriously good. It reminded me of tortillas cooked on wood-fired comals found at stands across Mexico. The Reynas’ tortilla recipe was inspired by Orlando’s aunt in Ciudad Acuña, a Mexican border town three hours from San Angelo.
Acuña is also the home of tacos tapatios, tightly rolled chicken- or beef-filled flautas dipped in crema, and garnished with lemon juice, shredded cabbage, lemon pepper, garlic, salt, salsa, and pickled jalapeño. At Reyna’s, the tacos tapatios are served four per order in two preparations on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The tacos are stuffed with a chicken tinga and cheese mixture and deep-fried before being dunked in crema. The Green Chili preparation is slathered in salsa verde, shredded cheese, and queso fresco, while the Con Madre plate features the tacos covered in lemony cabbage, queso fresco, and Valentina hot sauce.
Surprisingly, the regional staple isn’t Reyna’s biggest seller—it’s all about the regular tacos and tacos norteños. The latter are like tacos al pastor with grilled onions. The quesitacos are filled with dark brown, salty queso Chihuahua. The most common order, however, is a taco box. “Our customers wanted family packs but no one in town was selling them,” Anna explained. A typical order is served in a cardboard pizza box and holds fifteen tacos. The El Jefe, the most popular box, carries five tacos norteños, five tacos al pastor, and five tacos de bistek.
The shop has become so popular that Orlando quit the oil fields in 2020 to work full-time at the taqueria and assist in renovations of the building. “We weren’t rich people, so we weren’t able to hire other folks to install things,” Anna said. “We did it with our own hands.” Orlando leveled the back of the property and put in artificial turf and picnic tables. There are tables in the front too, near a firepit, and standing heaters for chilly desert nights.
The money the Reynas did spend on contracted work was for the art. Inx Davila, a local graffiti artist and owner of Dreams Don’t Die tattoo shop, freehand spray-painted the trailer with a rose in the style of the classic American tattoo genre made famous by sailors. A similar mural graces the fence of the rear patio. Inside, a cartoonish representation of a taco-themed Last Supper covers a long wall.
There’s not another taqueria like it in San Angelo. The Reynas are leveraging their popularity to introduce the city to other elements of Mexican culture—they host an annual Día de los Muertos party with a large ofrenda. And the work on the building isn’t done. Anna wants to enclose the front patio space to expand year-round seating. She’s always thinking about the future. Every time Anna and Orlando drive by one of the myriad abandoned gas stations in small Texas towns, she wonders, “How cool would it be to have another location just like ours [in another abandoned gas station] somewhere else?” It would be cool, indeed.