I’ve heard South Texans declare that the presence of tomatoes in carne guisada is an abomination. I’ve heard other South Texans say tomatoes add a necessary sweetness and color to their home region’s trademark beef stew. It’s like arguing whether beans belong in chili. Recipes, and sentiments about the correct preparation, vary from family to family. Ultimately, if the dish tastes good, it really doesn’t matter.
The family-recipe carne guisada served by Two Amigos Taqueria in Waxahachie doesn’t include tomatoes, and it is stellar. Served in a house-made flour tortilla (corn tortillas can be substituted), the filling is all soft chunks of stewed beef enveloped in a luscious, umber-colored gravy. The taco’s richness, which coats the inside of the mouth, gives way to tinges of sweetness. It’s as good as any I’ve had in the stew’s borderlands home.
“The carne guisada is really popular with customers from South Texas,” says Rogelio Aguilar Jr., who along with his parents, Rogelio and Diana Aguilar, took ownership of Two Amigos Taqueria, in operation since the nineties, in 2002. According to the younger Rogelio, his family’s restaurant is the only eating establishment in Ellis County (of which Waxahachie is the county seat) that offers carne guisada. The South Texas specialty can be somewhat tricky to find the farther one travels from the Texas-Mexico border. The Aguilars brought the dish with them when they relocated from San Antonio. “People just really like it. The dish is also one of our best-sellers,” Rogelio Jr. says.
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His family has transformed the restaurant into a Waxahachie institution, but they faced some tough times at the start. “There were days we wouldn’t make even a hundred bucks,” Rogelio Jr. says. “I remember one day my dad didn’t want to count the register. He was holding a rag he was cleaning with in one hand, and I remember him closing that register very quickly and throwing that rag down. Tears started coming out of his eyes.”
That’s not the Two Amigos I visited. The restaurant is a community gathering place, having gained such loyalty from locals that the Aguilars had to move the business in March 2018 from its original location to a new building (just one street over) that more than doubled the space. Sunlight shoots through the storefront windows and reflects off the colorful tiled tabletops and similarly decorated tile wall separating the kitchen from the remainder of the restaurant. During breakfast and lunch rushes, the dining room is packed. It’s loud with laughter and conversation, servers refilling drinks and chips and salsa, and taking orders—many of them for the carne guisada.
There are other notable tacos on the menu. The weenies and eggs is plump with chopped hot dogs mixed in yellowish-white scrambled eggs. The bulky migas taco is salty and prickly with square, crispy chips and pico de gallo. But, for me, Two Amigos is all about the carne guisada. For Rogelio Jr., Two Amigos’ success represents years of hard work paying off. His parents immigrated from a small town in northern Mexico about two hours south of Eagle Pass and lived in San Antonio before settling in North Texas. “I was about twelve when we bought the place,” he says. “I’m 29 now, and if you would have told me even five years ago that I’d be sitting here doing what I’m doing in the position that I’m in, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was different. I’m a firm believer in ‘you can do anything you want in life.’”