I’d just caught myself singing along to the lovelorn Mexican ballads streaming from the overhead speakers at Tony’s Siesta when I was brought back to reality. The purpose of my visit to this old-school bar in downtown San Antonio was to sample La Fonda De Jaime 2.0, the taco truck in the adjacent parking lot—but first I ducked inside for a quick beer with some friends, and I was glad I did.
A bartender strolled over to hand us a spiked summer-in-a-cup watermelon agua fresca and a couple of tropical, hazy beers. “Who got dumped?” one of my dining companions asked the employee. His reply was a puzzled “no one.” Nevertheless, the cry-in-your-beer tunes and darkly lit, gently renovated old dive had me reminiscing about a youth spent in similar joints with yellowed ceiling titles and sticky surfaces—the kind of places where if the bartender took a shine to you, he or she would quietly top off your cheap domestic and charge you for only one beer. Tony’s Siesta has been a San Antonio icon since 1999; last year, Andy Palacios took over from founder Tony Lopez and tastefully renovated the place, keeping its seedy-but-welcoming look. Stucco and fading whitewashed bricks are hand-painted with words describing several of the musical genres played at the watering hole (tejano, merengue, oldies, country). An old metal replica of the Tower of the Americas stands sentinel near the bar’s entrance, adding to the feeling that this is a place preserved from another era.
Around the corner, things are decidedly more modern. The “2.0” at the end of La Fonda de Jaime’s name, meant to evoke the trailer’s contemporary, slightly upscale approach, is the first sign that this isn’t your average taco operation. The stylized Aztec figures and corn imagery decorating the truck’s otherwise glossy black wrap job further indicate that La Fonda de Jaime 2.0 is operating on another level. Then there is the menu: an ever-changing experimental delight with creative anchors. There are funky huitlacoche kimchi-garnished bulgogi trompo tacos alongside the popular carne asada sprinkled with crunchy chapulines. Silky, gnarled bits of suadero are offset by cooling guacamole and a blossoming of flavors initiated by salsa macha.
In a refreshing change from the trendy birria de res on offer at most Texas taquerias these days, Jaime Hernandez instead cooks birria de chivo (goat). The dish, which has become one of the truck’s best-sellers, takes three hours to prepare in an earthenware pot wrapped in pencas, or agave leaves. The result is sumptuous, with a gaminess that is toned down by a complementing earthiness imparted by the cooking process. The filling is fused with a milky, rich quesillo. All the tacos are served on glossy miniature nixtamalized corn tortillas from the San Antonio Colonial tortilleria. They’re heavy, fragrant discs for their size, able to bear generous fillings, garnishes such as cubed pineapples, and splashes of salsa. Hernandez will occasionally make his own tortillas from corn ground in his Masienda-brand countertop molino, although he limits production for surprise announcements on the La Fonda de Jaime 2.0 Instagram account.
He’s proud that almost everything he sells is prepared onsite from scratch. “We make our own crema. We make our own salsas in-house. I make my mole. I make the salts,” Hernandez says. “My brain keeps working, even when I’m asleep.”
Hernandez learned the basics of Mexican gastronomy from his mother and grandmother while growing up in Juárez. But he also went on to train and work professionally in kitchens. His last stint was as the chef de cuisine at New Braunfels’s La Cosecha, which has been critically praised for its refined-rustic regional menu. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, La Cosecha closed temporarily. After the restaurant reopened, Hernandez says, he was called in only to be let go. He immediately set to work on the menu for his dream project, La Fonda de Jaime 2.0. It’s one of no-fuss elegance, evoking a gourmet touch while remaining grounded in what is familiar Mexican food.
The trailer opened on September 27, 2020, to a deflating start. Hernandez made only $65 his first day in business, and the next few weeks weren’t much better. Still, he pushed on: “I kept my head down and worked, and now people are starting to notice what we’re doing in the truck.”
That’s no surprise, because what he’s doing is wildly creative. On the rainy night I visited, Hernandez was serving tacos de trompo negro, a dish made popular by Netflix’s Taco Chronicles. It gets its inky color from the recado negro, a sticky marinade composed of burned tortillas, mixed chiles, spices, vinegar, and aromatics, among other ingredients. The seasoning is indigenous to the Yucatán Peninsula. Hernandez amps up his version with Szechuan peppers and shimmering red Korean gochujang paste. This is an entrancing, addictive taco, bold in its heat and dark spices. It’s one of the finest trompo negro tacos I’ve ever had, and I’m not its only fan. “People are constantly messaging me for advance notice on the trompo negro. They’re prepared to drive from as far as Fort Worth,” Hernandez brags. He texted me in May to say that La Fonda de Jaime sold one thousand tacos on Cinco de Mayo. “I was trying to put together tortillas with cornstarch” after he ran out, he jokes.
Hernandez is showing San Antonio a new taco truck model, something deserving of the designation “2.0.” A truck can be as good as a brick-and-mortar restaurant; it can dish out food to rival the plates at a private club. La Fonda de Jaime 2.0 serves brunch every other Sunday. The chef-taquero is working on a new dish for the menu: fermented leche de tigre ceviche infused with watermelon and mezcal and topped with citric acid–laced chapulines. His mainstay churro waffles and wings, topped with pickled black fruit and a chile costeño maple syrup, are a customer favorite. All of this is from a truck. Hernandez is proving that constraints don’t limit creativity. Space is meaningless, at least when it comes to Mexican food and tacos. “A high level of food isn’t just for restaurants,” he says.
But for the chef-taquero, it’s important to start small and build up. “The other day a customer asked me how I’m serving such flavors from a truck. I told him, ‘You have to start from the bottom. Show people that you can make good tacos, and then grow.'” Growth is part of the plan. Hernandez is working toward opening his own brick-and-mortar someday. It will be named La Fonda de Jaime, no 2.0. He considers the trailer to be something of a beta test—and it’s a darn good one.