Pete Olmos died on Father’s Day 2017. The patriarch was a retired mariachi who spent his Sundays serving his large family barbecue smoked in a converted water heater. After dark, Olmos and his wife would play guitar and sing. With his passing, so went the tradition—or so thought grandson John Paul Govea.

“There weren’t going to be any more cookouts because no one else in the family really barbecued that often,” the 38-year-old Fort Worth native explains. But Govea took it upon himself to resurrect the practice. He got his feet wet with barbecue competitions, but he decided to focus on smoking meat for backyard get-togethers while working full-time as an electrician. 

Then, in February 2021, Govea was asked to cater a party. Requests to provide food for other events immediately followed. He didn’t know it at the time, but the series of gigs set his successful pop-up, Olmos Bbq, in motion. The business is named in honor of Govea’s grandfather, and it even has a logo featuring a guitar-strumming mariachi calavera. “That’s for him,” Govea says.

Olmos Bbq pops up at Classic Cuts Barbershop in Saginaw.Photograph by José R. Ralat

He started by selling plates of his Mariachi tacos from his house. The flour tortilla parcels were inspired by Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ’s Real Deal Holyfield. The famous breakfast taco features a flour tortilla smeared with refried beans and topped with smoked brisket, bacon strips, diced potatoes, and an egg. Govea made it his own. In his version, the pitmaster-taquero places two crossed pieces of crispy bacon, a broad slice of glistening brisket with peppery bark, and a fried or scrambled egg in a fresh flour tortilla.

He presents it in an appealing way for social media photos, knowing that a pretty dish can attract lots of attention. “Nowadays, it’s all about presentation,” Govea says. “What can somebody post on Instagram, because social media is our life, right? So when we started doing the taco, I said, ‘You know what? Let me do two slices of bacon and I’m going to crisscross those.’ That way you can see it when it’s in a picture.”

Govea kept working his day job, but as soon as he got home on Fridays, he would fire up the smoker. He’d post the menu on the Olmos Bbq Instagram page and folks would send in orders via direct message for Saturday and Sunday pickups from his home. Govea walked out each order to his driveway. Eventually people wanted to order during the week. After a year of his side hustle, Govea was perpetually fatigued attempting to balance it all. “My day job as an electrician got in the way of doing barbecue,” he says.

In April 2022, he left behind a nearly twenty-year career as a tradesman, and Olmos Bbq took off. “I walked away from wearing a tool belt for seventeen years, and I wish I would’ve gotten here sooner,” he says. His first official pop-up was at the Local, a bar in Fort Worth’s West Seventh District. Back then Govea played it safe, offering traditional barbecue instead of his signature tacos.

The next month Govea began offering the Mariachi tacos. “Everybody went nuts,” he recalls. But instead of going all in on the tacos, he only offered them once a month, lest customers stop getting excited about them. Scarcity is a savvy business decision that has proven successful for many barbecue joints. Govea’s strategy worked. 

The Mariachi taco is now available every weekend, and it has maintained its popularity. Initially Govea’s mother made the flour tortillas, but she couldn’t keep up with demand. Both the quality corn and flour tortillas are bought at the in-store tortilleria at a local El Rio Grande supermarket. The outsourcing offers consistency. More importantly, the Mariachi taco led Govea to express his love of tejano barbecue.

“We seem to do better when we do what I think is our style of barbecue, which is basically our culture,” the pitmaster-taquero explains. He calls it Tex-Mex food mixed with a Mexican upbringing of tortillas, rice, and beans. And even though brisket, ribs, and sausage are always available, it’s “the tacos that hit,” as Govea puts it.

I visited Olmos Bbq at the Classic Cuts Barbershop in Saginaw, where the joint pops up on the first Saturday of the month. I ordered the Mariachi taco. It was a fetching beast: difficult to fold with all its salty, smoky, and tender fillings. A touch of chunky, chilled salsa borracha added zip and texture.

The “crispy tacos,” as they are listed on the menu, are a bit of a misnomer. Inspired by quesabirria, an order of three crispy tacos is composed of corn tortillas with a melted Muenster cheese costra cradling chopped brisket. A typical quesabirria features mozzarella and shredded beef, but this iteration is much better. Muenster melts beautifully and evenly, and it has a punchier flavor than mozzarella. Govea shreds the cheese himself. The effort makes the crispy tacos another success for him. “Man, everyone wanted them when they hit the menu,” he says.

Another decent option is the brisket bowl, with layers of rice, beans, and cheese piled with chopped brisket and pico de gallo. The only item that faltered was the jalapeño-and-cheese sausage taco. Served split open on a flour tortilla, the link needed more time on the grill but still had good flavor and snap. The sausage taco has its own devotees. “I have people who say, ‘Man, I’ll never eat a sausage link by itself again. I need a tortilla,’ ” Govea says.

Even though “Bbq” is in the name of Govea’s business, he says “our thing is tacos.” During our conversation, he bluntly states he is a taco guy. “Every chance I get I’m eating tacos somewhere,” he says. “I know if I go [somewhere], this place is the asada place; this is the trompo place; this is the birria place, whatever it may be.” But, for me, Olmos Bbq is a beautiful blend of both foods. 

Olmos Bbq
Follow Olmos Bbq on Instagram and Facebook for up-to-date details on pop-ups.
The Local, 2800 Bledsoe, Fort Worth
Hours: Sunday 12–sold out
Backyard, 1000 Foch, Fort Worth
Hours: Wednesday 8 p.m.–sold out
Phone: 817-988-1924