On July 19, 2019, Ruben Carrasco Jr. drove from Midland to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to pick up his food truck. He didn’t know it, but forty-five minutes away in El Paso, his hometown, his younger brother, Jeffrey Carrasco, had just died in a motorcycle accident.
“He’s the one who convinced me in the first place to follow my dream that I had since I was a teenager to buy a food truck,” Carrasco told me. For years, he and Jeffrey had brainstormed ideas for food truck concepts and how to open a business together. Then Jeffrey was gone.
The accident occurred while Jeffrey was riding around Lincoln Park with his motorcycle club. Carrasco knew that as his younger brother lay dying, in the shadow of the Franklin Mountains and its iconic lighted star, he did so with few regrets about his life. “Jeffrey was the type of person who was going to do whatever he wanted to do, and he was going to be happy about it,” he said.
Carrasco took time off from renovating the 1953 Ford P40 bread-delivery truck, shifting his focus to recipe testing. After developing hundreds of dishes, Carrasco whittled the menu for Pachuco Mobile Food Co. down to six items. Among them were the Luchador burger, featuring a hearty patty loaded with Hatch green chiles, bacon strips, a smear of cream cheese, and a drizzle of honey; a blue corn pupusa; a springy bao bun; and a smoked meat poutine. Pachuco served a little bit of everything in the Permian Basin. The menu, of course, grew with the food truck’s success.
Carrasco connects this patchwork of dishes to the Great Chefs of the World series on PBS. He became obsessed with the show after he moved with his mom and Jeffrey from El Paso to rural southern Louisiana. He scribbled information about techniques and recipes from across the globe in a notebook. He figured he didn’t have much in the way of opportunities, living in an isolated part of the Bayou State. “I probably would never [make those dishes],” he recalled thinking. “I mean, we would never be able to get these types of fish, but I learned terminology that these chefs were using, like their cutting techniques, how to make sauces.” But after working a series of jobs across the country, Carrasco eventually returned to cooking. “It wasn’t until later in life where it just all clicked.”
Pachuco Mobile Food Co., for all its culinary mash-ups, was strongly linked to El Paso, at least in name. Pachuco refers to a Mexican American urban subculture in El Paso dating to the 1930s. Pioneering members wore dashing zoot suits with large, feather-capped fedoras. Pachucos were slick, finely dressed, and drove lowriders. Their clothes, lingo, and cars declared they weren’t going to assimilate into mainstream American culture. Pachucos even gave El Paso one of the city’s nicknames: El Chuco. And so, Carrasco’s truck proudly displays an image of a pachuco with a lady on his arm, with a brief history of the culture under it.
In many ways, Jeffrey was a modern pachuco, driven by his an adventurous spirit and bit of rebelliousness, which led Carrasco to take the opportunity to move into a brick-and-mortar—the old Johnny’s Barbecue in downtown Midland—last year.
The reimagined Pachuco’s opened in December 2022, and its decor includes a mural honoring El Paso, with a calavera pachuco and the lighted star on the Franklin Mountains.
During a recent visit, I entered the busy restaurant filled with families from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. They were chowing down on a gobsmacking array of foods, including triple-meat, double-bacon cheeseburgers with ketchup and sides of fries. The order is called I Got Jeff’d. As Carrasco described it, when someone went out with Jeffrey, they were going to party a lot, drink a lot, and then eat a lot. “It was called getting Jeff’d, and when someone orders the expensive burger [it costs $20.99 and weighs two pounds], it’s referred to as getting Jeff’d,” he said. Proceeds go to a trust fund for Jeffrey’s daughter.
I was there for the tacos, and they did not disappoint. There are two tacos on the official menu and more taco specials on the weekend. When I swung by, the list included a smoked meat quesataco, a pastrami taco, a smoked barbacoa taco, a Korean taco, and a smoked butter chicken taco. For sides, I ordered the elote en vaso and the Hatch chile mac and cheese. The only disappointments were the Korean taco and the elote. The corn—for all its accoutrements of hot sauce, cheese, and mayo—lacked a buttery, slightly spicy flavor and had undercooked kernels. The Korean taco was overpowered by cabbage and vinegar.
Everything else hit note after note. The smoked barbacoa taco had silky beef cheek cooked over post oak and mesquite on a rotisserie pit and topped with onions, cilantro, and a pop of chiles on a corn tortilla. The pastrami taco carried thinly sliced rectangles of the brined meat, mouth-puckering sauerkraut made with purple onions, sprigs of dill, and a relish of mustard seeds on a corn tortilla. Meanwhile, the Indo-Mex butter chicken, also smoked over post oak and mesquite, was served on an H-E-B Mixla tortilla (fifty-fifty corn and flour) and topped with pickled onions, cilantro, and cotija cheese. The quesataco with brisket offered a mild, sweet smoke and was plenty cheesy, not dry.
But Pachuco’s remains centered on people: Jeffrey, as well as Carrasco’s wife, Idalia; restaurant manager Jaime del Campo; the hardworking folks of Midland; and the rest of the staff, for whom Carrasco feels responsible. There’s a promising future for Pachuco’s. As Carrasco put it: “I see my path and I see where we’re going and what I need to do. There’s so much feeling in that restaurant; so many people that I care about are trying. We can do incredible stuff.”