Having contacts, scouts, and friends across the state is essential for food writers like myself. When I sent my Laredo tattooer my itinerary for a visit, he waited until I was in his shop to give it to me straight. “I thought it was best to say this to your face, but your list is trash,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, co-owner of Por Vida Tattoos. He did me a solid by giving me a handful of recommendations, including Proyecto Humo, a taco truck owned and operated by chef-taquero Luis Lara. 

Proyecto Humo (Spanish for Project Smoke) is difficult to find. It didn’t help that I was in the historic border town during the first heat wave of the summer. My skin burned from the triple-digit temperatures as I walked to several storefronts in a strip mall, searching for Proyecto Humo. I had the address right, but I didn’t see a building number. Turns out Proyecto Humo isn’t a brick-and-mortar, but a nondescript, light blue trailer in front of Saludos Brewing Co. It is here where Lara serves some of the most creative tacos coming out of Laredo.

Lara immigrated to Laredo from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, at the age of sixteen. His uncle put him to work in his Mexican food truck in one of the city’s flea markets. Lara wasn’t content just taking orders and working the cash register. He wanted to try his hand on the plancha. He fell in love with cooking and wanted more, so he broke out on his own. 

He opened his own taqueria, Los Tacos, in 1999—then closed and reopened it two more times. He felt trapped selling the same things everyone else was offering and felt like he didn’t have the drive necessary to be successful. “I barely have a girlfriend. I’m not married. I don’t have any kids. I don’t live by myself,” he remembers thinking at the time, when he was living with family. “What am I doing there?” One of the reasons he shuttered the business was that he learned there were already businesses with the moniker “Los Tacos” in New York and Las Vegas. He also wanted more training.

In 2009 he enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Austin. That’s where he was inspired to take his tacos to the next level. In 2016 he opened a new taco truck, El Puesto, in Laredo. Lara said his friends called him dumb. He spent so much money attending Le Cordon Bleu, and he returned home to become a taquero again. It didn’t make sense to anyone but Lara. But that was okay—Lara was determined.

In 2021 he moved El Puesto into a brick-and-mortar and renamed it El Puesto Taqueria & Cantina. He began to nixtamalize corn and mix the masa with natural additives for color. Green tortillas popped with poblano and cilantro; red tortillas were infused with beets; orange tortillas were blended with chiles guajillos; brown tortillas were packed with black beans; and maroon tortillas were created with the essence of hibiscus.

One standout on that menu was the brisket barbacoa taco with chimichurri and pickled onions. The rub for the beef, which Lara dubbed “amor seasoning,” was simple: salt, ground pepper, and garlic powder. Another impressive item was the griddled mollejas confit taco with jicama-strawberry-habanero pico. Unfortunately, El Puesto closed in November 2022. Laredoans weren’t very receptive to the food. “They don’t like change,” Lara says. “They like traditional tacos.”

Lara opened Proyecto Humo in March 2023 after a suggestion from his friends in the competitive barbecue circuit. But he wasn’t keen on serving regular Texas barbecue. “We get tired of the same thing, right?” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. All I’m saying is that I always try to do something different.” That something different includes his BriskElote, kernels from a whopping whole corncob in a cup stuffed with a jalapeño popper (called a Dynamite Stick at Proyecto Humo) and covered with brisket. Then there are the barbecue tacos, which have a long history in Laredo. (As far as I can find, the first mention of a commercially sold smoked brisket taco was of one at Laredo’s Luis’ Steakhouse in 1967.)

This Taquero Infuses Creativity Into His Barbecue Tacos and Concha Burger
The menu at the Proyecto Humo trailer, in Laredo.Photograph by José R. Ralat

Due to space constraints, Lara can’t nixtamalize corn, so he relies on Maseca. He still adds the natural coloring agents he used at El Puesto for green and red tortillas. Lara also uses fresh H-E-B butter-flavored flour tortillas, which add a richness to the tacos. For the fillings, he uses a gas-powered pit fired with oak. He offered the trial tacos to folks at Saludos Brewing, and they “were an instant hit,” Lara explains.

He starts with a melting sharp cheddar on the flattop to make a costra, which he calls queso planchado. He places the tortilla on the cheese and then tucks in the fillings, like chopped brisket or pulled pork. (Thankfully, his meats are not overly smoky.) A lightly dressed coleslaw of purple cabbage tops the protein, adding a mighty crunch. The tacos are finished with Mexican crema and a mild salsa verde made of blended jalapeño slices, tomatillos, and Lara’s signature amor seasoning. “It’s not hot, because for me it’s more about flavor,” Lara says. No element overpowers another. Rather, everything works in concert.

The nachos, which aren’t something I usually order, were fine. They certainly weren’t as thoughtfully composed as the tacos, and they weren’t as magical as the concha burger. A pink concha is sliced like a hamburger bun and smeared with refried beans and queso fresco for milky saltiness. Then comes the protein—sliced brisket in my case—the slaw, the salsa, and the crema. It’s the best example of the border specialty I’ve had in a while, although Lara calls it a lonche because he doesn’t utilize a beef patty. He also offers more traditional lonches, quick-fried open bolillo rolls stuffed with shredded meat or picadillo and a bunch of fixings. Nothing compares to the concha burger or the tacos, though. 

I hope Lara continues growing Proyecto Humo. A physical space, hopefully in the same shopping center, will eliminate exposure to the brutal heat of a South Texas summer. However, the chef-taquero is considering resurrecting El Puesto in San Antonio. Lara feels confined by Laredo. “We’re not as adventurous when it comes to food,” he says. “If we have a taco, we like it the way we like it.” He believes he’ll have more success in San Antonio. “People are a little bit more adventurous,” he continues. “They’re willing to try new things.” It’s not an uncommon sentiment to feel like a bigger city is the place to be more creative, but Proyecto Humo is something special, which is exactly what Laredo needs.

Proyecto Humo
4820 McPherson Road, Laredo
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 5 p.m.–midnight