“We are the architects of our own lives, but God tests and supports us,” says Rosa Ruiz, co-owner of Rosa’s Kitchen, a taco truck in San Antonio’s Southtown neighborhood. Her words on free will and faith ring true for many, but they are essential to understanding the trials and strength of Ruiz and her family.

Since emigrating to Texas from Monclova—in the Mexican state of Coahuila—Ruiz, her husband Raymundo Arellano, and their four daughters have struggled similarly to other immigrants. In 2004, Ruiz noted that cartel activity in northern Mexican states like Coahuila was worsening. The couple decided it was in the best interest of their family to put down roots in San Antonio, leaving behind a few fruterias and a carniceria.

Raymundo took construction jobs, and Ruiz worked in a series of Mexican restaurant kitchens. Four years after crossing northward, the Arellanos purchased a 1971 Chevrolet Step Van to slowly customize into a food truck. A new wash station was installed one month, a glistening flattop fitted the following month. The refurbishing continued until the Arellanos were able to occasionally cater or work special events to pay for school tuition, fees for the mariachi band the girls were members of, and other expenses.

Then, finally, on February 6, 2022, the taco truck, christened Rosa’s Kitchen, was established as a full-time family operation. Daughter Paloma Arellano took orders and ran the register while another daughter, Kereni Alvarez, worked alongside her mother in the kitchen. (It was originally located in a lot on Steves Avenue, but is now at HUB MRKT alongside the Stranded Coffee trailer.) The other daughters pitch in as needed. For example, Olma Arellano painted the colorful flowers on the pink truck. The future of Rosa’s Kitchen looked bright, but operating a business was the smallest of obstacles yet to come.

One month after opening, Ruiz suffered a minor stroke. Her doctors prescribed her medication. But the health scare wasn’t enough to keep her and her daughters from taking the truck to Uvalde a couple months later to feed families in the wake of the Robb Elementary massacre. It was a personal decision for the family—Paloma used to be a preschool teacher. 

“It really tugged at my heart, and my mom said, ‘You know what? Let’s go down there,’ ” Paloma explained. They gave away nearly nine thousand tacos in four days. “I don’t know how we did it or where the tacos came from or how we had the inventory for that many tacos, but we did it for the community,” Ruiz added. The matron of the truck was in seemingly good health until October 2022, when she suffered a second stroke. 

Paloma was on her way to pick her mother up for the day’s shift on the truck when Ruiz called her to say she wasn’t feeling well. The family didn’t open that day. Instead, Paloma took her mother to the hospital. After performing a series of examinations, doctors found Ruiz had an anomalous coronary artery, a congenital malformation that isn’t usually diagnosed until adulthood or after sudden cardiac death. The food truck closed immediately, and Ruiz underwent open heart surgery in December. She flatlined twice during the procedure, but the operation was eventually successful. Doctors ordered Ruiz not to work until July, but she couldn’t tolerate not working and relying on others. It’s an attribute built into many immigrant cultures, especially, I think, Latino immigrants.

Rosa's Kitchen
Rosa’s Kitchen is run by Rosa Ruiz, center, and two of her daughters, Paloma Arellano, left, and Kereni Alvarez, right. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Rosa's Kitchen
A plate of tacos at Rosa’s Kitchen. Photograph by José R. Ralat

Even American-born Latino citizens like Puerto Ricans come to the mainland for a better life. My parents are two of them. When they left the island with my sister and me, it was to seek opportunities unavailable to them on the island and to escape an oppressive life in so-called paradise. We are able to build lives here due to our work ethic. Whether it be in dishwasher pits, on the pitched surfaces of residential roofs, or in the classroom, we work as many jobs as needed. We are taught the values of self-reliance and perseverance, and that nothing replaces hard work—except family. When all else fails, family is there for us. Leaps of faith wrapped in free will are required for such a life. 

Ruiz and her daughters reopened Rosa’s Kitchen on February 6, 2023, a year to the day after their initial opening. “I told my doctors I wasn’t going to be down for as long as they wanted me to be,” Ruiz told me. No one argued with her. She’s not the type to allow adversity to weaken her spirits. I wouldn’t have known anything had happened if I hadn’t followed along on the Rosa’s Kitchen Instagram stories. Paloma agrees. “I was telling her, ‘I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but your purpose must be just so big that they tried taking you out twice and nothing could.’” The following month, the truck was robbed at gunpoint, but they still carried on, further proving the family’s tenacity.

For Ruiz, Rosa’s Kitchen isn’t just about her or her family—it’s about caring for others. As Ruiz puts it, “We’re going to keep serving our people. We’re going to keep serving our community.” She and her husband have passed that principle on to their children. “My parents always definitely made time to teach us how to give back to other people, which I think is something that people notice when they go to the truck,” Paloma said.

At first glance, the breakfast tacos at Rosa’s Kitchen look like the typical fail-safe options. The bean and cheese is classic, creamy, and life-sustaining. The potato-and-egg taco has expertly cooked potatoes that need just a touch of salt. The machacado and egg a la Mexicana bears dried and shredded salted beef reconstituted in scrambled eggs and punctuated with a heaping of pico de gallo. Also available are carne guisada, country sausage and egg, and chilaquiles. Barbacoa is served on the weekends. There is even a super taco called El Werks, a package of refried beans, cubed potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and carne guisada. The hearty selection provides a perfect play of textures ideal for early-morning customers just getting off third-shift jobs.

The aforementioned breakfast tacos aren’t unfamiliar to northern Mexicans. However, tacos mañaneros, as they are often referred to in parts of Mexican border states, like the Ruiz’s native Coahuila, are so much more than what San Antonioans are acclimated to. That’s because in northern Mexico, breakfast tacos are filled with guisados, like red chile-lathered asado de puerco, carne con chile (the saucier progenitor of chile con carne), and papa ranchera. Ruiz and her daughters are slowly introducing these guisados to the menu, including papa ranchera—one of their two top sellers—a mild red-stained chopped potato studded with chiles and tomatoes; and nopalitos a la Mexicana.

They’re in no rush to add new menu items or expand—their priority is Ruiz’s health. “Because of her condition, because of the surgeries and the stroke that she had suffered, we said our best bet is to do something in the morning and not something so late at night,” Paloma says. Ruiz and her daughters have their eyes and spirits on building their lives their way—with faith and food.

Rosa’s Kitchen (at HUB MRKT)
1203 S. Alamo, San Antonio
Phone: 210-790-7673
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 7 a.m.–2 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 8 a.m.–2 p.m.