Nomad Tacos by Kitchen Zus, a Mexican food pop-up that began serving at Dallas-area breweries late last year, has been doing so well it’s become the main source of income for its owner, classically trained private chef Zuriel Barradas Picazo. The mobile taqueria’s offerings include straightforward carnitas that are braised in a copper cazo and sprinkled with onion and cilantro as well as a sweet and spicy beef bulgogi Korean taco topped with a rainbow slaw of purple and green cabbages, heirloom carrot, watermelon radish, and a rich, hot Japanese mayonnaise with a dash of Mexican piloncillo (an unrefined cane sugar).
As items on the menu, written graffiti-style on a piece of plywood, sell out, Barradas Picazo or a crew member crosses them out. Nomad Tacos’s brief service might be announced as four- to five-hour shifts, but he usually sells out in two. Barradas Picazo, who often cooks while wearing a black chef’s coat or black T-shirt, earlobe plugs, a backward ball cap, and horn-rimmed glasses, hasn’t bothered with much in the way of advertising. He posts to Instagram and lets word of mouth do the rest. His aesthetic is DIY, which is to say very Mexican—making the best with what you have to create a vibrant handmade product. It’s holistic and adaptable.
That remains true with the current COVID-19 restrictions, but Barradas Picazo says a little tweaking has been required. “I used to book sixty days out,” he tells me. “Now, I’m calling or texting breweries weekly.” While some breweries allow him to cook inside—as Barradas Picazo has done in the past at Celestial Beerworks, Odd Muse Brewing, and Trinity Cider—he can no longer do at so at others, which means he can’t cook to order. That was the case at his recent stop at Peticolas Brewing Company.
Before COVID-19, Nomad Tacos set up in the brewery’s back room, but when the city shut down bars, Barradas Picazo had to brainstorm. “I decided to go with tacos al vapor at Peticolas,” he says. If you haven’t heard of traditional tacos al vapor, they’re prepared in a steamer or similar vessel (vapor translates to steamed) ahead of time. (If you’ve watched Netflix’s Taco Chronicles, you might be familiar with tacos de canasta, which are steamed in woven baskets. Tacos de canasta are not commonly available across Texas; tacos al vapor, on the other hand, are.)
About four days before his pop-up at Peticolas, Barradas Picazo posted a link on Instagram to the preorder system, along with a menu of four types of tacos al vapor: farm-field fresh hongos (mushrooms); papas con rajas, soft tubes of dense mashed potato with slivers of mild roasted poblanos; the fiery bramble of puerco en salsa verde; and the soft arroz con pollo. Pickup was operated as a drive-through. Each taco was wrapped in foil and placed into a biodegradable to-go box. The only interaction was a black latex-gloved hand reaching into the warming box (a portable cooler heated with bricks) and passing the tacos into the car.
My favorite taco was the puerco en salsa verda, which featured fierce clumps of pork in a salsa verde so nice and spicy that it caused precipitation on the bridge of my nose. Next was the thick mixture of black beans, corn kernels, and meaty oyster mushrooms from Texas Fungus that played well with the warm, chewy corn tortillas. I also enjoyed the papas con rajas—mostly for the light heat of the chiles. The arroz con pollo was loose and thin as a filling. I wanted more of it.
That’s part of the point of tacos al vapor. One should be able to eat a platter of them and go in for seconds. Some I’ve encountered are filled with nothing more than a smear of rich, fatty refried beans. If you don’t destroy at least five of those, you’ll go hungry.
The salsas were wonderful and varied. The salsa cruda, a bare assembly with a base of pickled onions and chiles that worked up to a near-uncomfortable crescendo of capsicum, bolstered the arroz con pollo. The salsa verde and salsa roja each brought their own heat, though the green was brighter and spicy from the start, while the red’s smoky spice pinched the back of the throat.
Expect more such premade tacos at Peticolas. The freshly made tacos will remain at interior set-ups like the aforementioned breweries. Follow Kitchen.Zus on Instagram to keep up with his schedule and get your taco fix at what he’s now calling “pandemic pop-ups,” one of the ways the taco is thriving during COVID-19.