Enrique “Rick” Muniz is clear about what he’s doing. The 54-year-old retired Texas state trooper and owner of the one-year-old Los Muertos BBQ food trailer in Katy is simply continuing the Tejano cooking traditions of his native South Texas—building on his mother’s recipes and those of earlier generations. A calavera, the skull that symbolizes Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, decorates one side of his rig to pay tribute to his ancestors.
But he’s also honoring the memories of veterans of law enforcement, firefighting, and the military. His truck features related imagery and language, such as the words “God Bless Our Troops” printed underneath a cross draped with a memorial ribbon. “I’m honoring our ancestors,” says the Carrizo Springs native, who grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers. “But not just my familial and cultural ancestors … I’m also honoring the men and women who put their lives on the line as police officers, firefighters, and military vets.” When Muniz takes his trailer to charity events, the biggest draws are the smoked brisket and barbacoa with fresh corn or flour tortillas. They can be ordered by the pound, as straight-up tacos, or as South Texas puffy tacos. (Barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn has lauded the latter.).
Muniz describes his food as building on the dishes he made and ate as a kid—what is now often labeled the Tex-Mex barbecue trend: smoked meats in fresh tortillas with pico de gallo, alongside rice and beans. “Man, we [South Texans] have been doing that since the seventies,” he chuckles. “I’m glad [it’s] coming to the forefront, but I just want to make sure people understand that it’s been around for many, many years.” Muniz pauses before adding, “But I like to go beyond.” That’s a tremendous understatement. His puffy tacos are deep-fried, colorful wonders with a swoosh of blue food dye in the dough, which is stuffed with smoked beef tenderloin. Served with a bottle of Big Red, it’s more than just barbecue and tacos. It’s the full force of the man’s caring and creative nature.
Nevertheless, Muniz always returns to his roots, specifically those of a childhood spent as a migrant farmworker. And when it comes to remembering the past, there is perhaps no better Los Muertos BBQ taco than the smoky, comforting weenies-and-scrambled-egg version. Passed through the truck’s window wrapped in aluminum foil, the slightly dusty, squishy, and cooked-to-order flour tortilla envelops snappy sliced all-beef franks smoked for 45 to 60 minutes with a mix of mesquite and post oak wood. The protein is loosely tossed with soft scrambled eggs. The result offers a taste of the pitmaster-taquero’s youth as a farm laborer. Muniz recalls that as soon as May came around and school ended each year, his family would join many others traveling from South Texas to South Dakota or Minnesota to harvest crops. “Wherever there were fields to be picked, families like ours went,” Muniz says. “All any of us had to eat were tacos made with sliced weenies. We called them the poor man’s taco.” This wasn’t the only taco that workers carried to the fields wrapped in brown paper bags. He also remembers Spam with its caramelized grill markings. If he and his family were lucky, they had refried beans with chorizo. But it’s the weenies-and-eggs taco that holds special significance for Muniz.
“My son once asked me what my favorite taco was. I told him the cold weenies-and-eggs taco I ate for lunch under a truck parked under a shade tree. It was next to a field of sugar beets with rows a mile long,” he recalls, then pauses a moment. “Oh, man, I can still remember the smell of that brown paper bag.” His words are imbued with a sense of pride and nostalgia that has come to redefine the poverty-driven taco of hot dogs and scrambled eggs.
This is a dish that Mexican American families used to cook at the end of the month, when money was especially tight. Kids who took a weenies-and-eggs taco to school might have been bullied for bringing it into the cafeteria as recently as the eighties and nineties. It’s since been reclaimed as a symbol of hard times and the ingenuity it takes to overcome them. Weenies-and-eggs tacos are now proudly available on restaurant menus across South Texas and northward beyond San Antonio. When South Texans visit his food trailer, they order the weenies-and-eggs taco, Muniz says. “They always tell me it’s their favorite. That’s when I know I’m doing it right and staying true to my roots.”