On the first day Tacos Vitali’s brick-and-mortar restaurant opened in northwest San Antonio, in early March, it made just $200. On the second day, the business made $700, still not enough to cover its expenses. On the third day, a minister from nearby Oak Hills Church was dining there and asked why he was the only customer. “We asked him to bless the business,” says owner Oscar Breton Echeverria Gonzalez. “We prayed. After that, people came. They showed up ten minutes later.” Echeverria wept with gratitude.
For the next two months, Tacos Vitali, housed in a former Sonic Drive-In, had a line every day stretching to the red-and-white picnic tables out front. “You can have good food, money, but if you don’t have God you don’t have anything,” Echeverria, 36, says of his success. But he didn’t start from nothing—he has spent his life in the restaurant business, learning from his family’s many establishments.
Echeverria’s grandfather, whose surname was Vitali, emigrated from Italy to Mexico in the 1930s. He established a winery before eventually moving to Monclova in the northern border state of Coahuila. Echeverria’s father, Breton Echeverria Vitali, opened a taco cart there in 1978 while working full-time as a bank manager. Two years later, Echeverria recalls, the taco business was booming, so his father quit his day job and moved the first Tacos Vitali into a physical space.
There was just one taco on the menu: bistec on corn tortillas (although customers had three salsa options). Echeverria worked at the taqueria along with his siblings. At first he peeled and cleaned tomatillos and onions. As he grew up, he moved on to busing and waiting tables and running the cash register.
As a teen, he attended a boarding school in San Marcos, south of Austin, and after he graduated, he went to culinary school in Mexico. Later the family reconceptualized the original Tacos Vitali in Monclova into the full-service, hacienda-style Vitali, replete with dark wood chairs and tables and an extensive menu. The siblings also went on to open pizzerias and sushi joints in Monclova, and the family now owns more taquerias, including Taquito Express in Saltillo, Ciudad Acuña (across from Del Rio), and Piedras Negras (across from Eagle Pass) and Puro Taco in Monclova. “Our thing is tacos. We love tacos. I love tacos,” Echeverria says.
His time in San Marcos made him eager to return to Texas and open his own Tacos Vitali. He and a couple of his siblings started with a trailer along Culebra Road on San Antonio’s West Side in July 2022, before opening their brick-and-mortar restaurant less than a year later. In August, Echeverria returned to Culebra Road to open a second Tacos Vitali in a shopping center with counter service and interior dining.
Although the Tacos Vitali in Monclova offered only one dish, the Texas outposts specialize in two that are popular in northern Mexico: tacos de trompo and tacos de bistec. These tacos are found across Texas, where norteño cuisine is the most prominent style of Mexican food. They tend to attract a crowd wherever they may be served.
Tacos Vitali wouldn’t have gotten my full attention if it hadn’t been for the first brick-and-mortar restaurant’s sudden popularity. It was the talk of the town. The taqueras at Rosa’s Kitchen are from Monclova as well and openly share their support of Vitali, while the general manager of El Pastor Es Mi Señor told me he isn’t the biggest fan. Social media was abuzz with raves from influencers, who claimed Vitali’s tacos de trompo were among the best in San Antonio, and Alex Serna of @sanantoniomunchies described Tacos Vitali as “F’N INCREDIBLE.” (He went on to help Echeverria with Vitali’s social media.) Curious, I queued up with two friends at the original location, in northwest San Antonio.
The pork—reddish and cone-shaped on the vertical spit—was sliced from the trompo and finished with further cooking on the flattop griddle. We were electric with anticipation, but when my friends and I tasted the pork, we found that the seasoning was thickly caked on—almost batterlike. The taste was bitter despite the sweet and spicy marinade. It was also dry from overcooking. The bistec was hacked into small bits and tough. The corn tortillas, however, were beautiful examples of the craft.
We had high hopes for the sides, but, like the trompo meat, they were disappointing. The beans in the frijoles charros were undercooked, and the broth was bland. The papa asada—traditionally a baked potato loaded with butter, crema, meat, and cheese—was confoundingly presented as mashed potatoes served in a square, crimp-edged, aluminum takeout container. It was off-putting.
When I visit taquerias, trucks, and restaurants for reviews, I always try not to be recognized as a food writer, so I can have the same experience as other diners. On this occasion, however, one of my companions absentmindedly tagged me in an Instagram photo as we were eating, and we were quickly presented with more food of higher (but still average) quality. We were offered pork that was shaved straight from the trompo into the tortillas. The tacos looked much better than those in our original order—the pork had nicely gnarled, charred edges and a vermilion hue. (We insisted on paying for the additional food.)
Shaving fresh meat straight off the trompo into a tortilla for each order is a key element in serving this type of taco. Echeverria says one of the reasons he prefers to cook the meat further on the flattop is to avoid any risk of the trichinosis that can result from undercooked pork. But other taquerias, such as El Pastor Es Mi Señor, operate their trompos this way without reports of foodborne illness.
The Tacos Vitali workers also brought us off-the-menu items such as papitas picosas (small, chile-bathed whole potatoes). They were perhaps the best dish we tried. I also enjoyed the arroz con leche, a creamy, chilled rice pudding dessert. Yet I still left questioning why Tacos Vitali draws folks from all over Texas and even Oklahoma, as Echeverria claims. Even though the dishes are made with ingredients imported from Mexico—such as the excellent dried oregano we smelled and sampled—most of the food fell short, even when compared with the tacos slung from nondescript taco trucks.
Echeverria’s lifetime experience in the restaurant industry and his obvious passion for tacos aren’t reflected in the work of his kitchen. After two visits to the original location and one to the second, with similar experiences at both, I still don’t understand the hype. Perhaps, as Echeverria suggests, Tacos Vitali is sustained by that minister’s blessing. Or perhaps social media virality is working miracles of another kind.
Tacos Vitali 2
1922 Culebra Road, Suite 101, San Antonio
Hours: Sunday 11–11, Tuesday–Thursday 11–11, Friday–Saturday 11–midnight