Taqueria 10 de 10 is cool. It’s got the allure of a speakeasy, tucked behind alleyway bar ReyRey in downtown Austin. Its decor sparkles with the romance of taquerias of yore, with its red-and-white color palette. All around are pithy phrases and illustrations. The trompo, of course, is the focus of the kitchen, the vertical spit slowly spinning and roasting meat behind the high white-tiled counter. The taqueria’s hipness extends to its name. The owners want you to know their taco shop is the best of the best. If Taqueria 10 de 10 were any cooler, it would require a bouncer guarding a red velvet rope.

The joint’s Tijuana-style tacos—presented rolled in paper cones with fillings obscured by guacamole—are new to Austin. The tacos de adobada (what they call tacos al pastor in Tijuana) were good, bearing earthy pork with charred edges and sweet pineapple garnishes. Another hit was the smoky carne asada taco, served on exquisite, chewy flour tortillas. (In fact, the house-made flour tortillas were some of the best I’ve had in Austin.) Unfortunately, the nopales, served atop the volcán, a crispy and cheesy flour tortilla with frilly edges, were slimy. Overall, the food was serviceable, but it didn’t match the visual spectacle of the space.

There’s certainly a lot to gawk at: bags of dried corn kernels; the open kitchen; blindingly white tiles on the walls; signs that instruct customers how to order, including one that says “Get ur tacos here & keep moving”; illustrations of a cow, a pig, a chicken, a nopal, and an ear of corn; and more signage such as “Tacos Norteños,” “Tacos Estilo Tijuana,” and “Tortillas Hechas a Mano,” all done in rotulismo, the art of hand-painted Mexican signage. 

It’s a bit much. But it’s also a trendy style across the continent, popularized by small chains such as Monterrey, Mexico–based Taquería Orinoco and New York’s Tacos No. 1. Older examples of the style can be seen at Tacos El Gordo, the 52-year-old Tijuana taqueria with stateside locations in San Diego and Las Vegas. Tacos No. 1 opened in 2013 in Chelsea Market but now boasts outposts all over the city, and it is beloved by New Yorkers, who still line up for its tacos de adobada.

Taqueria 10 de 10 is a Feast For the Eyes, But Will it Make Your Stomach Happy, Too?
A sign at Taqueria 10 de 10. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Taqueria 10 de 10 is a Feast For the Eyes, But Will it Make Your Stomach Happy, Too?
Tacos and a quesadilla at Taqueria 10 de 10. Photograph by José R. Ralat

The team behind Taqueria 10 de 10—Raúl and Luis Esquer, twins and natives of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and chef Roy Servan from Peru—has clearly taken inspiration from those popular taquerias, which lean heavily on nostalgia. Raúl is a longtime consultant for food and beverage consumer packaged goods companies, as well as a consultant for a restaurant venture capital firm that invests in start-ups. He meticulously planned the space to blend Mexican nostalgia with an American fondness for splashy design. “It’s exactly that combination in a big way,” Raúl Esquer says. “It’s that tradition . . . but we also wanted to bring some of these more contemporary looks.” 

The owners also developed the restaurant as a way to bring the taco culture of northwestern Mexico, including Sinaloa and Tijuana, to the Capital City. “We realized that our food was not necessarily represented in Austin,” Esquer says. “We always thought there was a gap, even though we always realized that Austin is, for many people, a reference to taco culture.” So the brothers, who are 45 years old, began to brainstorm about ways to fill that space in the market. Esquer and Servan went on trips to California, Mexico City, New York, Sinaloa, and Tijuana for menu research. “Then we started making our own molds and creating our project all together,” Esquer says.

On the menu, you’ll find corn tortillas, which are nixtamalized in-house each night. The thick, rough-hewn tortillas had a pleasant chew and were strong enough to bear the hefty fillings. While the pork adobada meat was juicy, the grilled chicken was dry. Instead of being showcased in a taco, the protein might have worked better in a burrito, hidden among other fillings. The quesadillas were another good alternative to tacos, especially when stuffed with the carne asada. Happily, the arroz con leche and the flan, specialties of Servan, were light, palate cleansing, and delightful. You shouldn’t skip dessert here.

The design and the food culminate in a particular style of restaurant I like to call the nouveau taqueria. There isn’t anything offensive or wrong about it. I just hope it doesn’t become a template for all new taquerias.

Diners seem to love it. According to Esquer, customers have come from as far north as the suburb of Cedar Park and as far south as San Antonio to line up at Taqueria 10 de 10. He also touts feedback from visitors who thank the owners for making them feel like they’re back in Mexico. 

For the Esquer brothers, the nostalgia is more than an aesthetic. When they were kids, a taquero at the end of their block would catch a glimpse of the twins and yell out to them to ask if they wanted tacos. The taquero knew not only the boys’ names but also the names of their relatives and their favorite orders. “We always talked about that experience and how great it made us feel,” Esquer says. Despite the joint’s overwhelming appearance, a hint of that enchanting sentimentality still shines through a little bit at Taqueria 10 de 10.

Taqueria 10 de 10
206 Trinity, Unit 110, Austin
Phone: 512-633-4829
Hours: Sunday noon–9, Monday–Wednesday noon–10, Thursday noon–midnight, Friday–Saturday noon–2 a.m.