When I pull up to EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina, co-owner Jason Harry waves hello from his perch atop a light blue picnic table. Harry, 35, grew up in New Iberia, a city in Louisiana’s southern Acadiana region, also known as Cajun Country. Now he and his wife, Starr, own two businesses on this property in Houston’s rapidly gentrifying east downtown (“EaDo”) neighborhood. The first, the EaDo Hand Car Wash, has a line of cars with quiet, diligent workers cleaning and detailing the vehicles as they pull into the lot at the corner of Leeland and Ennis streets. The couple’s other business also involves four wheels. EaDeaux’s is a one-of-kind food truck slinging Cajun tacos and Tex-Mex, and as far as I know it’s one of only two African American–owned taco operations in the state.
Starr Harry stands behind Jason talking to a Houston police officer, who is taking their report of breaking and entering and theft. Shards of window glass lie next to one of the food truck’s front passenger-side tires, evidence of the crime that Jason says occurred the night before. The couple is remarkably sanguine about the break-in; there was no cash in the truck, and the thieves made off with only some tortillas, sodas, pre-prepped fillings, and chips. “We leave nothing of value inside the truck,” he explains. “They got enough stuff to go and make some nachos and tacos, with all the drinks. Look, someone needed food, and that’s all right.”
The need for food is why the couple started EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina in January 2018. At the time, the surrounding neighborhood had few dining options for hungry car-wash customers waiting for their vehicles to get spiffed up. More people with more disposable incomes were moving into the area’s newly constructed apartments and townhouses. That year, the zip code encompassing east downtown was the country’s third-fastest-gentrifying area, according to one ranking. In the shadow of a boxy new condo complex, the Harrys set up shop inside their eatery’s first home: a retrofitted 1979 Dodge Coachmen RV. The rig was hand-painted with an anthropomorphic, cowboy hat–wearing fleur-de-lis and the Harrys’ version of the holy trinity of Cajun aromatics: onion, bell pepper, and—instead of the classic celery—hot chiles. Could anything be more uniquely Houston, more truly diverse, than a Black-owned restaurant serving Cajun Tex-Mex tacos in a rapidly growing, unzoned neighborhood?
The menu was a deliberate decision, Jason says, based on EaDeaux’s location between the historically Mexican American Second Ward and the African American Third Ward. “I just kind of felt like we were right in the middle of a lot of things. I thought, let’s do some tacos. Let’s do some nachos and let’s mix some things with it,” Harry says. He considers the Bayou City to be an extension of his beloved home: “Houston is the biggest city in Cajun Country.” Harry says Tex-Mex and Cajun food are a natural combination, and he’s right. EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina and its food are the product of a time and place, just like tacos in general. And there’s probably no better place than Houston for Cajun tacos to take hold and take off.
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Served in wide, floppy flour tortillas, EaDeaux’s tacos come filled with a range of Cajun staples: dry gumbo brimming with andouille sausage, shrimp, and chicken; stew-y étouffée; or plump boudin. Every taco is well seasoned with the holy trinity. The base gives each filling a blooming aroma, soon followed by a full-flavored seasoning of peppers and spices. The kick comes from Starr’s pico de gallo. A slice of green chile and a dusting of white cheese finish things off. The boudin sausage, speckled with rice, evokes the tacos de guisados of Mexico City. Those breakfast-and-midmorning tacos often start with a layer of yellow rice ready to soak up saucy, slow-cooked stews that make up the bulk of the guisados category. Guisados are home-style fillings and comfort food. The same is true of a gumbo and étouffée: they are soul-affirming foods. They fill more than our stomachs and reinvigorate more than our bodies with necessary sustenance.
Cooking is a passion project for the Harrys, who operate the truck themselves without any employees. They juggle their two businesses with day jobs—Jason as a program manager at an oil and gas company downtown, and Starr as a human resources consultant. It’s challenging, Starr admits: “You find a way or make a way.” She’s also the EaDeaux’s mechanic. Meanwhile, Jason is the creativity in the kitchen, and their success comes largely from booking events and pop-ups. There is no set schedule.
Their hard work has paid off. Thanks to a growing fan base, EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina outgrew its original rig in months. Now the business runs out of a fully modernized food truck that can sit idle on car wash property between gigs, pop-ups, and private events. It has a design similar to its predecessor’s, decorated with the names of small Acadian towns like New Iberia and Lafayette. Notably, you won’t see New Orleans listed on the truck. “The food is different up there. Their gumbo is different from what you find in Acadiana,” Jason says.
The original truck remains on property near the entrance driveway as a monument to how far they’ve come. Grass has grown up and through the wheel’s rims. When we first spoke in January, Starr was excited about late winter and spring—usually the busiest part of their year, thanks to crawfish season. “We already have different bars calling, saying, ‘Can we book you?’” she said at the time. Then the pandemic hit, and crawfish boils, like so many aspects of Texas life, were canceled.
The coronavirus has slowed things down for the Harrys, but it hasn’t stopped them. They continue to hold down their day jobs from home and roll out the truck for pop-ups and catering gigs. Still, Jason and Starr see a brighter future. By summer’s end, EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina will be open Thursday through Saturday at the car wash, Jason tells me. In the meantime, Starr recommends following the truck on social media, where they make sure to post their hours and location. For the time being, if you’re driving by EaDo Hand Car Wash and see EaDeaux’s open, pull over, maybe have your ride detailed, and grab yourself a gumbo taco or boudin nachos for a true taste of Houston.