In 2020, Javier and Santiaga Soto were exhausted from nearly ten years of slinging tacos out of their Waco food trailer, Taqueria Guerrero. “There is a lot of suffering in running a taco trailer,” Javier says. “The hours are long and the temperature swings can be unbearable.” Then they caught a break. The building across the street became available and the couple didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar. It was a chance to fulfill their dream of owning a small taqueria. They didn’t want anything fancy—just something other than a trailer.
The project soon became an extended-family effort. The couple conferred with their children on how to move beyond the Hispanic-only customer base of the trailer to attract a wider range of diners. Justin Soto, Santiaga’s brother and owner of Alamo Masonry, did the design work and construction. Javier’s daughter-in-law, Kayla Carvajal, took on the role of general manager and face of the restaurant. And in April 2021, the group opened their new taqueria, Wako Taco.
Wako Taco is certainly an upgrade from the trailer. It embraces Waco in the name, although it’s pronounced “wack-o.” But there’s nothing crazy about the nearly year-old taqueria, a white brick building with sloped roofs that is located in a neighborhood with dilapidated shopping centers and cracked streets.
Rather, Wako Taco feels refreshing. The clean, white dining room is offset by colorful mismatched metal chairs and small vases of greenery as table centerpieces. The covered outdoor patio spills out to an adjacent gravel lot with picnic tables. Inside and out, Wako Taco’s design melds a contemporary aesthetic with the brilliant palette of Mexico. The balance continues on the menu, which offers traditional dishes such as enchiladas and huaraches, alongside breakfast tacos, pancakes, Mexican breakfast platters, chile con queso, and tacos named in honor of Waco.
The Baylor Taco Plate features three tacos that are evocative of the estilo Matamoros. Nicely seasoned and tender chopped sirloin is topped with avocado wedges, a dousing of queso fresco, and a garnish of cilantro and onions. But the tacos differ from the border specialty because they’re served on pleasantly chewy flour tortillas instead of corn. The Sotos named the dish to lure in proud Baylor University students and alumni. “It did just that!” Javier says. “Now it’s the most popular taco we sell.”
The eponymous Wako Taco is an amalgamation of bistek, chorizo, sliced weenies, chopped bacon, and grilled bell peppers covered in shredded queso blanco, akin to a discada-style preparation. The taco is served in sturdy corn tortillas made in-house from masa harina. Thankfully, they aren’t overly sweet, nor do they have a chemical aftertaste.
Served on a paper-lined metal tray, the birria de res taco is pleasantly cheesy with a good crunch from the orangey red tortillas. Too often the beef in birria tacos is dry and difficult to choke down. That’s not the case with this platter, where the rich consommé provides the salt the beef lacks.
The diversity of the menu is shaped in part by Carvajal, who’s 25 years old and has been working in restaurants since she was 14. Her responsibilities include helping the Sotos run the business more efficiently, shaping the menu and platter presentations, and listening to customer feedback. “Maybe something needs fewer jalapeños,” Carvajal says. “Maybe the plate would look better with more tomatoes.” It’s the little touches and the attention to detail that keep patrons coming back. “I want people to leave with smiles on their faces,” she says.
A year in, Wako Taco is on solid footing. It stands out from the mix of taco trailers that dot Waco’s west side and legacy Tex-Mex palaces like El Conquistador. It elevates Waco from just a pit stop between Dallas and Austin and is distant enough from Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia development not to be overrun with shiplap groupies. And Javier attributes much of the restaurant’s success to Santiaga’s determination and dedication.
“We never imagined we’d have customers from so many walks of life and the amount of success that God has granted our little taqueria,” he says. There are so many customers, in fact, that the Sotos are looking to expand the space. “Sometimes we don’t have seating for everyone who comes in.” If there’s any problem a new taqueria wants to have, it’s that one.
1800 Summers Avenue, Waco
Hours: Monday–Thursday 6 a.m.–8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sunday 6 a.m.–6 p.m.