Getting to Know: Xolo Tacos
A vibrant food scene has become a staple of Austin, Texas and Xolo Tacos has emerged as a distinct player, bringing a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine to the Texan capital. Founded in 2019 by Aila Farfan's brother Luis, the journey began with a food truck navigating the bustling streets of Austin. Aila, recounting the inception, shared, "My brother started the business, and he wasn't able to afford a fancy street with a lot of foot traffic. So, he decided to roll through the Austin streets, reaching different offices to offer lunch and dinner services."
An Unconventional Start
After some time on the road, Xolo Tacos found an interesting home within the confines of a Shell gas station. Aila explained the decision, "We were limited with our funds, trying to find a place that was affordable for cooking and all our activities. A friend informed us about a kitchen for rent inside the store of a Shell gas station, and after discussions with the manager and owner, we found it to be a good fit." This unexpected location proved to be the genesis of Xolo Tacos' first brick-and-mortar venture where further culinary magic could unfold.
Even with the name Xolo Tacos, Luis drew inspiration from an unexpected place. "Xolo," comes from the Xoloitzcuintli, a revered hairless dog breed, which holds profound significance in Aztec mythology. Aila provided some insight, "The choice of the name was to embrace something inherently significant in Mexican culture. These dogs, the Xoloitzcuintli, served as wardens and protectors according to indigenous beliefs. They were thought to safeguard homes from evil spirits and intruders, even guiding departed souls through the journey to the afterlife. The Xolo represented both protection and guidance."
The culinary journey of Xolo Tacos is deeply rooted in a commitment to authenticity. Aila emphasized the importance of creating a brand that reflected the vibrant colors of Mexico. "We wanted to have something colorful, a brand that was full of color. Mexico is a really colorful country, and we wanted to represent that, to be the closest to the authentic flavor of food," Aila shared.
The focus on authenticity and color extends to the heart of Xolo Tacos' menu—the tortillas. Aila detailed the significance, "The tortilla is always something that we have given special attention to because we believe that's a very important factor itself in the preparation of tacos." Corn tortillas have a diverse range of colors and flavors rooted in regional variations. Yellow corn tortillas, made from golden maize, have a somewhat sweet and earthy flavor, coupled with a chewy texture. Heading into central and southern Mexico, white corn tortillas take the stage, known for their delicacy and a subtly sweet, milder taste. In the southwestern regions, blue corn tortillas are popular, bringing a nutty essence and a denser texture. Predominantly found in Oaxaca, red corn tortillas boast a unique reddish hue, showcasing a blend of sweetness and nuttiness. Lastly, green corn tortillas, a specialty in Michoacán, feature a visually striking green hue and a subtly grassy, sweet flavor, reflecting the agricultural abundance of the region. To maintain authenticity, Xolo Tacos sources its tortillas from San Antonio Colonial, a supplier that uses the traditional technique of nixtamalization. Nixtamalization is a Mesoamerican culinary process involving soaking and cooking maize (corn) in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, before grinding it into masa dough. This ancient technique enhances both the taste and nutritional value of the corn.
This is what sets Xolo Tacos apart from similar fare. Luis is dedicated to understanding the origins of food. "My brother's interest in food led him to study a master's in agriculture. He wanted to know where the food comes from and how it grows, impacting our health and the environment," said Aila. Xolo Tacos makes sure to know where its ingredients come from, and that care comes through in the excellent quality they offer to customers.
Reacting and Adapting
Navigating through the challenges posed by the pandemic, Xolo Tacos found innovative ways to adapt. Aila shared, "When apartment complexes started to call food trucks to serve people there, because people were looking for convenient, safe, and delicious food options from the comfort of their homes, that was a big opportunity for us." The adaptability of a food truck allowed Xolo Tacos to cater to the changing needs of its community during challenging times.
As the pandemic subsided, Xolo Tacos found itself welcomed back by loyal customers who had experienced the joy of their tacos during the uncertain times. Aila recounted the heartening stories, "We did a big campaign, letting all our customers know that we were opening a brick-and-mortar. A lot of them came and told us how our tacos made a difference when we were all isolated."
Aila shared the future plans for Xolo Tacos, including the revival of the food truck and expansion to new brick-and-mortar locations across different areas of the city. The return of the food truck will once again grace the streets of Austin, creating opportunities for more people to savor the authentic flavors Xolo Tacos offers.
In the ever-evolving culinary landscape of Austin, Xolo Tacos' journey from a food truck to a gas station location showcases the tenacity to thrive in unexpected spaces. As Xolo Tacos continues to paint Austin with the vibrant colors of Mexico, its commitment to quality, tradition, and community remains unwavering.