Houston’s Tacos Bomberos inspired by chef’s Mexico memories

by admin

Do you believe in destiny? Chef Isaac Chavez-Garza definitely does. After making an abundance of finger foods and other snacks one day, he decided to share them with the staff of his local bar and music venue, Satellite Bar in Houston’s East End. The food was so good, the owner asked if he would consider becoming a food vendor for an upcoming event there.

With very little hesitation, equipment or preparation, Chavez-Garza agreed to the gig. He fired up a small charcoal grill, serving tacos and bacon-wrapped hot dogs until he was completely sold out of food. That first little gig led to another, then another. And that’s how Tacos Bomberos was born.

Tacos Bomberos has pop-ups across Houston, at the city’s bars, breweries and special events.

Marco Torres

Last week, I visited with Chavez-Garza at his new home on a quiet street in Independence Heights. It was his 34th birthday, and he was planning to celebrate by doing what he loves the most: making tacos.

His journey began in Monclova, Coahuila, in northern Mexico. He remembers eating at a taco stand there called Tacos Vitali that was located across the street from a fire station, resulting in the nickname Tacos Bomberos, meaning “firemen” in Spanish. Young Chavez-Garza was fascinated by the way the taqueros cut the meat and made it fly into the air before catching it onto the tortillas. They had a certain energy and language that enticed customers to keep coming back for more.

His family later moved to Minnesota, before joining his grandmother in southeast Houston. Chavez-Garza had a dream of making it in the music industry, eventually working as a sound engineer, then playing drums and touring with several bands.

Blanca Garza, Isaac Chavez-Garza's abuela, had a great influence on his food journey to Tacos Bomberos.

Blanca Garza, Isaac Chavez-Garza’s abuela, had a great influence on his food journey to Tacos Bomberos.

Courtesy of Isaac Chavez-Garza

He lived with his abuela Blanca Garza during this time, and as many Mexican grandmothers do, she was constantly cooking. Even when Chavez-Garza told her he wasn’t very hungry, she would still attempt to feed him: everything from caldos to tamales, entomatadas to asado de puerco—her grandson’s favorite. Chavez-Garza learned by watching, eating and sometimes helping in his abuela’s kitchen.

Today, Chavez-Garza is the owner and head chef of his very own Tacos Bomberos, a taco pop-up that is almost five years old. Since that one fateful night at the now-defunct Satellite Bar, he has spent years bouncing from art shows to music venues, as well as other beloved bars such as Poison Girl, Tikila’s, Social Beer Garden and Grand Prize.

Tacos Bomberos does not serve "fast food," says chef-owner Isaac Chavez-Garza.

Tacos Bomberos does not serve “fast food,” says chef-owner Isaac Chavez-Garza.

Marco Torres

The current home base for Tacos Bomberos is at Holler Brewing in the Sawyer Yards district. Chavez-Garza and his team serve USDA Choice Angus skirt steak, marinated overnight in citrus juices and his own blend of traditional fajita seasoning.

His menu is simple, and everything is made to order. You can choose from tacos, quesa-tacos or a combo plate, filled with skirt steak, grilled chicken or mixed veggies. Chavez-Garza is a master with his chef’s knife, trimming, dicing and grilling the carne to perfection, then slicing the bell peppers and onions for that ultimate complement. He adorns the tortillas with a generous handful of Monterey Jack cheese, which melts smooth and gooey before the taco is folded. The skirt steak obeys the command that is tattooed onto Chavez-Garza’s right arm: “Sizzle.”

Tacos Bomberos chef-owner Isaac Chavez-Garza has a "Sizzle" tattoo that's fitting to his occupation.

Tacos Bomberos chef-owner Isaac Chavez-Garza has a “Sizzle” tattoo that’s fitting to his occupation.

Marco Torres

Once plated, the Bomberos creations are an array of bright colors and delicious aromas, the meat drizzled with Valentina crema and homemade salsa verde. Each bite is exquisite, like a warm embrace from a loved one on a beautiful summer’s day.

Growth hasn’t been without obstacles. Sometimes Chavez-Garza faces criticism that his prices are too high, or that it takes too long to receive an order. When he first started, he was able to sell two tacos for $5. But now, with the cost of meat and other ingredients having doubled and even tripled due to inflation, the price of his tacos has risen to $5 a piece.

Tacos Bomberos serves perfectly crafted and griddled tacos.

Tacos Bomberos serves perfectly crafted and griddled tacos.

Marco Torres

Although many consider tacos and quesadillas to be simple foods, Chavez-Garza reminds his customers that he doesn’t sell “fast food.” Every item is handmade to order, using only top-quality fresh ingredients, and he strives to always provide a great taco experience. Over these last five years, the Tacos Bomberos operation has grown, thanks to a large number of loyal repeat customers.

His dreams have also grown. One day Chavez-Garza hopes to open a small restaurant of his own, with an open-kitchen concept so customers can see their food being prepared and cooked in front of them. He wants to provide a modern, intimate experience through Mexican food, paired with tequila and mezcal cocktails. Hopefully soon, Houstonians will see his dreams come true.

Tacos Bombero

Find it: Holler Brewing at 2206 Edwards Street, Houston, Texas 77007
Tacos Bomberos pop-up hours: Tuesday-Friday 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 3-7 p.m.

Also find Tacos Bomberos every first and third Friday at Axelrad Beer Garden. Check the pop-up’s social media for the most updated schedule.

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