“I want your first bite to have a little bit of everything in the breakfast taco, all its layers and textures,” says Ana-Maria Jaramillo, one-half of the couple behind La Tejana, D.C.’s award-winning breakfast taco venture.
In a little over two-and-a-half years, the Tex-Mex outlet has grown from nomadic pop-up to a coming-soon brick-and-mortar restaurant, winning legions of hearts and stomachs along the way.
“You want a little bit of bacon, a little bit of potato, a little bit of cilantro,” adds Gus May, its chef and Jaramillo’s partner in love and food.
La Tejana’s story has all the ingredients of a good rom-com. Born to Colombian parents in rural Texas, Jaramillo grew up in the border-town of McAllen, Texas (La Tejana is the feminine version of “the Texan” in Spanish), where breakfast tacos were part of her daily diet. She even once used them as a get-out-of-truancy card, bribing her homeroom teacher and a high school security guard.
May, a native of Tacoma Park, had never eaten a breakfast taco when the two met in the fall of 2017, randomly seated at the same table during a mutual friend’s wedding. When Jaramillo moved to D.C. in early 2018, she told Gus her truth.
“I don’t want to live in a D.C. where there aren’t any breakfast tacos.”
The two learned to make them together, dreaming of where it might lead.
Their first sales were from their stoop in Mount Pleasant. Though Jaramillo unabashedly calls the trial a “shit show,” they sold 100 tacos and proved the District hungered for the pillowy, portable comfort food of her childhood. Early fans ranged from the uninitiated to homesick Texans eager for a taste of home.
Two years of popping up all over the District and being named one of 2020’s 10 Best Causal Restaurants in D.C. by The Washington Post, they’re ready for the next course. The two marry this April and will open a permanent operation at 3211 Mt. Pleasant Street, NW — the former home of Sabydee Thai and Lao Cuisine — not long after. And just in case things weren’t moving fast enough, Jaramillo is earning her doctorate in speech-language pathology from Northwestern in March.
May and Jaramillo’s breakfast taco knowledge borders on encyclopedic. They can discuss the dish’s possible origins and classify varieties found in mom n’ pop shops, Rio Grande Valley gas stations and, not entirely admiringly, fast food chains. They catalog ways to eat them: first thing in the morning or after a night out; three or a dozen at a time; dipped or slathered in sauces; and hot, cold or room temperature. The self-averred “taco snobs” clearly respect small taquerias embedded in their communities and the offering of good, honest food, like Austin’s El Primo and El Pato, Jaramillo’s favorite McAllen spot. Their logo, an abstract Latina adorned with a flower crown and hoop earrings, is a celebration of Ana’s heritage and TexMex roots.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” May shares. “We’re paying homage to the classic breakfast taco staples Ana grew up with.”
“It’s nostalgic,” Jaramillo adds, “and it reminds me the best things in life are simple. You just have to have really good ingredients seasoned the right way and made with love on a beautiful vessel, which is our flour tortilla.”
Further describing the ideal breakfast taco, “You have to have a tortilla that’s malleable, soft and a little flaky, but that can also hold all of the ingredients together,” Jaramillo says. “And that tastes like something because a lot of the tortillas you buy in stores taste like a flip flop.”
To achieve such a bona fide tortilla, the two make them in house from scratch. Homemade salsa is also crucial. A queso drizzle is their signature innovation.
Mount Pleasant was a natural choice for the permanent shop. Jaramillo points to the neighborhood’s deep historic Latinx culture while acknowledging its changing demographics.
“There’s something so special about the types of businesses you see walking down the street. Everybody is selling a little piece of their culture and their home in the shops.”
The restaurant will feature their current lineup of five tacos, plus another vegetarian and a vegan option. An expanded variety of salsas and corn tortillas will be available. New lunch platters will have “everything for your TexMex dreams,” May says. Barbacoa may make an appearance but as a weekend-only special, just as it is in the Lone Star State.
La Tejana’s final pop-up is at Mount Pleasant’s Nido Wine Shop + Market this Saturday from 9 a.m. until they sell out. For their penultimate pop-up, May, along with two other cooks, made 700 tacos in three-and-a-half hours in a feat of gastronomical engineering. Starting at 4 a.m., they reheated tortillas, cooked eggs 40 at a time and hand-filled and rolled every taco. They were all gone in two hours.
May and Jaramillo attribute their success to the community they’re building around their beloved food. They joke about customers showing up to pop-ups with orders texted from their whole block, anxious Instagram messages when they took a weekend off, and rounds of applause when they sold out, even from the people in line who would walk away empty-handed.
“What started as a dream of bringing breakfast tacos to D.C. has turned into this vehicle for [building] community,” May shares. “We feel super grateful and lucky to be a part of that.”
“We’re moving a block away from the restaurant,” Jaramillo adds, “and I cannot wait to see our regulars walking down the street and say ‘Hey. What’s up?’ That’s the kind of community we want to build.”