The first restaurant I ever ate at in Texas was Bobby Vasquez’s Tamale House.
Back in 1991 the restaurant landscape in Austin was quite a bit different but even then a .60 cent taco was somewhat of a rarity. I was fresh off the boat from Alabama, hungry, didn’t have a whole bunch of money and was under the guide of a friendly local who regaled me with tales of taco plenitude as we made our way from Clarksville to Airport Blvd.
I can remember that morning just like it was yesterday. We were rocking Fred Cole’s Lollipop Shoppe, it was unseasonably warm for March, and I had no way of knowing that Tex Mex greatness was in my very near future.
I attempted to order more than 3 fillings on my taco and was shooed away from doing so by the counter girl who informed me that that was too much food.
“Only place in town where you can get filled up for .60 cents” my guide informed me.
We adjourned to the patio and sat amongst the grackles and neo-bohemians to take our feast.
While any taco at Tamale House is a good bet it’s the huevos rancheros that really shine. To this day they’re the best in Austin.
I took the above photo a few months ago at Tamale House East where I’d spirited in a big sack of brisket for a non-Tex Mex lunch. While it’s certainly true that Bobby loved tacos, brisket was actually his heart.
As you’re probably aware that’s his little sister Diana Valera in the frame with him. That woman knows her way around some barbecue too. “Ooh, I love brisket, can I have the biggest piece?” she’d just asked me before we sat down to pig out.
Old school restaurant owners like Vasquez are a vanishing breed. And the future of
Tamale House is very much up in the air. It takes an insane amount of hard work and dedication to keep even the most modest of taquerias in the black in a cutthroat town like contemporary Austin.
Maybe the old school days of cheap tacos cooked by middle-aged cocineras in a heat-baked kitchen are finally over?
Maybe Tamale House will soldier on with a particularly savvy and hard working family member stepping into the mammoth void Bobby Vasquez left in Austin?
Either way our community is a lesser place in the wake of his passing.