Maria’s Taco Xpress in South Austin is closing. Let that sink in for a moment. Perpetually busy, wildly popular, great location on one of the busiest streets in town, professionally run.
Allow me to be blunt. The food at Maria’s was unlikely to inspire elegies. It was serviceable Tex Mex but Austin is filled with serviceable Tex Mex. Austin’s not San Antonio. Not by a long shot.
But Maria Corbalan was a dynamic restaurateur, a great front-woman, and put a charismatic public face on her business.
I’ll never forget the first time I ate at Maria’s. It was in the 90s and her business was just a tiny food trailer on a bare dirt lot up the road from Broken Spoke. Alejandro Escovedo was the counter guy. I was a big Nuns fan and immediately recognized him as one of my old punk heroes. Back then it wasn’t uncommon to see famous people working odd jobs in Austin. You might see a member of Velvet Underground bagging groceries or be sold a bagel by a rock star nuclear physicist.
That was how Austin used to be.
Nowadays funky old Austin is varnished, buffed, and polished. And even busy landmark restaurants like Maria’s are shuttering. Back in 2004, the Wal-Green Corporation tried to muscle Maria out of her spot. Ever the businesswoman, Ms Carbajal enlisted the community and soon enough Wal-Green had not only backed down but they had bought Maria an adjacent lot and built her a brand new restaurant from the ground-up.
Maria’s Taco Xpress would enjoy a decade+ long run in her new location before announcing a closure that will fall on April 1st 2017