The dingy white house has no signage, nothing but the faint smell of chorizo to indicate that its contents yield some of the best damn breakfast tacos in all of Texas. Sitting on an unassuming lot in the Northside neighborhood of Fort Worth, Aguilera's Cafe is a taco landmark — one that could quietly disappear at any moment.
The man behind the tacos: 90-year-old Santos Aguilera, whose father originally opened the taco spot more than 50 years ago. Walking into Aguilera's feels almost intrusive, like walking into a stranger's home — and, in fact, you are walking into Aguilera's home, though you won't be a stranger for long. The walls are covered in memorabilia from his years in the military. A stack of mail sits on one of the tables and the dining room is scattered in quaint, dusty tchotchkes and old pictures of family. A slight, friendly man, when he's not in the kitchen, Aguilera is quick to greet customers and show off memorabilia from his military service, even an old World War II bayonet that survived a devastating fire.
Family members help with serving and clearing tables while Aguilera cooks, but it's no secret here that this restaurant will not be around forever. When the day comes that Aguilera can no longer run the taco spot six days a week, it will close — not just because it will have lost its proprietor but because the building needs far too many costly repairs. But even at 90, Aguilera seems far from finished — he moves about the restaurant with the dexterity and energy of a man half his age. Could tacos be the secret to living forever? If anyone knows the answer, it's Aguilera.
The menu here is small and simple, which also means it's impossible to go wrong. Since this is a breakfast taco joint, the menu revolves around a bacon-and-egg taco, carne guisada and the real show-stealer, the chorizo-and-egg taco filled with fresh, house-made chorizo. Much like any old-school taco joint, everything here is cheap, but the tacos themselves are huge — two is plenty for even the biggest taco buff. Always ask if there is anything on special that day. Everything but the tortillas are made in-house by Aguilera himself.
Aguilera's is made even more charming by the fact that, though it's beloved in Fort Worth, it's one of those spots that newcomers aren't likely to stumble upon. With no signage indicating that the house is also a restaurant, it feels like a sweet little taco secret. We were introduced to Aguilera's by Jose R. Ralat, the man behind the Taco Trail and a seasoned food writer who may very well be Texas' pre-eminent taco scholar.
"Aguilera’s Café is special not only for its lifespan — more than 50 years — as an operating restaurant, but also for the sense of mystery and adventure that accompanies the small joint," Ralat says. "In the day and age where a fast-casual concept seems the only road to success, a family-run place like Aguilera’s is a treasure."
Aguilera's Cafe is a true-blue Texas landmark, a relic from a dying taco era, yet it owes us nothing — fighting its eventual demise would be missing the point. The only way to honor a place like this is to enjoy its offerings while we still can.
Aguilera's Cafe, 2005 N. Grove St., Fort Worth, 817-624-0189. Open 6:30 a.m.-10 a.m. Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday