For Roberto Espinosa and Eric Wilkerson, founders of Tacodeli in Austin, a taco isn’t just an amazing street food, it’s an art. For them, tacos are comfort food and family. After growing their chain to about a half-dozen locations in Austin, the two decided to bring their restaurant to North Texas, opening multiple locations in both Dallas and Plano.
“We felt like if the demand continued to be there, we could grow the business without jeopardizing what’s allowing us to grow in the first place — that’d be the experience of the guest, the quality of the food, the culture and the quality of the team — we wanted to continue to share that and to challenge ourselves,” Wilkerson says. “Houston and Dallas were natural next steps for a Texas business. Having such deep roots in Dallas, you know, having friends and family there … it’s home.”
Wilkerson grew up in Dallas. According to him, he spent most of his life in a “three-mile radius” of Preston at Campbell and Preston at Arapaho. His business partner and founder of Tacodeli, Espinosa, has also spent time in Dallas, and knows the area well.
“I think Dallas is one of the best restaurant cities in the country,” Wilkerson says. “I think it has the highest restaurants per capita in the country. As we studied other markets and started paying attention to other restaurants outside of Austin, it became apparent that a lot of brands, when they’re testing the waters and thinking about expansion, one of the first cities they’ll go to is Dallas. I don’t wanna say if you can do it in Dallas, you can do it anywhere, but I think it’s a proving ground for a lot of places.”
The pair has already opened four locations in North Texas, so they have obviously more than proven themselves worthy in the eyes of taco-loving North Texans. They bring to the table, Wilkerson says, a way of looking at tacos that maximizes quality without sacrificing the guest experience. That includes locally sourced ingredients and four different kinds of salsa made in-house. One of these salsas is a family recipe of longtime employee Bertha Gonzalez, playfully nicknamed “Doña,” the matriarch of the kitchen.
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“She’s one of our first, original employees,” Wilkerson explains, because Gonzalez speaks very little English. “She was one of the original three or four hires in the kitchen. She’s from Veracruz. She’s been a cook all of her life.”
Gonzalez has been working for Tacodeli for about 19 years and has been making her signature salsa from jalapeños, garlic and olive oil for almost fifty years. It became so popular that Tacodeli now bottles the Doña salsa and sells it in Whole Foods.
Tacodeli has plans for more locations in North Texas, Houston and Austin. For now, the restaurant and business partners will keep the restaurant’s culture true to its foundation, because to them, “taco” is Spanish for “family.”