30: Taquería los Yaquis
Taquería: Taquería los Yaquis, 705 West Camelback Road, next to Charlie's nightclub
Open Since: 2005
Signature Taco(s): Chopped steak and chicken
It feels like everyone who knows Taquería los Yaquis loves it — though only a sliver of their patrons actually call the business by its given name.
About a year ago, I remember going to the taquería with a friend, Titus. We wanted to grab some food after a round of drinks nearby. We’d been there together once before, but Titus had been countless times, as he had grown up and gone to high school just around the corner. But that night, when I suggested we go to Los Yaquis, he responded with a look of confusion. "Where?" he asked. “Los Yaquis,” I persisted. “Taquería Los Yaquis. Right around the corner?”
Finally, it clicked.
“Oh, you mean Gay Tacos?”
The trailer is permanently parked outside Charlie’s — not only one of the busiest gay bars and nightclubs in Phoenix, but one of the busiest bars in the Valley, period. Their enormous parking lot is perpetually packed after sundown on the weekends, and the nearby streets fill up as well.
Thus the nickname.
But the location is far from the extent of Los Yaquis' draw.
Before the taquería, owner Jose Munoz worked in construction, but he’d always dreamed of becoming his own boss. In 2003, he began making plans for Los Yaquis. He needed a location and, a couple of years later, he happened upon the parking lot in front of Charlie's. At first, he says, he wasn't sure it would be a good place. There was light rail construction bogging down Camelback Road. Nevertheless, they started serving tacos around back in the parking lot.
Then customers started comparing Munoz’s tacos to those they had eaten in the popular tourist town of Rocky Point, Mexico.
“They started spreading the word, ‘Oh, at Charlie’s they have Rocky Point tacos.’” And like a game of telephone, this is how Taquería los Yaquis got its first nickname, "Charlie’s Tacos."
“They were calling us all sorts of names. They were calling us Gay Tacos. Charlie's Tacos,” Munoz says, amused. “There are people who come in all the time who probably have no idea what our name is.”
From the bar side, they feed hungry Charlie's patrons.
Co-owner Araceli Olivas, whom Munoz calls the "face of the business," operates the desk where orders come in from both the patio and the bar. Like all employees, she wears a Los Yaquis baseball jersey, the uniform of the Yaquis de Obregón, who play in the Mexican Pacific League in Obregón, Sonora, where she's from.
“I haven’t seen any other place that does a style like ours, as least in terms of the chopping,” Munoz says. “At least, nobody has ever come to me and said, ‘Oh, there’s another place that does tacos just like you do it.'”
It’s not only the mad chopping, but the toppings that distinguish the tacos. Instead of onions and cilantro, every tacos gets a dip of the salsa and avocado sauce.
“The reason we started the Super Mega Nachos was because we use to do catering before we opened [here],” Munoz says. “There were spring training teams coming to town to play baseball, and we were the ones doing the catering. I started to think, ‘What could I make them that they would possibly like, other than tacos?’
“So I came up with the quesadillas and the nachos."
He tops round, generic yellow-corn nacho chips with gooey yellow nacho cheese, then piles on either chopped steak or chicken, along with salsa, crema, and charred onions.
The result is a sort of borderland food, like the Sonoran hot dog, that perfectly blends Sonoran cuisine with American ballpark food.
Munoz is old enough to warrant sitting back and letting the young 20-somethings chop away inside the truck and run the business while he gets some sleep. But that's not his style. Munoz wakes up around noon Thursday through Sunday to run errands and get the truck ready for service, which he oversees all night long.
When service is finished and the sun begins to rise, he and the team share a family meal.
He and Olivas have become fixtures of the taco truck. If Munoz is not there, people in line ask Olivas where “that guy” is. And if she’s gone, even just to take a restroom break, he says, they ask him, “Where is the lady who always takes our order?”
People ask Munoz when he will open up another location, or move to a brick-and-mortar location.
“I feel like this is the original,” Munoz says. “I feel like this is the original way to serve tacos.”
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