“We always wanted a restaurant in Austin,” says Reyna Vazquez, one of the two sisters behind Austin’s Veracruz All Natural. “Since we opened the first location, that was our goal, to open a restaurant in Austin, Texas.” Veracruz All Natural opened its second brick-and-mortar restaurant, and its first in Austin, in September. But Vazquez and her sister Maritza began laying the Austin groundwork for their small Mexican food empire long before.
Veracruz All Natural is now synonymous with breakfast tacos, but Vazquez started her operation with an entirely different breakfast item. In 2006, Vazquez, then an undocumented immigrant, bought a trailer to sell smoothies and juices. Two years later, Maritza joined her, and two years after that, the sisters, who are originally from Veracruz, Mexico, started serving their now-famous tacos.
Veracruz All Natural didn’t advertise, relying instead on word of mouth. It didn’t take long to become a known commodity. And when it was time to grow, Vazquez and Maritza started with a bigger truck, not a restaurant. “They grew as they made enough money to do it,” says Ryan Myers, Vazquez’s husband, who also runs the brand’s social media presence. In 2012, six years after Vazquez started serving food from a trailer, she and her sister could afford to buy a second truck.
At the time, Austin’s restaurant scene was undeniably booming. Franklin Barbecue, in many ways the gold standard for Austin restaurant success stories, opened in 2009, and exploded onto national consciousness when Bon Appétit declared it the “best barbecue in America” in 2011. Anthony Bourdain further stoked Franklin Barbecue’s popularity with a 2012 episode of No Reservations. In 2011, Top Chef dedicated its ninth season to Texas; its breakout star was Paul Qui, an Austin-based empire builder (who was later arrested on assault charges in 2016). And the Odd Duck empire, another restaurant group with modest beginnings, was growing apace.
As the city — and its visitors — became ever more obsessed with food, the Veracruz line grew and grew. In 2014, the sisters opened a third truck at bar and coffee shop Radio Coffee and Beer. According to Eater Austin editor Nadia Chaudhury, while there have long been a number of taco spots in town, “Austin wants [Veracruz All Natural] especially.”
For Vazquez, the struggle has long been how to grow to meet demand, not how to create it. “[Growing] takes time, and some people don’t understand that,” she says, adding some people might think that she hasn’t expanded because the food isn’t good enough to support multiple locations. But the sisters are propelled by their desire to serve Mexican food they’re proud of. “I just focus on the the menu,” Vazquez says. “I make sure that everything that we offer is fresh and homemade.” The lines of hungry Austinites simply follow.
“Austin supports its people and they’re beloved in the community,” Chaudhury explains. “[Veracruz All Natural’s expansion is] about sharing what they do best with everyone and I think that sort of authenticity and genuine love, care, and passion comes through. It’s not some corporate nonsense.”
Vazquez’s tacos — the fish and migas (a breakfast taco with eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo, and Monterey Jack cheese) notable specialties — won Veracruz All Natural a devoted following. In 2015, Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin visited the truck and named it one of his favorite places to eat in Austin. That same year, Food Network declared the migas taco one of the five best in America — events Veracruz All Natural cites as milestones in its growth. Veracruz All Natural also holds a consistent spot on Eater Austin’s list of 38 Essential Austin Restaurants.
With this kind of recognition, further expansion was almost inevitable, but it wasn’t entirely seamless. In 2014, Veracruz All Natural announced it would open a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Austin’s Cesar Chavez, the street home to the original trailer, but those plans fell through due to permitting issues. Just last year, Vazquez and Maritza finally opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Round Rock, Texas, about 20 miles north of Austin.
They now have two brick-and-mortar restaurants and two active trucks — one at the original Cesar Chavez location and one at Radio Coffee and Beer. With each new location, Vazquez and Maritza must maintain the quality their fans have come to associate with the brand. “I think the key is to train our team well and let them know that we really expect them to do the same work that we are,” Vazquez says.
In the beginning, the staff was mostly family — at one point just Vazquez, Maritza, and a niece ran the two trucks — but as Veracruz All Natural has expanded so has the staff, many of them immigrants. Vazquez, who is no longer undocumented, closed all Veracruz All Natural locations on the Day Without Immigrants in February to support her staff and acknowledge her own role as an immigrant success story. (This arc is the subject of a Veracruz All Natural documentary she and Myers submitted to Austin tech/film festival South by Southwest.)
At the new Austin restaurant, Vazquez will be teaching her team to make new dishes. The North Austin location offers a full menu of breakfast and other tacos along with appetizers, plates like chilaquiles and enchiladas, and picadas, a popular breakfast item in Veracruz. “Now that we have a bigger kitchen, we can do all those things,” Vazquez says. “I love to give people the opportunity to try new things.”
With the goal of an Austin restaurant achieved, Vazquez says she’s done expanding — for now. “Now it’s time to just work on what we have and focus on making it better.”
• Veracruz All Natural [Official]