La Tejana is trading in its pop-up lifestyle for a permanent home. Ana-Maria Jaramillo spirit Gus May, the engaged couple behind the popular Texas-style breakfast taco brand, will settle down in Mount Pleasant this spring. They’ve set up shop in the neighborhood regularly and have built a loyal following.
Jaramillo and May held one of their final pop-ups this past weekend, though they anticipate doing a few more before going dark at the end of February to prepare to open their brick-and-mortar restaurant at 3211 Mount Pleasant St. NW, the former home of Sabydee Thai & Lao Cuisine.
Their pop-up schedule had been steady for a while: Nido Wine Shop + Market in Mount Pleasant on Saturdays and Grand Duchess in Adams Morgan on Sundays. Before that, they sold tacos out of various bars, restaurants, and breweries. They got their start out of Room 11 before it closed in Columbia Heights.
Jaramillo and May always envisioned finding a forever home for their tacos, but knew securing a space on Mount Pleasant’s crowded commercial stretch was rare. They initially looked at other neighborhoods, including Petworth, Adams Morgan, and H Street NE, but quickly realized Mount Pleasant was the only fit. When Sabydee closed, they jumped at the opportunity in December and negotiated over Christmas from Texas. May has worked in the hospitality industry for years, but neither founder has opened a restaurant before.
“This is still an objectively insane time to open up a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” May says by phone while cooking from La Tejana’s rented kitchen the night before Saturday’s pop-up. “It just felt very serendipitous and that everything was kind of coming full circle.”
The timeline is fluid, but the restaurant could open its doors to hungry taco fans as soon as the end of May, with more menu options and longer hours. Typically their pop-ups only operate on weekends until they sell out, but the owners hope to operate their storefront at least five days a week from 7:30 am to around 3 pm They’ll serve breakfast and lunch to start and are considering introducing dinner service down the line.
La Tejana’s standard line-up of five breakfast tacos will return, plus a few new ones, including a vegan option and another vegetarian choice. Jaramillo is fanatic about flour tortillas, but corn tortillas will make their debut for patrons who prefer them or are looking for a gluten-free substitute. “No shade to them,” she says.
They’re also working on a collaboration with a local roaster to create a small coffee program. Since Else, where May used to work, is only a few doors down, the menu will not include espresso drinks. Look for drip coffee, cold brew, and possibly seasonal or specialty drinks like horchata with cold brew concentrate and limeades instead. The couple is considering applying for a liquor license, which Sabydee did not have.
The restaurant will have a similar vibe to their no-frills pop-ups. It’ll still have a fast-casual feel and focus heavily on carryout. Tacos are “pandemic-proof” and “very portable,” according to May. Customers will order at a counter with the option to take their tacos to go or find seating outside or indoors.
They’re bringing on their team of cooks full-time. Between the cashiers, baristas, and cooks, there will be eight to 10 employees at La Tejana, including May and Jaramillo.
The menu is inspired by the food Jaramillo ate on a daily basis in the border town she comes from in the Rio Grande Valley. She says the business was borne out of the “selfish desire to have the food that I wanted around me at all times.” While she handles marketing for La Tejana alongside her other job at a bilingual pediatric speech-language pathology practice, May serves as the full-time chef.
The couple formulated the concept for La Tejana in the early days of their relationship, before Jaramillo ultimately moved to DC in 2018. They met a year earlier and May suggested Jaramillo bring her breakfast tacos to the District if she made the move. In late 2019, they held their first informal pop-up from their stoop in Mount Pleasant and quickly broadened their reach.
“I think DC has an appetite for what we’re trying to do, which has always been the most authentic, simple, everything-made-in-house and just giving them everything I grew up with,” Jaramillo says.
The flour tortillas made with lard are their specialty. They form the base for the biggest crowd pleasers like the “956” taco named after Jaramillo’s Texas area code. It comes with eggs, bacon, potato, refried beans, a queso drizzle, and cilantro. Another popular pick is the “Super Migas” with a Tex-Mex combination of eggs, onion, poblano peppers, tomato, cheese, tortilla strips, and cilantro.
The pop-ups attracted a fiercely loyal clientele through Instagram and through word of mouth. Some regular customers are Texans who crave a piece of home, and others had never tried breakfast tacos before.
Leading up to the launch of Saturday’s pop-up on a frigid morning, two dozen people formed a line spanning several storefronts. Some of the diehard fans say they come every weekend they’re in town and plan to keep up the pace once the restaurant opens. “We’re excited to potentially have tacos three meals a day now,” Nathaniel Greeson says.
La Tejana’s evolution has been a whirlwind experience for the couple, especially once you factor in operating during a pandemic. The couple’s personal and professional timeline over the next few months will not be any less chaotic. In addition to opening a restaurant, they’re moving back to Mount Pleasant, getting married in Colombia, where Jaramillo’s family is from, and Jaramillo is graduating from her doctoral program.
As they transition to running a restaurant, they hope to be a part of what makes the neighborhood special. Mount Pleasant “has got a historic Latino culture and influence, but it is also super gentrified,” May says. “We try to appeal to everyone and make our space intentional and welcoming for everyone as best as we can.”
La Tejana, 3211 Mount Pleasant St. NW; latjanadc.com