Featured photo: Precious Muniz passes an order to Belinda Cox at El Sabor Tabasqueño in Winston-Salem on April 9. (photo by Stan Sussina)
“Don’t forget to bring cash,” Nikki reminds me. My two 10-dollar bills sit neatly folded in my wallet waiting to exchange themselves for a round of tacos. And not just any tacos.
On March 25, 2021, Nikki Miller-Ka wrote about the underground taqueria El Sabor Tabasqueño for this very paper. Miller-Ka’s piece was the first to highlight the local food spot; later many would come to know about its beautiful bounty of bright birria tacos, mouth-watering ramen and sweet-tooth-approved candies. The piece quickly went viral, shining a spotlight on one of Winston-Salem’s best-kept food secrets. The spotlight, however, shone a little too brightly.
The story sent droves to the home El Sabor Tabasqueño operated out of. Many eagerly waited for hours outside to taste the city’s most-buzzed-about place. Word spread quickly and owner Leydi Lopez was told to cease operations by the city of Winston-Salem. Upon hearing the news, some responded with ire directed at Miller-Ka and drew swords of blame.
In the following weeks, friends, fans and families came together to help Lopez and El Sabor Tabasqueño. Eventually, Lizbeth Raymundo organized community support to help Lopez purchase a food truck via GoFundMe. Four days after the first story was published, Miller-Ka wrote a second piece sharing the fundraiser and the story of Lopez and her family.
“It was an outpouring of the community to fuel and fund the dream,” Miller-Ka says, remembering all that transpired.
A year later, the underground taqueria is fully in the light with its brand-new food truck.
I arrive at the address posted by El Sabor Tabasqueño on their Instagram at around 10 a.m. on a recent Thursday morning; I’m here early at Nikki’s suggestion. She attended the opening day of the food truck, which took place on April 2, when the line snaked through the parking lot.
As I’m parking in front of a towering Colfax Furniture store, I begin to wonder if I’m in the right place. The food truck is nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later, out of my rearview mirror, I see a bright-red food truck pull in with a small, black car in tow — I’m in the right place.
With big yellow block letters boldly displaying the name of the business, the food truck is a sunny respite despite the rainy weather. Slowly but surely, as the hands of time inch closer to 11 a.m. cars start arriving, nestling close to each other in parking spots near the truck. In a blink, people leave the comfort of their cars to stand in line.
“See that right there? That’s my picture,” Miller-Ka excitedly points.
Her image is a part of a photo collage on the menu.
I follow the stream of people and ready myself in line. The person in front of me says I can go ahead of them because they have a big order.
“I heard about it from my friend,” Tiffany Curtis says with a smile of anticipation. “I heard that their lines get really long, and you might have to wait. But I guess it must be that good because everyone lines up.”
The menu boasts familiar food items to long-time friends and fans. They sell birria tacos, birria tortas, small and large birria pizzas, birria quesadillas, birria ramen, birria nachos, vegetarian tacos, chicken tacos, an assortment of fresh drinks and banana pudding. Though not on the menu on the order window, a secret menu offers candy trays and watermelon candy rings.
As I walk back to my car with a small birria pizza, birria torta and a horchata, I see Tiffany. She places two plastic bags of neatly stacked Styrofoam containers inside a cardboard box in the back of her car and is walking back with a third plastic bag of containers. She explains that she’s trying the tacos and picking up food for her coworkers.
The birria pizza is the first item I tackle.
Removing the pizza box from its plastic bag confines, I’m surprised by how heavy it is. As I peek inside, I am greeted by eight lightly tanned slices, each boasting a healthy amount of birria meat while cheese, onions and cilantro complete the medley. The crust, which is ever so slightly crunchy, is made of corn tortillas while circle-cut radishes and lemon wedges sit in the center of the pie ready to be utilized to add a sharp tang to one’s slices. Two small containers of green salsa round out the landscape. The pizza also comes with consommé which has become a staple of birria lovers and food videographers. As I dip my slices, I wonder if birria taco dunks could become the new cheese pulls.
After more than a year, Miller-Ka excitedly talks about how covering El Sabor Tabasqueño is the story that has had the most impact in her career.
“Any serious journalist wants to better the community in some way,” Miller-Ka says. “This was an instance of uplifting the good guys.”
Follow El Sabor Tabasqueño on Facebook and Instagram at @elsabortabasqueno.
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