The trim red trailer parked in front of the H-E-B on Highway 347 in Groves has the name “Al Sabor de Mexico” emblazoned on the side and offers the usual assortment of tacos, tortas, burritos and tamales. It meets the definition of the familiar Tex-Mex menu, but owner Lupe Reynoso’s take on the flavors of Mexico also pays tribute to the cuisine of that country well beyond the region along the U.S. border.
In addition, his story has a decidedly American flavor as the Reynoso family has cast their lot with this country as surely as anyone named Smith, Jones or Washington. With his wife, Rosa Maria and their four American-born children, Lupe works hard from 11 in the morning to 10 at night dispensing food that is tasty and healthy.
“We try not to use oil,” said Lupe. “We don’t like it – and we serve no fried food.”
Their commitment to Mexican regional dishes is apparent in many of the meat options on the menu.
Birria is shredded beef that has been steeped in a marinade that includes cinnamon, chocolate and bay leaves, usually prepared as a treat for weddings and other special events.
Cochinita Pibil is marinated shredded chicken from Yucatan with a unique flavor that includes sour orange and achiote, a spice derived from the plant that grows in the tropical areas of South America. It has a red fruit with bright red seeds.
“We grind the seeds ourselves,” said Lupe, a testament to the care taken in preparing what some might consider “fast food.”Al Pastor is shepherd-style pork that is marinated and cooked to order in a skillet.
Other meats include the more familiar carne asada, lengua (beef tongue), barbacoa, and chorizo (Mexican sausage).
Rosa makes tortillas fresh to order, but they are homemade corn tortillas from masa.
“Flour tortillas are from Northern Mexico; in most of Mexico, tortillas are corn,” explains Lupe.
One exception to the Mexican rule are pupusas, a staple from El Salvador. A thick, corn pancake stuffed with meat or cheese, Lupe explains the pupusas recipe came to the family through a Salvadorian sister-in-law. The family pastor is also from El Salvador. The business is closed on Sundays when the Reynoso family travels to worship at Iglesia de Cristo, a Pentecostal church on the north side of Houston.
Lupe Reynoso came to the United States as a teenager in the early 1980s. Like so many immigrants from south of the border, he was drawn here by the lack of opportunity in his home country. Never afraid of hard work, he first labored in the fields picking peaches, plums and grapes in California. Through a relative, he found other work in landscaping and in a factory where he assembled videocassettes.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, was an important milestone for the Reynoso family. It granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the country before Jan. 1, 1982, and had resided there continuously. Lupe got his green card then and would become an American citizen in 2002. The tests he had to pass to attain citizenship gave him a greater understanding of his adopted country than many native-born high school seniors.
Lupe developed his skills and worked in the construction industry in California for 27 years before the building boom there finally burst, leading the family to Texas. Lupe found steady work on refinery construction projects with a platform contractor, but the food service business was something he had always wanted to try.
“I would help out cooking in the church kitchen,” he explained. “I would get inspired, trying out little things.”
That inspiration and the careful attention to detail practiced by Lupe and Rosa are what elevates the food produced in the little red trailer to another level. This is not your usual taco truck parked outside a cantina or plant gate.
The four Reynoso children – ages 23 to 6 years old – help with the family business when they can, but Al Sabor de Mexico is mostly a genuine mom-and-pop affair.
The kids lead busy lives of their own. Eldest son Jerry followed Lupe into construction work at refineries with a platform contractor, Daughter Ruth is an 11th grader at Port Neches-Groves who plays on the school soccer team. She works part-time as a cashier at the H-E-B store across the parking lot from the family but wants to study forensic science in college, inspired by the television shows CSI and the Scooby-Doo mysteries.
The Reynoso family invites you to come taste a little of what Mexico has to offer. If you don’t want to dine on the single picnic table with torches alongside to ward off the seasonal mosquitoes (and when are mosquitoes not in season in Southeast Texas?) order your food to go. These delicacies can be served on your dining room table on your finest china.