Photo Courtesy of Taco Taco
For many UTSA students that get their nourishment from the variety of places offered across Main Campus, Taco Cabana has become a staple of their weekly college diet. Cheap, familiar and quick fuel for the day, the lines for the Tex-Mex chain showed no signs of unpopularity.
Recently, however, a trip to the UC Center Cafe yields that of a new option for Mexican cuisine: Taco Taco Cafe. This locally-owned and critically-acclaimed restaurant right in the heart of San Antonio has slowly started to expand from it’s small original location off Hildebrand Avenue near downtown.
Created by owner Helen Velesiotis, Taco Taco Cafe first opened nearly 15 years ago, and has received steady accolades nearly every year since. Coming from Greek descent, Velesiotis knows that the best way to make food matters not on your bloodline, but on where your heart is.
Declared the “Best Tacos in America” by Bon Appetit, a recipient of a glowing write-up in Southern Living magazine and shown visit from Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” TV personality Guy Fieri, the restaurant is well-known among those who know their Mexican food.
Talking to Velesiotis, you immediately understand how she has become the figurehead behind some of the best eats in San Antonio, exuding a warmth not unlike that of a close friend or relative.
“I’ve always been in the food business; barbeque, seafood and so on. Mexican food is the right thing for San Antonio,” stated Velesiotis. “I was here, my husband was next door; this was the perfect place, and it’s been going great ever since.”
With a menu that is purely Mexican, the tacos are what keeps the customers coming in and packing out the small location. The most famous, the Norteño, packs an oversized flour tortilla with steamy beef or chicken fajita meat, refried beans, avocado, bell peppers and melted white cheese.
But why the sudden change? The transition from Taco Cabana to Taco Taco is the culmination of acclimating San Antonio’s wide breadth of local and unique restaurants with the UTSA student body.
“UTSA made a choice to have fresher, homemade food, and I think young students like those choices. Everything is made in-house at UTSA; the meat, the bowls, the fresh beans, even the picadillo. Isn’t that amazing?”
This same attitude towards better meals goes toward easing students whose displeasure is growing with the Aramark Corporation, who’s food services populate the UTSA campus and have been a source of complaint to those who have been railing against the limited food options that have been presented to them. When asked about her experience with Aramark, Velesiotis has nothing but kind words about her interactions with the food service.
“Such good people!” exclaimed Velesiotis. “It’s the easiest life that I could have ever asked for to work with Aramark. They are the best company I’ve ever met.”
Taco Taco’s first foray into college campuses at Trinity University was a success, so when UTSA came calling, Velesiotis was already prepared for the expansion.
“I’m just happy to be there. My daughter and son-in-law are both alumni of UTSA, so it’s almost part of the family,” Velesiotis explains. “Dr. Ricardo Romo and his wife are just amazing people, so I’m good to go into the family over there.”
Beyond making great food, Velesiotis knows the importance of going to school pursuing a degree, as well as supporting various local organizations. Organizations such as August Heart — dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac death by providing free heart screenings to students and athletes — and American Sunrise — a non-profit that helps create communities where working families find housing, economic and educational opportunities in their neighborhoods — are a couple to name.
Though Taco Taco will be there to fuel students throughout the day, Velesiotis always praises the students of UTSA for being open to higher education. “The students look like young people that want to get ahead in their life,” Helen says with a smile, “and I want to be a part of that.”