The story of La Tejana is a romance. The cheery Mount Pleasant taqueria from husband-wife team Gus May and Ana-Maria Jaramillo celebrates the breakfast tacos Jaramillo grew up eating in Texas, which the couple have been selling at sold-out pop-ups during the pandemic.
The pair met at a wedding in Philadelphia in 2017, hit it off, and started dating long distance. He was living in the District, working in catering, and she was 1,500 miles southwest in Austin. A few months later, he made his first visit to the Lone Star State to celebrate her 29th birthday. They stayed out dancing until 4 a.m., waking up bleary-eyed and cotton-headed. To fight the fog, she put in an order for her favorite breakfast tacos at Taco Joint.
“I was just blown away,” May says. “I couldn’t believe what I was eating and what I’d been missing. I had an epiphany. I told her, ‘If this relationship ends up working out and you end up coming to D.C., we need to start a breakfast taco business.’”
She laughed it off. Move to D.C. and start a breakfast taco joint? Yeah, right!
But a year later, she did move to D.C., where she quickly realized there was a dearth of breakfast tacos. “That was unacceptable to her,” May says. “So we kind of did this out of a selfish desire to create the food she grew up with and always felt connected to.”
As they discussed their growing dream, they realized they would have to learn to make flour tortillas. Sourcing recipes from Jaramillo’s friends and family across Texas, May began practicing making them in the summer of 2019, while he was working in the front of the house at Ellē. Originally, he made them with pork lard, but now uses a combination of vegetable shortenings. “The key is how you massage the dough, so you get the gluten to soften, and you can get a bubbly, beautiful tortilla,” he says. “You see them puff up and it’s the most satisfying thing.”
Once they were confident with their tortillas and fillings, the couple hosted a brunch tasting that fall for a few friends, some of whom happened to be influential figures on the D.C. food scene: Chris Morgan, then the co-executive chef of Maydan, Daru co-owner Dante Datta, and Peter Chang, one half of No Kings Collective, the arts-design collective responsible for numerous murals, art installations, and events around D.C., including the Redeye Night Market.
The feedback was resoundingly positive, but May and Jaramillo wanted to test their tacos’ wider appeal. They staged a nano-pop-up, selling 100 tacos from their Mount Pleasant stoop one Saturday morning in October. A pair of sold-out pop-ups at Room 11 that December under the moniker La Tejana (“the woman from Texas”) cemented their belief that 2020 was going to be their year.
Except, of course, it wasn’t. At least not in the way they expected.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived; the world shut down; May was let go from Ellē. One day, Chang texted, asking to buy tortillas. The couple made up a batch, which he posted about on Instagram, leading to a flood of DMs. A pandemic hustle was born.
May started waking up at 3 a.m. on weekends to make dough, roll tortillas with a simple pin roller, and cook them on a pair of comals in their small apartment kitchen. They sold them for $7 a dozen with free delivery, producing 500 every weekend. It was a money-losing proposition, but it helped La Tejana earn a ride-or-die following, which they cemented with pop-ups over the next year at Thamee, Serenata, Grand Duchess, and Nido. They eventually settled on a physical space on Mount Pleasant’s main drag that once housed Sabydee, a Lao-Thai restaurant.
The couple married in April 2022. May now works as the taqueria’s chef, while Jaramillo juggles her full-time career, owning and running Voz Speech Therapy, a pediatric speech-language pathology clinic, and serving as an adjunct professor at GWU for the semester, teaching a course on multicultural issues in human communication.
La Tejana opened in early August, drawing long lines and still commanding them on the weekends. On a recent Saturday, the taqueria sold more than 1,400 tacos.
The taco menu includes just five options, each swaddled in a leopard-spotted soft flour tortilla with just the right amount of flex, and easily gobbled in half a dozen bites or less. It’s an all-killer-no-filler lineup. First up, the 956—its name nodding to the Rio Grande Valley’s area code—a riff on the Q-Taco, available at Stripes convenience stores across south Texas. “It’s the all-in-one taco,” May says. “It has a little bit of everything—refried beans, fried potatoes, cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, cilantro, and queso.”
(A word on the queso: “It has to involve Velveeta,” says Jaramillo, who reveals it also involves Monterey Jack cheese, tomatoes, onions, chilies, and some special secret seasonings.)
Next is the Super Migas with soft scrambled eggs fattened up with plenty of melted cheese, diced poblano peppers, onions, tomatoes, and crunchy bits of fried tortilla strips (migas means crumbs in Spanish). La Choripapa features cheesy eggs, ground house-made chorizo, fried cubed potatoes, and cilantro, while the Tio Willie includes bacon, potatoes, and queso. Last, but most beloved by May and Jaramillo, is El Frijolito: refried pinto beans (sorry vegetarians, they use bacon fat for the frying), cheese, queso, and onions.
Four salsas can be splashed on the tacos: classic red, avocado-tomatillo, carrot-sweetened habanero, and cilantro crema.
To wash them down, there is hot and cold brewed coffee from Lost Sock Roasters, horchata laced with cold brew, Topo Chico, and Mexican Coke. The couple applied for a liquor license with an eye to opening a small upstairs dining room when it is approved. Rather than dinner service, they’re contemplating late night bites—nachos and quesadillas—and a few drinks: tallboy beers, palomas, Texas ranch waters, a michelada. To help pay back the karmic debt incurred through their own inception, they will host pop-ups there as well.
On the main floor, the slender counter spot features a daybreak mural inspired by the cover art for Khruangbin and Leon Bridge’s 2020 EP, Texas Sun, as well as a painted silhouette of a woman with a golden earring that serves as the restaurant’s logo. A shelf features a small Selena light, a candle honoring San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and another scented like the butter tortillas from H-E-B, a Texas grocery chain known for its baked goods.
Outside the taqueria, which sports a crisp white paint job with radiant orange accents, there’s a pair of chairs with a low-slung side table between them, as well as three umbrella-shaded tables in a small streatery.
The couple still lives around the corner, making a work-life balance difficult to achieve for the foreseeable future. They don’t mind. They love where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re serving. “It makes me emotional every day that I get to be part of the most incredible neighborhood in D.C.,” says Jaramillo. “The thing that wakes me up in the morning is being able to hear people speaking Spanish around me at all times; being around Latinos who own their businesses; seeing so many families enjoying the community and being out on the plaza, the kids riding their bikes. That’s special.”
La Tejana, 3211 Mount Pleasant St. NW (202) 525-1708. latejanadc.com