The first thing you’ll notice driving past Tacos Mi Reynita: there’s a line, and it’s always long. That’s how it’s been since day one for this popular East Oakland pop-up that emerged onto the taco scene a year and a half ago.
The reason? Despite the seemingly well-saturated taco market in Oakland — there’s practically a stand or truck on every other street corner in Deep East, including newcomers like La Parilla Loca — Florencia Villa Ayala and her family have clearly tapped into a taco style that’s hard to find in the Bay Area. Tacos Mi Reynita specializes Tijuana-style tacos, known for featuring mesquite-grilled meats, corn tortillas, and a thick dollop of guacamole. Even the business name has family roots, taking after Florencia’s mother, Reyna.
“Before we opened Tacos Mi Reynita, we were selling tamales,” says María Belén Ponce Villa, Florencia’s 21-year-old daughter who helped get the business off the ground. “We were making 500 tamales a day, but one of my uncles asked her why she wasn’t selling tacos. It was less work, and there wasn’t this style of tacos here in the Bay Area yet.”
After a few posts on Facebook Marketplace in early 2021, word spread about the pop-up, which started in front of their home near the border between Oakland and San Leandro. With demand surging, they moved to a semi-permanent spot in a parking lot a few blocks away and enlisted the help of more family members — 15 now in total — to accommodate the growing lines. Everyone in the family-run operation contributes. Florencia developed all the recipes and wakes up early every day before service to marinate the meat and make eight flavor-packed salsas and a mountain of masa dough to be hand-pressed into tortillas. Other family members serve as taqueros, grilling the asada, chorizo links, and tripa to crisp, yet juicy perfection, while another family member mans the al pastor, assembling the spicy seasoned pork on a trompo and roasting it on site.
Even more cousins, uncles, and aunts are there to help assemble orders at record-breaking speeds. Unlike Sonoran-style tacos, which traditionally use paper-thin flour tortillas and meat as the base, the Tijuana-style taco comes “standard” with add-ons unless otherwise specified. In one fell swoop, family members scoop heaps of smoky hunks of meat onto freshly griddled corn tortillas, flicking on diced onion and cilantro, and smearing gob of guacamole over it all before gingerly wrapping the taco in a thin square of paper.
On top of the well-deserved hype about the tacos, the drinks have garnered a following too, receiving rave reviews of their own. “In Oakland, places that have agua frescas only have horchata, jamaica, and tamarind, but it’s really rare that they have other fruit flavors,” says María Belén. Taking to YouTube, she researched different recipes and after extensive tinkering, crafted her own 100 percent fruit-based agua frescas with flavor combinations rarely found in the Bay: mango-passionfruit, cucumber-lime with chia, and the most popular, “fresa con leche” (strawberry milk).
For María Belén, all of this has transformed the way she thinks about her future. While the long-term goal for Tacos Mi Reynita is to service the entire Bay Area with a fleet of food trucks, she now dreams of owning her own food truck and business someday.
Until then, diners will have to continue the Bay Area’s time-honored tradition of standing in line for these tacos. At least they’re worth the wait.
Find Tacos Mi Reynita at 1360 107th Avenue in Oakland from Tuesday to Sunday from 4 to 10:30 p.m. Follow the business on Instagram for other updates.