When taquero Javier Cruz opened his Oaxacan food trailer in 2017 in San Jose’s Buena Vista neighborhood, he had a plan: leverage the fame of popular Oaxacan foods from the Valles Centrales and the South Bay’s appetite for trendy Mexican bites like quesabirria to introduce regional barbacoa from the Indigenous Mixteco culture of Oaxaca.
Cruz got a jump-start thanks to a video plug from loyal customer and South Bay DJ Ricardo “El Pollo” Barragan (Radio Lazer): Barragan’s Facebook page — where he plays pitchman for used car dealerships and foreclosed home sellers — shows him digging into Cruz’s epazote scented entomatadas (rolled corn tortillas covered with tomato sauce) and enfrijoladas (rolled corn tortillas covered with black bean sauce) well-herbed with avocado leaves. Five years later, Cruz operates a Mi Rinconsito Oaxaqueño food truck in San Jose, and a trailer in Sunnyvale, offering some of the best Oaxacan cuisine in the greater Bay Area.
While the Bay Area is light on Oaxacan restaurants, San Jose is an Indigenous enclave rich in Oaxacan communities, counting many restaurants, trucks, and stands, according to Cruz and his wife Elvia Guzman, who practices traditional Mixteco cooking. “San Jose has Mixtecos, people from the Sierra Sur, Sierra Juarez, the Istmo, Valles — a little of everything,” Cruz says. The Mi Rinconsito Oaxaqueño logo, which consists of a Oaxaca state map of its eight regions, acts as a welcome wagon to homesick customers that arrive from the southern Mexican state. Cruz, who arrived in San Jose in 2000, worked as a line cook in Italian restaurants and now manages the pair of trucks.
“We are not a restaurant, just a food truck,” says Cruz, downplaying Mi Rinconsito Oaxaqueño’s impressive offerings — though he hopes to one day open a restaurant showcasing Guzman’s recipes and offer a full menu. For now, Cruz and Guzman serve many of the most-famed dishes found at fondas, small regional restaurants or stalls in Oaxaca’s Valles Centrales, from antojitos like molotes, spiced torpedo-shaped fritters of potato and Oaxacan chorizo, to masa boats covered in flavorful asientos (unrefined lard) and herbed, pureed black beans, called memelas. The menu also offers Oaxacan plates: entomatadas, enfrijoladas, and enmoladas (rolled corn tortillas filled with cheese, covered in mole negro).
Both Cruz and Guzman were born in Sierra Sur, Putla Villa de Guerrero, and Santa Maria Zacatepec, respectively, but are Mixtecos. “Unfortunately, I did not learn the [Mixteco] language, but I’m very proud to share a little piece of the Mixteca [region] with our customers,” Cruz says. Every Saturday is “sabado de barbacoa” or barbacoa Saturday, featuring masita (“yiki” in Mixteco), a rich stew of dried red chiles, meat drippings, thickened with broken corn, that Guzman cooks in an underground pit.
Guzman first roasts the masita, as well as the lamb consomé, in large pots over wood embers at the bottom of a hole covered with earth, beneath large cuts of lamb, whose juices are funneled into the pots using maguey leaves. Most people are used to eating barbacoa tacos, but in barbacoa mixteca the custom is to eat masita topped with lamb barbacoa and a side of Guzman’s handmade corn tortillas. If you happen to be at one of Cruz and Guzman’s trucks when they have salsa de chicatanas, an extra smoky red salsa, seasoned and concentrated by flying ants, it’s the perfect complement.
According to Cruz, Mi Rinconsito Oaxaqueño also claims the best tlayudas in the Bay Area and South Bay, thanks to thin crispy corn tortillas imported from Etla, Oaxaca and Guzman’s black bean paste that “make all the difference” in this iconic late-night street food dish. Guzman’s tlayudas are smeared with asientos, quesillo, lettuce, shredded lettuce; fresh avocado, and tomato slices; then topped with Oaxacan chorizo, cecina (pork in adobo), and tasajo (beef jerky) before being doubled over and toasted on a comal.
Tlayudas and other Oaxacan foods aren’t the only attractions at Cruz and Guzman’s trucks, though. Quesabirrias — made with beef birria and melted, the international breakout Mexican dish in recent years — have broadened Mi Rinconsito Oaxaqueño’s appeal. Cruz says the dish is popular with a wide variety of South Bay diners these days. “It’s food that’s universal, something they all know,” says Cruz. “There are many other Oaxacan restaurants around, they all have their flavor, but we are serving home-cooked food, and to us, that’s the most important ingredient.”