The well-worn Wagon Wheel Saloon in north Santa Rosa has been called many things over the years, but a food truck hot spot is not one of them — until now.
Once infamous for its cast of colorful (and sometimes felonious) characters, the faded green bar is now ground zero for some of the county’s best quesabirria.
In late May, fluttering banners advertised Tacos Tijuana would be coming to the 3320 Mendocino Ave. location. Curiously, the owners of Tacos Tijuana posted on social media that the business had permanently closed in May.
So, was the new Santana-themed mobile kitchen emblazoned with the Tacos Tijuana logo the same taco favorite, or an impostor?
Co-owner Uriel Brena considers it more like Tacos Tijuana 2.0. His former business partners, Miguel Canseco of Taqueria El Paisa and Chef Jose Rodriguez of El Fogon Taqueria, left the business after the truck struggled to make a profit in its first six months at Shady Oak Brewing, according to Brena.
“We tried really hard, but it just wasn’t paying the bills,” said Brena, who continues to handle the business side of the food truck. A marketing professional and political consultant by day, Brena got into the restaurant business after volunteering his services to local restaurants during the pandemic. That led to co-ownership in Tacos Tijuana, whose tasty quesabirria tacos were tapped as favorites by The Press Democrat.
So, without partners, and stuck with a $60,000 used food truck, Brena decided to forge ahead and strike a deal with the Wagon Wheel’s owners to host the mobile kitchen. Tacos Tijuana’s original chef, Edwin Hernandez, and two of Hernandez’s family members have become Brena’s new business partners.
The menu remains much the same, with their signature quesabirria — a crispy, cheesy, beefy handful of happiness — as good as it ever was. New items are coming onto the menu weekly, including conchinita pibil and tacos al vapor (steamed tacos).
In early July, chicken parmigiana and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches will also be added to the menu, Brena said. He tapped Chef Gerard Giudice from Sally Tomatoes Catering and the Heirloom Cafe in Rohnert Park to help perfect his sandwich game after working with Giudice on his successful campaign for Rohnert Park City Council.
Brena plans to add his mother’s chile rellenos as part of an expanded vegetarian menu that includes Soyrizo Nachos, zucchini blossom quesadillas and huitlacoche (a corn fungus with a mushroom-like flavor) tacos. He cautions that although the items are prepared vegetarian and vegan, the grill is also used to cook meat.
For now, quesabirria remains the top seller, but meatless options like the flor de calabaza (squash blossom) are also popular. Paired with a stiff gin and tonic at the Wagon Wheel, you can’t possibly go wrong.
3320 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily with $1 tacos on Tuesday. Delivery orders at 707-296-3000. More details on their Instagram page, @tacostijuana707. Parking can be a little tricky, and the only exit is a right turn onto Mendocino Avenue.