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The Antelope

The Antelope

Taco truck is late-night treat

A customer inspects Taqueria San Judas’ menu.

Taqueria San Judas is authentic Mexican food in Kearney

BY James Rader

“Gracias,” a customer says as he drops over a 50 percent tip in Jose Tapia’s tip jar. This is not an uncommon sight if you go Tapia’s place of business, a mobile taco truck called Taqueria San Judas, located off Highway 30 on the east side of Kearney. 

Tapia, now in his 40s, is a Mexican immigrant living out the American dream. Tapia was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, but moved to Nebraska in his 20s searching for a better life, immediately finding a home in Kearney. 

“I like this town because it’s kind of small,” Tapia said. “Not too big. Everybody is pretty nice. I love to the see the same faces come back.”

After working several odd jobs, Tapia had the bright idea of cooking his home country’s food for the people of Kearney. 

“When we started, there was not much Mexican food here in town. I fixed up the old truck and just started working.”

That was 12 years ago. Tapia has been doing it ever since. 

“I never thought I’d own my own business like this. I never thought I’d be cooking for people like this,” said Tapia. “But I like it.” 

An old 1978 RV is where Tapia began his journey. Under the business name Tacos Y Tortas, Tapia used lessons and recipes he learned from his time growing up in Mexico to feed his customers. 

“I learned how to cook all of this back in Mexico, but I really do a lot more here with the business,” said Tapia. 

Tapia is underselling it. His truck has a menu rivaling that of a restaurant. Tacos, tamales, tortas, tostadas, and more for people wanting standard Mexican dishes. Chiles rellenos, steak ranchero, menudo, sincronizadas, and choriquezos for people who branch out. 

Tacos Y Tortas gave the people of Kearney the ability to satisfy the craving of authentic Mexican food. The business did well enough that Tapia and his family were able to open up a restaurant in Ravenna several years after starting the truck in Kearney. 

Business isn’t always soaring, however. Like any business, Tacos Y Tortas saw its ups and downs. 

“I like the job. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it’s not you know?” said Tapia. “In the summer time it’s pretty good, but when the weather gets cold, it slows down.”

It’s not uncommon to see a line waiting for tacos, tortas, burritos, and the likes outside of Tapia’s truck in the summer months in Kearney. 

“It’s my favorite part about owning my own truck, when a lot of people come. You see people waiting and it feels good you know? It feels good to make people happy. I see the faces of people coming to get their food and then when they get it. It’s nice.”

Business might slow down as the seasons change, but it sure doesn’t stop. The smiles and excitement don’t stop either. With temperatures in November now dropping into the 30s or even lower on most nights, people still come out to eat Tapia’s food. 

Stay for a night at Taqueria San Judas and you’ll see a variety of people. Mothers with their newborn in a carrier, dogs accompanying their owners, friends walking from the bar across the street, designated drivers bringing in people from all over town after a night of drinking, people taking big orders to friends, and individual people just wanting some dinner.

Talk to these people and they will tell you what their favorite item on the menu. For most, it’s the tacos. Every taco comes with choice of meat, onion, cilantro, lemon, and salsa. Meats include asada (diced steak), chorizo (Mexican sausage), lengua (tongue), pastor (pork), desebrada (shredded beef), Cabeza (cheek meat), pollo (chicken), and tripas (intestines).

A simple dish, Tapia hand cooks each taco to perfection. After ordering, you can hear the sizzle of the meat cooking while Tapia gathers the tortillas and other toppings. Then, a heady scent overcomes the nose as Tapia he puts all of the ingredients together.

Talk to these people longer and they will tell you why they come. For most, it’s to satisfy a hunger with their favorite Mexican food. However, some people have additional reasons. 

“I really like the guy that owns the place,” said Josh Temoshek of Kearney. 

Being open late attracts UNK student Kody Fletcher. “I like to eat late at night, and this is the best place to do,” said Fletcher. “Either sober or drunk,” he added.

The hours of operation are what initially attracted Kearney police officer Anthony Faz while he worked nights, but it’s the food that has made Faz a regular customer for years now. 

“It’s real authentic Mexican food. The tamales, the tacos, it’s all great. I don’t even know how long I’ve been coming here. Probably almost since it’s been open. Yeah, it’s been a while,” said Faz.

Talk to enough people at Taqueria San Judas and you’ll find out Faz isn’t a standout case. Almost all of the customers are repeat customers who come on a semi regular basis. 

“I come a couple times a month,” said Sandra Caciano, who even brought her friend from out of town because she had never had Tapia’s tacos. “The first time I came was probably 2010, so a long time ago,” Caciano added with a 

laugh and a smile. 

It’s things like the smiles on peoples’ faces when they get their food that push Tapia through the slow times of the winter time in Nebraska as well as the frequent long nights he puts in cooking. 

“With the truck we stay open late,” said Tapia. “Close around midnight on weekdays but stay open to 1 (am) maybe 2 (am) on Friday and Saturday because those are good business hours. People stay up late or go out late and then want their food late at night you know?”

The only exception is Sunday. Both the truck and the restaurant are closed on Sundays to allow Tapia and his family to rest, recover, and spend time together. They feel it is important to have quality family and church time as well. 

Even though Tapia’s wife, son, and daughter help out with the business, most of their time is spent at the restaurant in Ravenna, so Tapia works most nights all alone in the truck.

Tapia uses these faith and family values as guiding principles in his life and his business. And his business and family have given Tapia a life most Mexican immigrants only dream of. Just this month Tapia hosted a grand opening of his new taco truck, finally moving on from the 1978 RV.

“It was kind of funny. The old motor home would break down or need repairs and customers would be calling me, ‘Where are you at? When are going to open?’,” Tapia said. “But now we have the new truck.” 

This new truck offers reliability, more room inside for Tapia, bigger and better menus outside for customers, and a modern aesthetic. 

The new truck is still located off high Highway 30 on the east side of Kearney, but now under the same name as their family restaurant, Taqueria San Judas, paying homage to his family’s faith. 

With these improvements, Tapia plans to keep the people of Kearney satisfied and smiling for a long time.

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