What’s the best way to make connections in a new city? Some people join clubs or sports teams. Others scroll through Tinder and Instagram. When Carlos Reynoso and Polo Abram Bañuelos moved to Portland from Los Angeles six years ago, they made tacos.
“We were looking for other brown queer individuals who could relate to us and make friends,” Bañuelos explains. “Growing up in the kitchen with my aunt and mom—everyone just laughing and joking—that's the feeling I want to give people when they come to visit us.”
Inspired by the street food of L.A. and Baja California, Bañuelos and Reynoso began serving seitan tacos and other snacks at venues across town: first at a private dinner for friends, then at sunny Saturday markets and glitzy queer dance nights. Conscious that “everyone was going to be turning looks” at the dance parties, Bañuelos began dressing up for work, cooking vegan asada in six-inch stilettos—a sartorial decision that eventually inspired their eatery’s name.
“One of the biggest ways that I was able to express my queerness in a very in-your-face way was to wear high heels,” says Bañuelos. Thus, Mis Tacones: a name that translates to both “my big tacos” and “my high heels.”
Although Mis Tacones has been working toward opening a more permanent location for years, it was still operating as a roving pop-up when the pandemic hit Portland. Without a mortgage or rent to pay, the business could hibernate until it was safe to re-emerge.
“It did hurt,” Bañuelos says. “Not so much not going out to sell food, but not being able to be with our community, to see our regulars and all of these beautiful faces.”
Recently, Mis Tacones has reunited with their regulars via kitchen takeovers at Local Lounge, a Northeast Portland gay bar. The pop-ups typically coincide with events on Local Lounge’s new patio, allowing patrons to enjoy a socially distanced drag revue while chowing down on spicy seitan al pastor tortas; french-fry-based papas nachos topped with house-made pico and cashew crema; and tacos served on hand-pressed tortillas made with Three Sisters Nixtamal masa.
But Mis Tacones isn’t all about food. Bañuelos describes it as a “socially-engaged art project built from nostalgia and food and queer culture.” Reynoso and Bañuelos are acutely aware that the customers they’re most hoping to attract—queer and trans people of color—can’t always afford to dine out on $12 burritos. Inspired by Oakland’s iconic Gay4U Vegan Eats, Mis Tacones happily provides free meals to any trans person of color upon request. “We give a lot of food away; I won’t hesitate to feed anybody at all,” says Bañuelos. “But we put an emphasis on POC trans folks because I want them to know that they’re seen and heard and loved and cared about. We got you.”
If you can’t make it to a Mis Tacones pop-up IRL, you can still join the fun on the taqueria’s Instagram page (@mistaconespdx): a joyful jumble of selfies, Spanglish, and nostalgic Mexican pop culture references. Many of the posts feature Walter Mercado, the gender-nonconforming astrologer and Latinx cultural icon whose image has been lovingly appropriated by the Mis Tacones team. “Walter transcends more than queer culture,” Bañuelos explains. “When I was a kid, watching this effeminate icon that [captivated] everybody in the living room for a few seconds, and commanded this respect and attention—it was so important to me.”
These days, Bañuelos and Reynoso are once again talking about moving on from pop-ups, most likely by fixing up a food cart they received from (fellow vegan Mexican street food cart) Chilango PDX. But for now, Mis Tacones will continue to pop up at Local Lounge on the first and third Saturdays of every month; follow them on Facebook and Instagram for information on future pop-ups.