When American consumers head out to a Mexican or Latin American restaurant, they can expect tacos and burritos. Maybe they put rice in their taco, which sort of makes it a burrito, which doesn’t even really exist in Mexico. They don’t require a fresh-made tortilla or carefully paired salsas. But at the heart of these oft-abused cuisines are families in kitchens using local ingredients in simple, time-tested ways to create delicious food with love.
Luis Flores, chef and co-owner of the fast casual Uno Dos Tacos in San Francisco, grew up eating the carefully cooked dishes of his mother’s Mexican kitchen and has brought the food just as it is to his restaurant, cooking the way his mom and aunts taught him. It’s that attention to detail—and 29 roasted, fried, and settled ingredients in one sauce—that customers have to look forward to at Uno Dos Tacos, served generously alongside tequila and Flores’ care and passion.
He explains how his mother’s recipes inspired his menu.
Uno Dos Tacos says it is “homemade and deeply personal.” What’s personal about your restaurant and your food?
Everything is made every day from scratch, from the salsas to the tortillas. We get the masa delivered to us every day and we make fresh-made tortillas in front of you. We don’t cook them until you place an order. All this cooking is based on the way my mom cooked for me.
What would hungry customers be able to get at Uno Dos Tacos that they can’t get elsewhere?
I’m really proud of anything we make at Uno Dos Tacos. For example, there’s a particular place where they make the best carnitas in that region of Mexico, and what they do is what we do at Uno Dos Tacos. It takes about two hours to get it fully cooked. We do take the time to do it right.
Is that the way your mom made carnitas?
Yeah. It’s so good. They fall apart in your mouth, and I always wanted to do it this way.
What ingredients or flavors in Uno Dos Tacos’ food might we not find elsewhere?
Our salsas are fresh-made and matched with dishes. For the lingua, we use the tomatillo sauce. That’s the way it’s done in Mexico. In a lot of places here, you just have a taco bar and you don’t really get the full extent of the flavors. We have another special salsa that my mom used to make in a molcajete. I want it—because it’s roasted—with the carnitas or carne asada. We think about what goes into the taco. We do what’s simple and easy—which is fresh cilantro, fresh onion, fresh tortilla, carnitas freshly made—and then we match it with the right sauce to get the right flavor.
What do you think about Mexican or Latin American food in the U.S. today?
I’m from Guadalajara. I came to the country when I was 12 years old. Now I’m 41. I got to experience a lot of food from Mexico the right way. It’s really awesome that we can get all the different flavors from all the different cuisines around the States. It didn’t used to be like that. I think that’s why Mexican and Latin American cuisine is getting better and better. I think you have to do it with fresh ingredients, and now we have access to it.
Where is Mexican or Latin American cuisine headed? What’s the next thing?
When you define Mexican food in most places, you define it as tacos and burritos, but Mexican food is much more than that. We’re looking forward to defining what the actual food is that we eat at home. A good plate of carne asada the way my mom used to cook it over the grill with a fresh tortilla and fresh salsa—something like that is what defines a Mexican kitchen. That’s the way Latin American food is going: more of a, “This is us.”
As a Mexican chef, what can you offer American cuisine that other chefs can’t?
I think more than anything, it’s that little touch. If you don’t do it step by step the right way, you won’t get the same result. It’s more of a family-cooking style than just going onto the internet, getting the recipe, putting all the ingredients in the blender, and you have mole.
How much do you feel you can push the envelope?
We take the time. We have a completely open kitchen, and people see this every day. This is the right way to do it versus the lazy way to do it. Pushing the envelope is, we can do it, and we can do it fresh, and we can do it daily.