No gamble here, only authentic Mexican tacos

PICANTE DELIGHT  Two weeks and $20,000 after opening in the old casino, José Hernandez says he’s not afraid of competition from a plethora of other taco restaurants in town. He thinks word of his authentic Guadalajaran cooking will fill his shop with new

In what used to be the Garlic City Casino a new restaurant has sprung up, giving an old gambling hall a new look and a lot more flavor. Tacos Del Guero, where the food is spicy, rich and 100 percent authentic, brings José Hernandez’s Guadalajaran cooking to a new home base away from the kitchen he rented at El Centenario for four years.
For him, starting a new business is hard work, but he says the customers will follow the man with magic taco making hands.
“When I make something for you, there’s something in my hands that makes it taste different than if someone else made it for you,” said Hernandez, 49, whose unusual ingredients include orange juice, chocolate, garlic and cinnamon mixed with the hottest peppers.
His setup is a little quirky at the old 24-hour cardroom.  Hernandez is betting that the rent he saves on his location, from $4,500 to $3,000, along with the convenience of being open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., serving as a last, late night refuge for good food after a night out, will help. During the day, Hernandez takes advantage of his ample parking, serving tacos from his food cart near the sidewalk. Inside or outside, the tacos are made fresh.
“All my life, God has taken care of me and I take care of the people,” said Hernandez, who often offers free food and soft drinks to homeless people. “God brought me right here.”
For now, he’s keeping the menu simple. Tacos made with beef, chicken, beef tongue, sausage or, roasted sheep head, all for $2.50. More combos are yet to come, like tortas haogades, soft Mexican bread stuffed with fresh carnitas and topped with a hot chili sauce. He also likes to cook Mexican cactus, called nopales, with scrambled eggs.
Everything he makes is homemade, including the tortillas Hernandez is there, from open to close, cooking, preparing ingredients or mixing his homemade horchata, pineapple juice or Jamaica, a ruby red ice-cold herbal tea made from hibiscus flowers, each for $2.  When Hernandez completes his menu, he will concentrate on five main items, keeping it simple, so he can stay in the kitchen and have others serve the food.
“I make my own salsas, I make my own chilies, I make everything myself,” said Hernandez, who buys his ingredients from El Camino Produce. He also plans to be the only shop in town to serve sliced chicken cut from a skewer, the way others cook pork.
Hernandez invested $20,000 in the building and is paying off his expenses one sale at a time. Vestiges of the old Garlic City Casino remain. The sign-up front has “Guero” interposed between Garlic City and Casino. The Garlic City Casino’s lettering is still on the front of the building and a “21 and Older” sign hangs by the front entrance. The sign no longer applies and being open less than a month, Hernandez still counts on his regulars, but he’s hoping for business to pick up soon.
Hernandez is a relative newcomer to cooking. He cut his teeth working in the restaurant business starting out at a Mexican restaurant in San Jose. Drawing upon the cooking of his mother Julia, he worked to start out on his own, selling homemade tacos from a taco cart and from the kitchen he rented at El Centenario bar.
Surprisingly, Hernandez has attracted Vietnamese, Hindu and Muslim customers based on exotic items like his roasted sheep head, more familiar in their cultures. The soul of the food comes from Hernandez’s Guadalajara roots and the name, Tacos Del Guero is a reference to his light complexion compared to many others at home in Guadalajara.
“I’m a little white in Mexico,” Hernandez said. “Most Mexicans are much darker.
My mother was more white than me.”