Notions of authenticity are applied to every trendy restaurant, but if you seek out food made by families, where the kids are cooking the way their aunties or grandmas taught them, it’s one sure way of securing the real real thing. And that’s the way things work at Tacos Chinelo.
Humberto Hernandez moved to Hendersonville from Mexico 15 years ago, spending most of his career here working in kitchens, most recently Two Guys Pizza. But through it all, he loved cooking with his aunt, Catalina Montez.
“She loves to cook!” says Salma Rogel, Humberto’s cousin, acting as translator. “She is the one who prepares all of the meats, and she makes the salsas, too. She makes everything fresh.”
After a long search for a good location, the two decided to open a food truck. “We kept driving by the lot and it looked lonely,” says Salma. “Catalina liked the space for the truck.” They started serving food in May of 2021.
Originally from Morelos, the family takes pride in their home state. “It’s a very small state in Mexico,” explains Salma, translating for Catalina, “about an hour away from Mexico City, so it is close to that area and we get some ideas from the city, too. But these flavors and everything are all from Morelos. We are proud to represent that part of Mexico.”
And that pride is evident in the very name of the truck. “The name Chinelo comes from our hometown,” says Rogel. “Each year around June we do a carnival called Chinelo. A Chinelo is a person dressed up with a gown of colorful drawings, hat and a mask. Each of the drawings and details are handmade by local craftsmen using beads or sequins. It can take months to finish a whole costume.”
Large and bumbling, with neatly carved beards and blushed cheeks, the Chinelo was originally devised as a mockery of colonial Europeans in the 19th century, but has become an icon of Morelos, blending native traditions with Christian culture. Emblazoned on the side of the Tacos Chinelo truck is a large painting of a Chinelo dancer, with a hand outstretched, bearing a plate of three pastor tacos.
Chinelo the food truck is known for those pastor tacos, featuring crispy bits of pineapple-marinated pork. Also noteworthy are the shrimp tacos — marinated shrimp on flour tortillas with cabbage, avocado, and a creamy, spicy sauce.
And don’t miss the tacos birria, which are essentially the French Dip of the taco world — slowly stewed beef-and-cheese tacos dipped in a spicy consommé. In addition to their standard menu of tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and burritos, the family often features specials and weekend offerings like chilis stuffed with rice and beans, sopes, and empanadas.
Tacos Chinelo, 706 7th Ave East, Hendersonville. Open Monday through Saturday, 11am-8:30pm, and Sunday 1-8:30pm. For more information, call 828-243-6534 or see Tacos Chinelo on Facebook.