A pair of Austin-based taco journalists are hitting the road for Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network. On June 24, the network announced United Tacos of America, a new series from Tacos of Texas authors Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece.
The series is a culmination of Rayo and Neece’s years of documenting Texas food culture. Since starting the Taco Journalism blog in 2006, they have published two books (2013’s Austin Breakfast Tacos and 2016’s The Tacos of Texas) and created a Tacos of Texas docuseries in 2018 for YouTube’s Indie Lens Storycast channel.
Rayo tells CultureMap that the El Rey show will follow a similar format to the web series, exploring an aspect of tacos in each 30-minute episode. Although Texas will be represented, the map will expand to cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
“We're staying true to our taco journalism style, focusing on a specific taco style or method and going deep into the food and culture,” he says.
The focus on culture is what sets the show apart from travelogue shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that give shallow — if any — context to the traditions that shape cuisine.
“We use tacos as the Trojan horse to bigger community issues connected to the food,” Rayo explains. “You really can't separate the food from the people and, in our case, tacos from Mexicans, Tejanos, and immigrants.”
Representation will be a key aspect of the series. United Tacos of America profiles cooks rarely featured in articles or seen on TV.
“It's important to tell the stories of the people making the tacos, not just chefs, but cocineros, abuelas, taqueros, and tortilleras,” continues Rayo. “These are the people working tirelessly and often, are under-told, marginalized, or ignored. I want my culture represented and show how these cooks are part of the American experience.”
Although the series does not yet have a premiere date, an El Rey release promised the show will air in the fall. Rayo and Neece — both of whom have day jobs outside of their new role as television hosts — have no immediate plans to spin it off into a third book.
“Right now, we're focused on the TV show," teases Rayo, "but you never know.”