Behind the Wheel of the Taco Bus: Rene Valenzuela

You may have seen Taco Bus on the Food Network, the Travel Channel

and the Cooking Channel, but the national spotlight was a long time

coming. Chef and restaurateur Rene Valenzuela likes to say Taco Bus is

one of those “overnight successes that was 30 years in the making.”

At 9 years old, while other kids were playing marbles or soccer,

Valenzuela was busy making and selling his own tacos at a farmer’s

market in his native Mexico. By college, he was running a taqueria in

El Centrito, the Ybor City of Monterrey. He soon followed the food business to the United States in 1994 and brought his love of Mexican street fare with him to Tampa in 1996.

He started on the Tampa streets with a late-night weekend taco trailer at the corner of Hillsborough and Armenia avenues, and he must have done something right. Today, with five restaurants and counting, his loyal customers can enjoy their favorite Mexican street food 24-7 in the comfort of an air-conditioned dining room. Even so, Valenzuela continues to take it to the streets with the Taco Bus food trucks, keeping him in touch with his modest beginnings.

Valenzuela is a lifelong student of Mexican food, learning from family, friends, cooks and other people in the business along the way. He has trained with such luminaries of Mexican cuisine as Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless and Roberto Santobanez, but he stays true to his humble roots by applying what he learns to his signature street food. For Valenzuela, no amount of national recognition is as satisfying as sharing the delicious, authentic food he grew up loving with the community he now calls home. That passion is what fuels the man behind the wheel of the Taco Bus.

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