Chef Rene Valenzuela of Taco Bus fame is expanding his recent food truck, Rene’s Mexican Kitchen, to a second brick-and-mortar location in Ybor City. It will have a pick-up window to grab his famous tacos, burritos and Mexican torta sandwiches.
“More like a bodega,” Valenzuela said of the new location at 2802 N 16th St., on the north side of Ybor City, a few blocks from La Segunda Bakery.
He is still keeping his Seminole Heights food truck going at 4414 N Nebraska Ave. But the extra kitchen space in Ybor will allow him to expand the menu a bit.
He hopes to have the Ybor location open by the end of August. It won’t have any indoor or outdoor seating. It will be just take-out orders and delivery such as Uber and DoorDash.
His Taco Bus was one of the first Florida food trucks to draw national acclaim, allowing him to open several bus-themed restaurants and attracting national attention, including visits from celebrity chef Guy Fieri on his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
He sold his stake in the Taco Bus brand in 2015 and began planning a high-end Mexican steakhouse. But in 2018, a horrific fire caused by a gas explosion nearly killed him, and left Valenzuela with severe burns. He spent more than a year between the hospital burn unit and in recovery.
But after much hard work and a wife “who nursed me tirelessly for months at my bedside,” he said he is back to full health.
“After all the therapies, I don’t feel any pain and I have full range of motion in my arms and limbs and hands,” he said. “I feel fantastic.”
Medical expenses ate up his plans for the high-end restaurant and he returned to his well-known path of a food truck that relies heavily on the food of his ancestors and his home in Monterrey, Mexico.
He likes to play fast and loose with the proteins in his tacos and burritos, sometimes serving stingray as a special and a popular one with octopus, shrimp and chicharron on a taco. He is best known for his tacos using al pastor, barbacoa, chorizo, chile relleno and vegetarian options like mushrooms and butternut squash.
His latest ploy is to play around with carne asada. Instead of a cheap cut of meat marinated in lime juice, he’s going to use black Angus skirt steak that he will grill on charcoal before putting it through the paces of taco assemblage.
“It’s going to be an extra buck, but it’s going to be worth it.”