When Hector Cardenas first started selling tacos in Fremont, his venue wasn’t so much of a restaurant as it was a camper — or shack — as he puts it.
“We had a trailer, or a more of a shack,” he laughed. “I had my camper right outside of Whis’s for a couple years.”
For several years, Cardenas would spend his day in his shack, parked outside of Whis’s End Zone Lounge on South Broad Street, where patrons would come and enjoy homemade tacos after having a few drinks at the local bar.
Cardenas’ taco shack — then known as Taco Smack — is now back and has its own brick and mortar storefront in the building that used to house Chatterbox and Nifty 50’s at 1743 E. Military Ave.
Taco Smack officially opened for business at its new location on Aug. 25, and Cardenas along with his wife and daughters are already busy serving up plenty of authentic Mexican dishes for customers new and old.
“It’s been a little busy, but that’s a good problem, huh?” Cardenas said.
Along with plenty of tasty tacos, Taco Smack also offers a variety of familiar Mexican cuisine including burritos, enchiladas, tortas, tamales, tostadas and quesadillas.
According to Cardenas, he has been perfecting recipes for his food since he began cooking as a young boy in Mexico.
After moving to the states, he began working in the food industry, including a five-year stint in the kitchen at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
“I did five years in the main kitchen there and started as a kitchen helper and ended up working as a soup chef there,” he said. “We created food from all different types of cultures: Italian, Hispanic, Asian, American, you name it. So I took a little bit of everything to create my own.”
Before he and his family moved to Fremont in 2007, Cardenas also ran a restaurant in Tampa, Kansas called Casa Azteca.
Now, alongside his family, he has returned to the food business to re-open Taco Smack as a standalone restaurant across from Heedum Field on Military Avenue.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to have. It’s really my dream,” he said. “And so many customers from the old shack kept telling me to open it back up, so Taco Smack was back.”
For Cardenas, along with working alongside his family — including his wife Felicitas and daughter Jocelyn — he hopes to make his customers feel like they are enjoying a home-cooked family meal as well.
“In the end, they are the ones supporting us — so they are family,” he said. “We like to come and sit down and talk with people. I want people to feel welcome and for it to not be one of those restaurants where customers are strangers.”
“We are trying to bring homemade food to the table, so that people can try what authentic Hispanic food is,” he said. “But in the end, we try to give the people what they like, not what we want to serve.”
Cardenas says he focuses on using fresh ingredients, and that when it comes to tacos — it’s all about the meat you use and how you prepare it.
“My seasonings are simple. I use a lot of fresh herbs and citrus,” he said. “It’s all about giving the meat time to cook, because no one wants dry flavorless meat on their taco.
It doesn’t matter how much sauce you put on it.”
Currently Taco Smack is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and closed on Monday, but Cardenas says he plans to add breakfast hours in the future.
He is also in the process of obtaining a liquor license.
“We want to serve some beer and margaritas, we just have to get that piece of paper first,” he said.
While his new space does include a drive-thru, Taco Smack uses the window for pick-up orders only.
For Cardenas, his goal is to simply leave people smiling.
“It’s been a lot of hours to get it going again, but I don’t mind because I love seeing people leave with a smile,” he said. “That is my goal.”
Taco Smack’s full menu and more information can be found on the businesses Facebook page or by calling 402-620-4361.