On a cold, dreary day in November, I pulled in to the usually empty Taco Bueno parking lot during my lunch break with a sense of dread. Something was amiss. The parking lot had even fewer cars than normal. Zero cars, actually. How could this be?
Looking back, I should have seen it coming; two of the four locations in Lubbock closed in the past several months and reopened as Golden Chicks. The trusty 82nd street location stood strong and defiant. I was arrogant. Even the Lubbock AJ was led to believe that our steady stream of muchacos had merely slowed to a trickle rather than dried up in a pile of dehydrated pinto beans in the back of a Mayflower truck. I felt betrayed.
It may seem a bit absurd to have this much sentimental attachment to a fast food restaurant, but the Bueno and I have a bit of history.
Taco Bueno was born in Abilene, Texas in 1967. I followed some years later. We spent many a meal together at the original location on South First before moving on to Buffalo Gap Road and Judge Ely Boulevard. It was a common meeting place for friends during high school and college years. For some reason, we would always find ourselves there before or after a movie to indulge in some fairly priced Mexican food. We would discuss Mordor, Peter Parker, and the letdown of the Star Wars prequels over a perfectly greasy muchaco. The Bueno and I even shared a few awkward dates together.
Turbulent times followed. I spent the first two years of my college life in Levelland at SPC without Taco Bueno and was only able to partake during trips back home to visit friends and family. It was a trying time. However, when I moved to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech, the Bueno followed. It was a sign. I lived in bliss for the better part of a decade knowing that any time I felt like having a taste of home, I could do so.
But, once again, this happens: life on the South Plains must carry on without muchacos, chicken potato burritos, or beef nacho salads (the first and only "salad" I have ever ordered on a consistent basis). No more mucho nachos, Mexi dips & chips, or fresh salsa.
Before you roll your eyes, fresh salsa is no joke at the Bueno. They don’t believe in doctoring glorified ketchup packets with witty sayings and then filling them in a factory. On one of my many trips there during lunch, I happened to be seated near a booth and could overhear the conversation between the manager and a potential employee. The manager described how the salsa and re-fried beans were made fresh daily, and that it required people to get to work early. There was a consistent inconsistency with Bueno’s salsa, and it was part of the charm. Either it was a "good" salsa day or a "GREAT" salsa day.
Unfortunately for Lubbock, Bueno never caught on. There were fewer and fewer customers during lunch. Seldom were there more than four or five people enjoying terrible 90's music as they scooped delicious queso out of fried tortilla cups.
I could have done more. I should have done more. But it's gone; the dream has died. And now the closest Taco Bueno is 150 miles away in Abilene, right where it all began.
If only there were a slam dunking muchaco lover to lift my spirits...