This San Antonio couple is behind New York's 'obsession-worthy' bean-and-cheese tacos

Photo of Madalyn Mendoza

For San Antonians dreaming of moving to New York City and making a life Frank Sinatra would be proud of, there are a lot of variables to consider: Where do I get groceries without H-E-B? How will I start my mornings without breakfast tacos?

We don't have the answer for the first question, but now city-slickers can find a piece of San Antonio in the Big Apple. Known as Yellow Rose, this East Village taqueria-style joint is owned by husband-wife duo Dave and Krystiana Rizo.

Yellow Rose is a month shy from celebrating its first anniversary on November 11, and it's already made a name for itself in New York. The bean-and-cheese tacos were so impressive to New Yorker food critic Hannah Goldfield, she said she'd brave a tundra just to get to the "obsession-worthy" restaurant.

Rizo, a product of San Antonio's Westside, launched his cooking career here under the ranks of James Beard semifinalist Michael Sohocki. Rizo and his wife agreed that once they tied the knot, they'd push themselves out of their comfort zone and move out of the Alamo City. They packed up for the East Coast in 2017. 

The husband-wife duo from San Antonio has already made a name for themselves in the Big Apple. 

The husband-wife duo from San Antonio has already made a name for themselves in the Big Apple. 

Courtesy, Dave Rizo

"San Antonio is kind of a hard to city to move out of. It's really comfortable and you get really relaxed there," Rizo says. "It's a good life. I always tell people up here: everyone's super friendly and there's really good food. I never thought that I'd actually move out of San Antonio, to be honest." 

Rizo had only visited New York once prior to their jump, but he trusted the move would bolster his career. During his first few days as a New Yorker, he was hired at Superiority Burger, which he says "shot off" his start in the city. 

"It was kind of a test myself to see, 'Could I hang here?' And if so, what does that look like," he says. 

The pandemic marked the start of his own venture. After he was laid off by the burger joint, Rizo's quarantine boredom took him back to his pop-up roots. Yellow Rose started off setting up at bars and in backyards, drumming up appetites and interests. One pop-up took over what the space that would eventually become their East Village brick-and-mortar. And the rest was history.

Yellow Rose began as a pandemic pop-up, but now has a permanent brick-and-mortar in the East Village.

Yellow Rose began as a pandemic pop-up, but now has a permanent brick-and-mortar in the East Village.

Courtesy, Dave Rizo

A year later, it's clear San Antonio can hang in the Big Apple. Oddly enough, the cuisine that's such a staple in San Antonio is a niche in New York City. He says there's an array of food choices covering every corner of the world, from Caribbean to Bangladeshi, but there aren't many places where you can grab heaven in a handheld, foil-wrapped package.

Rizo says his own longing for a simple yet satisfying breakfast taco is what inspired Yellow Rose. 

"It was the first week living New York City and I was like, "Okay, where am I going to get my carne guisda? Where's my taco shop?" he remembers. "I looked around I was like, 'Oh, they don't have that up here.'"

Rizo dreamed of a place that would be representative of his city  — lots of comfort food, hold the tacky Party City-style sombrero decor. Rizo says even the play list is inspired by the Alamo City, and includes everything from the Rolling Stones to Sir Douglas Quintet, a band formed in San Antonio in the 1960s. 

"This is something that we thought that we could create that was representative of our childhood and of my neighborhood, which is the Westside of San Antonio, and there's a lot of pride in that," Rizo says.

The Texas-inspired cuisine has needed some translation to help East Coasters adapt. For the first time, Rizo had to learn to describe food that rarely needs any kind of introduction in San Antonio. The Yellow Rose menu includes brief descriptions, like "beef simmered in gravy" for carne guisada tacos, to build a bridge. Still, the "totally foreign" tacos are lost on some who complain in online reviews about the tacos being too low-frills for their taste. No fancy garnishes here, but Rizo says his team always recommends adding cheese to the carne guisada — word to San Antonio. 

"I'm only making these tacos, because I miss these tacos, not because I'm trying to reinvent these tacos. This is just as close of a representation of the guisada I love from Ramona's Cafe. I love it so much and I miss it," Rizo says.

Yellow Rose also serves doughnuts on weekend, a nod to the Original Donut Shop.

Yellow Rose also serves doughnuts on weekend, a nod to the Original Donut Shop.

Courtesy, Dave Rizo

If you couldn't tell, bean-and-cheese tacos are the big seller at Yellow Rose (along with margaritas), but Rizo also introduces specialty plates and opportunities to get the full San Antonio experience. On weekends, as an ode to The Original Donut Shop, Yellow Rose sells doughnuts. He says it's reminiscent of mornings he spent alternating bites between tacos and doughnuts — mornings when he should've been in class at Jefferson.

Rizo also recently got his hands on a small batch of Big Red and introduced it to the menu for a limited time. A friend of his, born and bred in the Bronx, had the following reaction to the beloved elixir: "He was like 'What is this? This is crazy. This is so sugary. What is the flavor of this?'" Rizo recalls. "Then some people are like 'I don't know what's going on with this, I don't know what y'all are drinking in San Antonio, this is wild.'"

Yellow Rose has become a place of discovery, whether that's sipping Big Red or biting into a breakfast taco for the first time. Rizo says he frequents a farmers market where a customer recently bought a bag of Yellow Rose bean-and-cheese tacos to take home to his family to try. His father-in-law ate the stash clean before anyone else could get to them. 

"[The father-in-law] said, 'These little bean-and-cheese burritos are pretty good,'" Rizo says with a laugh. "He had no idea what it was, he just ate it all — that was amazing."

Yellow Rose is also a place where homesick Texans can reconnect or pass on traditions. Texpats raising families in New York City bring their kids in to eat tacos the way they did growing up. The dish provides a sense of comfort, a healing power during times of isolation brought on by the pandemic when customers were unable to travel home. 

"It definitely gets people emotional sometimes. People say, 'I just really miss home, I haven't been home for so long and eating this papa con huevo taco reminds me of Sunday mornings with my family.' And that's really sweet," he adds. "It's more than just making a dish. It's kind of like striking an emotional chord with people and making them feel something and making them feel at home."

He says that bond over food is part Yellow Rose's mission. 

"That's why we made it, we made it for for those people and for ourselves, but then also to showcase where we're from, and our culture from San Antonio," Rizo says. "We're very proud people and it's a very proud city that gets kind of thrown under the radar a lot of times. So it was really to try to push myself as a cook, but then also as someone from 78207. It's one of the poorest ZIP codes in America, and there's pride in that. We're hardworking people and I want to showcase that."

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