Columbus is full of surprises. Probably the last place you’d expect to find a taco stand is inside a strip mall diner in Westerville.
Fans of Columbus diners may be familiar with family run, comfort food eatery The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches. But unless you’re a regular, you may not have seen the chalkboard menu high on the wall boasting spicy combinations of barbacoa, habanero salsa and fried corn on the cob.
Yeah Baby Tacos opened inside Best Breakfast this past April with little ado, but owner Brittany Brewer has quickly gained a following, and for good reason. Brewer’s tacos are a far cry from generic Tex-Mex versions because she infuses them with a sense of fun and fire. Standing under a menu of suggestive dish names (like Prude and Mr. Juicy), she’s busy frying tortillas, searing marinated barbacoa, mashing avocados or whisking up sauces with fresh (and hot!) peppers.
Brewer started at Best Breakfast when it opened in 2007. She moved to Florida a year later where she began searching out authentic Latin American fare. She honed her skills and began catering for small events and birthday parties.
On Brittany’s return to Columbus in June 2012, she took up serving at The Best again, and talked with owner Tom Spangler about starting her own truck. He offered to sub-lease the restaurant to her in the evening. Now 22, the Westerville native is kicking off her dream of owning a food truck by practicing inside the local diner.
To order, first choose between flour or corn tortillas, then select your meat. Brewer varies the options, but they typically include choices such as sazon chicken (a tangy, citrusy preparation), barbacoa (beef marinated in a custom blend of sixteen spices), sauteed vegetables, or even al pastor. Although she’s not able to replicate the traditional preparation of al pastor pork, she does mimic the flavor by sauteing ground pork with peppers and grilled pineapple.
Once you’ve built the base, choose a style, which determines the add-ons. There’s Prude (queso fresco, tomato, onion and sour cream), the Mr. Juicy (pickled onions, cilantro, rojo and cilantro creams), the Quick & Dirty (beans, pico de gallo and cilantro creams), or the Sexi Mexi (pico de gallo and rojo cream). Then you’re offered sides such as beans with sausage, fried tortilla strips, or elote (a popular Mexican street food that’s simply corn on the cob rolled into queso fresco and spices). Brewer uses a dark, smoky chili sauce using the maruga pepper.
Brewer also isn’t afraid of a little spice. She grew up loving it, thanks to her father.
“He force fed me chili peppers my whole life,” she says, adding she put herself through many crying sessions as she experiment with the right heat and flavor combinations for her hot sauce.
These sessions bore the fruit of a variety of sauces that range from sweet to smoky to hot. Some of her more popular sauces include chipotle cream and the cilantro cream, both made with Mexican cream, similar to sour cream but denser and sweeter. By far her top seller is the Booty Call, made from bhut jolokia (ghost peppers), one of the world’s hottest peppers. Other sauces include fruits mixed with habanero, such as peaches (called Peaches & Scream), cherry and apple.
Brittany may be starting small, but she has sold out on more than one night, so she’s clearly earning her following. The long-time goal, she says, is to make Yeah Baby Tacos a truck, and split her year between Columbus in the spring and summer and Florida in the fall and winter. Until then, she’ll be working hard in Westerville. —Nicholas Dekker
Yeah Baby Tacos, located inside The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches, 5916 Westerville Rd., facebook.com, Open 5-10 p.m. Tue, Wed, Fri & Sat