If you’re ordering at the window of Nelson’s Taqueria on any given day, you may see people walk a few steps over from the bus stop on Blair Boulevard and 4th Avenue to ask why the food smells so good. Owner Nelson Lopez is quick to offer a couple of sample tacos if asked.
You might also run into Marilyn Jorgensen, who has dropped by the food truck once or twice a week for the past five years to set new flowers atop the outside tables. “He is a very special person,” she stops to tell me of Lopez. “He’s like family.”
The breakfast menu — boasting various breakfast burritos and plates — is served all day, with the bacon burrito and chorizo burrito being customer favorites. I went with the machaca burrito, based on Lopez’s recommendation, and it is a must. The flavors of the shredded beef, eggs, beans, onions, tomatoes and cheese mesh in harmony, to the extent that you may not be sure what’s in it without knowing. Just throw in some hot and verde sauce and you’ve got a home run.
The eggs and beef are a perfect match with the tightly sliced tomatoes. I have never liked tomatoes, but it looks like I’ll have to re-evaluate my palate.
Lopez recalls when he was 16 and having soup for meals was routine. It was a favorite of his mother’s, but he’d had enough. He went rogue — filling a pan with oil, pulling meat out of the soup and tossing it in. That began the flavor trials. “I started putting ingredients like fresh tomatoes, jalapeños and onions and garlic, and oh my god, a little salt,” Lopez says.
Something clicked then for Lopez that followed him from Mexico to Eugene, where he now owns Nelson’s Taqueria. Stationed under two trees next to the Dew Drop Inn, the food cart gives a sparkle to its shared parking lot with friendly decor ornating the pickup window, colorful string lights overhanging the outside tables and the constant flow of customers. Some visit the food truck every day of the week.
“I have been here for over five years,” Lopez says. “I feel like we have the same loyal customers who show up to my window every day, and sometimes they brought friends, the wife, the dad, the mom, and that made the business. It does make my day when they show up all together.”
Lopez bought the food truck from its previous owner, who was struggling with his business. When Lopez opened the taqueria in 2016, he sought to offer a menu that reached cuisine all across Mexico. “A lot of people call me crazy because I have a full menu,” he says, “when I’m not a full restaurant.” That menu is deep, including but not stopping at burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, bowls, salads, tostadas, taquitos and enchiladas.
The words “fresh, local, authentic” top the restaurant’s name. Authentic Mexican cuisine, Lopez says, means bringing in everything fresh every day. It means not preparing items a week in advance, or buying them prepared from a local market, but always taking the time to cook. “When I cook, they know, they smell the freshness,” he says. “They know I’m cooking the big pan of beans, the rice, the carnitas, el pastor, the beef, the grilled chicken. We are cooking everything fresh.”
It has always been imperative for Lopez to build good rapport with his customers. You’re likely to be greeted with a compliment if you stop by the window, and you can bet that they will be open for breakfast, lunch or dinner without exception at the hours promised. “You need to be loyal to them,” he says. “Without my customers, I’m not Nelson, I’m not no one. You make my business when you show up to my window, when you call my business.” ν
Nelson’s Taqueria is open 8 am to 6 pm every day but Sunday at 394 Blair Boulevard. 541-844-8404.