Gustavo Diaz, who owns The Back Yard in Springfield, learned from an early age about the importance of freshly cooked tortillas.
His family believed that the family should sit together and eat at the same time, Diaz says, and growing up he would be curious about the tortillas cooking on the comal, the griddle.
“I developed that palate for tortillas,” he says. “Nothing compares when you grab the tortilla from the comal to your mouth. This great flavor and burning sensation goes into your mouth. And I never found that here in any restaurant.”
Diaz, who is from Oaxaca but grew up in Oregon, opened his cart, The Back Yard, in June. The menu has street tacos, burritos and quesadillas, and the recipes feature freshly ground spices, marinades, meats and, of course, tortillas fresh off the comal.
Starting his food cart, he says, was a way to not only showcase his passion for food and his culture but also a way to spend more time with his seven-month old daughter.
When the food cart opened, The Back Yard was at 20th and Main in Springfield, but it recently moved to the parking lot of Swallowtail Spirits in downtown Springfield. It’s a move that happened because the owners of Rolled Dreams Ice Cream vouched for him to Swallowtail’s management, he says. Rolled Dreams is a fellow Springfield food cart serving handcrafted ice cream.
Diaz’s father-in-law passed down the family recipes that make up The Back Yard’s menu, Diaz says, and the recipes call for quality meats and spices. Every day, he grinds spices and makes fresh sauces to marinate meats. “It takes a lot of time to process, to serve a simple taco that I sell for $3.50,” he adds. “I don’t get much, but I think my joy is to have great feedback and make my guests happy.”
The marinated meats in the tacos — whether it’s the pollo, carne asada or adobado — are packed with so much flavor that any hot sauce or salsa would undermine the artistry. Yet it’s the made-to-order corn tortillas that rival the spices and marinated meat. There are other restaurants and carts that make their own corn tortillas, but The Back Yard’s tortillas are good enough to eat by themselves.
One of The Back Yard’s more popular items is the al pastor, a fusion of marinated pork and pineapple. Like shawarma, al pastor is cooked on a spike, called a trompo. And whenever Diaz serves an al pastor taco, the meat comes straight off the spike, he says. It’s usually served on weekends, but with growing popularity, he plans to increase its availability.
In the future, he says he’s hoping to expand his menu to include more varieties of meat, such as birria (a slow cooked beef roast in this case) and lengua (cow tongue). And he’s looking at showcasing local mushrooms and maybe even a type of rare fungi delicacy that grows in corn fields called cuitlacoche.
But he says he’s not going to rush expansion yet, as he’s the cart’s only employee. And his menu, as it is, is impressing locals, he says. He thinks back to a woman who visited his cart to buy one taco. She came back the next day with figs.
“I love figs,” he laughs. “For her to be touched in her heart and consider me someone to give a gift, that was really, really amazing experience for me.”
The Back Yard is at 111 Main Street. Find on Facebook.
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