A few things have happened since Tacos Doña Lena opened right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — all of them good.First, the locally-owned restaurant at 8788 Hammerly earned a ranking in Yelp’s Top 100 Places to eat in the U.S., along with Yelp’s Top 100 Places to eat in Texas for 2021.
Then, in August of this year, The Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” show spent the day filming at the Spring Branch District restaurant.
And now, Tacos Doña Lena fans will no doubt be happy to hear the owners are looking at expanding.
“I’m currently brainstorming for our second location,” said owner Angel Cabrera. “We have so many great ideas and we can’t wait to bring them to life and continue to provide delicious, authentic Mexican food.”
Cabrera, who attended Shadow Oaks Elementary and graduated from Spring Woods High School, said it was always a dream to open a restaurant for his mother, Magdalena Cabrera — or Doña Lena — in the neighborhood.
“Growing up, my mother sold tacos from our apartment to provide for the family, so it was ideal to open the restaurant in Spring Branch near her home,” Cabrera said. “The concept finds its roots with her, from the recipes and the story, it’s all her. She has always had a dream of one day owning her own restaurant and it was also a dream of mine to be able to give her that one day.”
Cabrera said running their own restaurant has been both a very challenging and rewarding experience after he waited tables for 15 years and his mom sold tacos from her apartment for 25 years.
“When we first opened, we didn’t fully know what we were doing. All I knew is that I wanted to give my mom this taco restaurant and I wanted to succeed and give it my all,” Cabrera said.
“Since my childhood, I’ve always had this dream and I was determined to make it happen. We honestly never expected any of this. So much has happened and it all still feels surreal.”
Cabrera said a highlight has been having “Food Paradise” visit for the entire day.
“Many friends, family and customers were part of the filming, and we can’t wait for everyone to see it,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not permitted to reveal much before the show airs, including the name of the episode, but I can say that they did focus on two of our menu items. We are planning on having a watch party and it makes us so happy to represent Spring Branch in a big way.”
Cabrera said this month’s issue of Outsmart Magazine will feature Tacos Doña Lena as Best Mexican Restaurant.
Tacos Doña Lena is popular for its homemade antojitos, which means “little cravings” and refers to street snacks or appetizers.
Birria tacos made with Mexican stewed beef is their top seller.
“We marinade and prep everything in house,” Cabrera said. “The process is longer and more difficult but totally worth it, and our customers will taste how fresh and authentic our product is. We have a very delicious, distinct authentic flavor that makes us different from any other taco restaurant.”
The restaurant offers six salsas for every spice level, including Doña Lena’s house red. If you’ve ever watched the popular show “Hot Ones,” on YouTube, you can get that same experience at Tacos Doña Lena — but with tacos instead of chicken wings. Our server lined up the salsas for us from mild to spicy.
For a while after opening, Tacos Doña Lena was to-go only but that didn’t deter business. These days, stop in on a Saturday afternoon and every single table is taken — inside and out — and there is a line for to-go orders.
Cabrera said: “There wouldn’t be a Tacos Doña Lena without our amazing loyal customers. We truly appreciate everyone who keeps supporting us and sharing our story.”
Tacos Doña Lena
8788 Hammerly Blvd.
— By Dorothy Puch Lillig
— Photo of Angel and Magdalena Cabrera by Outsmart Magazine