All quiet at the Taco Cabana

Taco Cabana is a unique restaurant, starting in 1978 from a single location in an old Dairy Queen in San Antonio they brought they idea of Drive Through Tex-Mex across a good portion of the Southern United States. Taco Cabana was so successful early on they even experienced a few imitators by the 80s such as Two Pesos who would later be famously sued by Taco Cabana. By the 90s the family involved with founding T.C. had left the company and after going public the chain experienced enormous growth. Expanding beyond Texas into New Mexico, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and possibly a few other states.

A few things set Taco Cabana apart from their competitors, first off the restaurants were open 24 hours a day 7 days a week offering breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, their drink menu included alcoholic beverages like beer, and margaritas, next the food was ready just as quick as any other fast food joint, finally they hooked you with the fajitas. I sincerely don’t know what it was about Taco Cabana’s fajitas but they were straight up delicious, and while not gourmet quality, they were cheap and well complimented with seasoning which is really where fajitas come from. While I don’t have as much information on the expansion of Taco Cabana I do know that they experienced lots of Luther’s BBQ like issues. Including changing ownership, mismanagement, poor quality control among franchisees, and over expansion. Taco Cabana was likely over 200 stores at one point but is now much closer to 100. The out of state stores did not last with Florida being the first market T.C. left, they would slowly trickle out of Georgia and Arizona too, leaving us with Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico as of 2021.

The over expansion problems weren’t limited to out of state locations. Even after the infamous Two Pesos chain was purchased and their locations converted to Taco Cabana, new stores continued to pop-up. At one point there were over 20 Taco Cabana locations in the Houston suburban area. As issues with quality control, and declining sales increased Taco Cabana stores in Texas started to close. For the most part these closings were quiet and the building was well disguised. However as of late issues seems to only be increasing for the chain. The current owner Fiesta Restaurant Group who also hold Pollo Tropical, closed 19 stores in early 2020. Today we’re taking a look at one of the locations that closed, 2535 South Highway 6 Houston, TX. This location opened in 1994 after Taco Cabana had taken over the Two Pesos location inside of West Oaks mall. Prior to 90s this side of Highway 6 and Westheimer had been mostly undeveloped. This new development also brought a Venture, Builder’s Square, Service Merchandise, and many other new retailers. Unfortunately this development would flop with Venture then Kmart failing along with Builder’s Square and Service Merchandise. For many years this shopping center operated without any major anchors, eventually Burlington Coat Factory and Floor and Decor, along with a few other minor tenants would occupy the empty space. Although Burlington would move in 2018 leaving the center partially empty again.

When looking this location up online it had pretty negative reviews. Most customers either had issues with the food or the response or the staff. If you look up reviews from Taco Cabana locations that are currently open you’ll see lots of similar complaints, bland and boring food, dismissive staff, and increasingly higher prices. While I do understand that prices rise over time, the quality of Taco Cabana’s food continues to drop. The last time I ordered Fajitas I couldn’t even finish them they were so dry, it was like eating a jerky taco. The short sightedness of corporate failings is apparent in this store too. Just as the T.C. closed this center began to take off again with Alief ISD purchasing the former Venture/Kmart to re-purpose as training space. If Taco Cabana could have looked forward a bit it’s likely they could have easily mothballed this restaurant until the new center opened. However as of 2021, its just an empty eyesore on the property.

3 comments

  1. I’m not sure if I’ve even ever eaten at a Two Pesos or Taco Cabana, but I do remember that Two Pesos had a location across FM 1960 W from Willowbrook Mall that ended up becoming a Taco Cabana before closing many years ago and becoming a Jared jewelry store. I can’t remember now if the Jared uses the same building as the Two Pesos though.

    There is a Taco Cabana at the intersection of FM 1960 W & Jones Rd. that I suppose more or less replaced the Willowbrook location. I think that’s still around. It was last time I was in the area. Before Taco Cabana was on that property, there used to be a Gulf gas station there with a big, spinning Gulf sign. That was quite memorable and it was probably the last spinning gas station sign in the general Willowbrook area that I can remember. If I remember correctly, the Gulf there closed around the time that Houston Gulf stations became Chevron stations.

    Although I have never been to that Taco Cabana, or any Taco Cabana, I do remember eating take out from the Pancho’s Mexican Buffet take out window that was also at that FM 1960 & Jones intersection! The Taco Cabana is surely better than the Pancho’s was, but yet Taco Cabana has never drawn me in.

    Speaking of Pancho’s and Taco Cabana, there was a Taco Cabana I-45 near Hobby Airport that closed a couple of years ago, but the nearby Pancho’s near Almeda Mall is still open. Go figure!

    On the topic of that West Oaks shopping center, the shopping center operator Levcor has some excellent old photos of shopping centers they managed in the past and present on their website. They owned the shopping center which used to have Best Buy in it behind the Venture between 1992 and 2002 and they have some old historical aerial photos of it on their website which shows the general area in around 1993-1994 or so I’m guessing. It appears that maybe the Taco Cabana wasn’t built yet, but I can’t say for sure. The photos are at the bottom of this link: https://levcor.com/projects/west-oaks-village

  2. Working in the general area, I did occasionally visit this location and it was not one of the chain’s best (and I moved on to the nearby locations along Wilcrest, both I-10 and Westheimer). I did like that fountain, though. Back in my childhood, we would bypass this location for the former Two Pesos one in West Oaks Mall.

    I can appreciate the challenge that a restaurant like Taco Cabana faces trying to make things like fajitas, queso, margaritas and such and sell them at fast food prices, I mean just look at what those things cost nowadays at even fast-casual restaurants… much less what were once middle-class focused Tex-Mex restaurants. But it is disappointing to see the quality of the food slide in recent years. I do still love a chicken fajita taco combo, with the trick being to grab a fork and use it to dunk the dry chicken in the queso (which is still quite tasty and a GREAT value for its price, I would take it over several $10+ sit-down restaurant quesos I have had).

    Barring even more grossly incompetent mismanagement, TC should be with us as long as breakfast tacos remain popular… because they still do those really fast and really well. I can’t fault them too much for not waiting on the redevelopment of the shopping center with this location, though. A lot of retailers and restaurants have had the misfortune to discover that all that traffic at 6 and Westheimer does not want to stop and shop at that intersection if they can help it. The I-35 Waco location, on the other hand…

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