A Taste of Austin in NYC: Liz Solomon's King David Tacos
By Tonyia Cone
Liz Solomon misses plenty of things about Austin since moving to New York City in 2006 – authentic Texan friendliness, being able to eat outside most days of the year, margaritas, the sandwich bar at Whole Foods on Sixth Street and even HEB.
But there was one thing she missed so much she had to recreate it in New York -- breakfast tacos.
Members of the Jewish Community Center Austin when it was on Jollyville Road – she remembers swimming in its above-ground pool – Solomon’s family also belonged to Congregation Beth Israel while she was growing up. She attended Hebrew school and became bat mitzvah at CBI, and later worked there as a pre-k teacher assistant, an assistant on Sundays, a Hebrew school substitute teacher and tutor. CBI’s Rabbi Steven Folberg officiated Solomon’s wedding this June.
Solomon was also very involved at Greene Family Camp in Bruceville. She first attended the camp in 1992, and later served as a counselor until she finished college.
After graduating from Anderson High School, Solomon earned her bachelor’s degree in advertising at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a member of the Jewish sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi.
After graduating from UT in 2006, Solomon moved to New York City.
“New York always kind of spoke to me,” she said, explaining that she loved the city ever since her first school trip there in 1998.
“I thought I knew I wanted to be in advertising from an early age and felt like New York was the best place for that industry. And I’d fallen in love with the city, all the awful parts of it and the great parts of it. I thought the awful parts were great, so I think that that still is a trait someone who lives in New York needs to have. You need to embrace it for all of its flaws because it’s really a beautiful, magical place to be,” Solomon added.
She spent the next decade working in advertising, spending her first three years at Ogilvy before moving on to TAXI, where she worked on accounts including the Jewish Federation of North America, then Red Peak and Droga5.
“All the way through I had breakfast tacos on the brain,” Solomon said, explaining that even in her first few years in New York, her father, David Solomon, said she should open a breakfast taco cart, and that she gave a presentation in her first week at Red Peak about breakfast tacos.
“He saw very early on that there was something missing in the market and something that would really fit the New York lifestyle really well,” Solomon said.
“New York does an amazing job on all different kinds of ethnic food and being able to get the best of the best of everything. And they can't nail Tex Mex. No one has done it completely,” she explained adding that while different eateries may have something like good enchiladas or verde sauce, there is no one restaurant where she can order anything off the menu and be totally satisfied.
“So that's been missing, and it was always in the back of my mind. Every Texan [who lives in New York] kind of dreams of leaving it all behind and starting a breakfast taco truck. Everybody talks about it as a dream backup plan, but nobody has done it.”
Until this June, that is, when Solomon and her husband Nate Dwyer opened King David’s Tacos. According to the company’s website, the company offers “the only breakfast tacos in New York made by a native Austinite, in the true Austin style, with real Austin ingredients.”
In addition to experience eating tacos all her life, Solomon learned the business by watching people make tacos. Then she combined aspects of her favorite Austin restaurants like Taco Deli and Taco Shack and making them fit her business model in New York. Her mother, Austinite Catherine Solomon, helped test recipes.
Solomon had never worked in a commercial kitchen, and she earned some hands-on experience working for The Meat Hook, a whole animal butcher shop in Brooklyn that specializes in local meat. After she asked the company’s owner if she could work for free in order to learn behind the scenes in the restaurant business, she began the next week.
“I learned the same way I did in advertising , I just kept forging ahead and following a path,” Solomon explained, adding that it took a lot of persistence. “It was a whole new world, a whole new industry opened up.”
Solomon makes the tacos in rented space in Hana Kitchens, a Brooklyn incubator kitchen. Because running a brick and mortar operation in New York City is so expensive and vulnerable to too many other challenges, King David Tacos is, for now, strictly a catering business.
“I started with catering mostly because it allowed me to take it one step at a time,” she said. “I knew there was a huge market out there for large orders. That’s the best way for me as a small producer to grow manageably.”
King David Tacos, named after Solomon’s father, serves two types of tacos. The BPEC, named for the abbreviation often written on breakfast tacos in Austin, contains bacon, potato, egg and a cheddar-monterey jack cheese blend. The Queen Bean is filled with refried beans, potato, egg and the cheese blend.
The tacos are made with fresh flour tortillas made in Texas by Austin-based Fiesta Tortillas and served with picante sauce on the side. Solomon will not compromise her tortillas by serving gluten free tortillas or corn tortillas, which she said do not travel well.
King David Tacos does not serve cojita cheese because according to the company’s website, “It looks pretty, but it rarely carries a flavor worth tasting, and, plainly, it's not a Tex-Mex-approved cheese.”
The tacos cost $4 each, with a 100-taco minimum order. While the pricing received a lot of attention from Texas press, she has not received any local pushback from a city where people find her pricing and minimum order structure comfortably in line with other caterers.
In the future, Solomon would like to find ways to offer King David Tacos in individual servings, whether it is through pop-ups, through coffee shops or a cart at events. Her brother in Seattle is waiting for King David Tacos to head to that part of the country.
“We’ll tackle New York first,” she said, adding that word has spread about the company via an informal network of Texas transplants throughout the city.
“I don’t want to disappoint them. So many people have disappointed us with mediocre Tex Mex that we thought was going to be the savior. I think we’ve done it,” Solomon said.
Visit King David Tacos on the web at kingdavidtacos.com.