By Layne Victoria Lynch
Photography by Kate LeSueur
Vintage photographs courtesy of the Galindo family
Though there’s no evidence that proves cooking is a genetic predisposition, the Galindo family would almost certainly make you believe otherwise. For over 70 years, the hardworking clan has embraced all the madness and passion the inferno of the kitchen has to offer as waiters, busboys, line cooks and executive chefs. “I honestly believe it’s something that’s embedded in our DNA,” says John Galindo.
“My family has always enjoyed being surrounded by food, working hard and cooking for people. We’ve found a lot of passion and joy through those experiences.”
Through the various roots and branches of their close-knit family tree, the Galindos have witnessed the vast evolution of our local culinary scene—beginning first with John’s great-grandfather, Cruz Galindo, who cooked at The Tavern, co-owned a burger stand and the San Jacinto Cafe and co-opened the original Casa Loma in Austin with his son Tony, John's granddad. Tony also waited tables along with John's grandmother, Mary Cortinas, at various Austin restaurants including El Charro. And finally, John's father, John "Tony" Galindo, reopened Casa Loma and founded the Cedar Grove Steakhouse, both in Wimberley and both now shuttered.
John is a proud member of the fourth restaurant generation alongside his business partner and sister, Jessica Ann Winters, and chef-cousin, Joseph Galindo. And while these cooks have definitely paid their dues in places like Wink, North and Red House Pizzeria, they cannot escape the ever-profound sway of their culinary heritage.
During John’s childhood, his grandmother’s kitchen served as the epicenter and lifeblood of everything family. It was here where members young and old convened to prepare daylong meals, and catch up on the intricacies and gossip of one another’s lives. On the weekends, the South Austin home would fill with the enticing aromas of homemade Texas pecan pralines, fried pumpkin empanadas, thick tamales made with boiled hog’s head meat, bubbly yellow-corn tortilla enchiladas and spicy-yet-simple chicken mole. “Yankee Candle had nothing on the smells that came out of that kitchen,” John Galindo says. “It’s one of those things you don’t realize will have such an impact on your life. Her kitchen influenced all of us in the food we prepare today, and there’s something to be said for that.”
Over the years, the Galindo family has ritualistically honored their culinary lineage—waking early on mornings to mix masa, tender pork and savory beans and spread it into delicate husks on a six-foot table in the backyard; melting giant batches of nutty pralines onto wax paper (selling the resulting candies for five cents each to Tex-Mex restaurants around town) and dreaming up various potential restaurant concepts. It was in this spirit that a young John spent his teenage years busing tables, taking catnaps atop stacks of white aprons between shifts and racing fellow line cooks to see who could chop pico de gallo and guacamole fixings the fastest. “I’m blessed to have all my fingers,” he jokes. “But truthfully, I look back on those days and realize a lot of memories were made at those places.”
These days, John and his sister, father and cousin can be found at Mellizoz Tacos—the 42-foot Tex-Mex food trailer on South First Street. The black-and-blue mobile kitchen debuted in 2009, featuring a menu of both classic and modern taco and torta interpretations—including the Padre (braised carnita pork, soft avocado, sweet pineapple and salsa fresca) and the ever-popular tempura-battered Fried Avocado taco (avocado, arugula, tomato, chipotle-sherry vinaigrette and Cotija cheese). And while business is going exceedingly well at the trailer, the family members will admit transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant isn’t something that’s far from their minds. “We definitely have plans to open a restaurant again one day,” Tony Galindo says. “But we see it like a bamboo tree: you spend five years nurturing it and it grows suddenly in thirty days. You have to ask yourself, though, did that tree grow over five years or was it something that happened in one month? Whenever we do open something, it’ll be the right time for us and it’ll be because we put in the effort over the years.”
In piecing together this family-inspired winter menu, John drew upon both memory and professional experience—infusing small-but-meaningful modern touches into his family’s favorite recipes.
Click for the recipes