Auckland loves a pop-up success story. We’ve seen it recently with Mor Bakery – which started out online, with regular events, before opening a cafe in Remuera – and Baby G Burger, which is doing a roaring trade in Avondale after two years of night markets and residencies.
Now he’s also putting down roots, with his first bricks-and-mortar shop opening this Wednesday on New North Road in Mount Albert.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Yarborough lived for over a decade in San Francisco’s Mission District – home to some of the city’s best tacos. “There’s nothing but taquerias there,” he tells Broadsheet.
He cooked at several restaurants in the area before moving to Aotearoa in 2021 with his Kiwi fiancée. While flipping burgers at Ralph’s in Mount Eden, Yarbrough was talking to Ralph’s owner Mikey Ryan about how he missed the tacos he was used to eating in America – and Ryan gave him the opportunity to do his first taco pop-up at the venue.
Yarbrough made the Broke Boy Taco Instagram account to advertise the event. “Twenty people came, then 50 people came the next time, then 100 people the next time and here we are.”
After the first few pop-ups at Ralph’s, Yarbrough bought a $200 flat-top grill off Trade Me to cart around town – and it took off “like wildfire”.
He quit his job to pursue Broke Boy Taco full-time in August 2022, taking on a month-long residency at East St Hall in September. “Once we started doing that, I made a little bit of a rumble in the scene,” says Yarbrough.
But things really took off when he decided to refocus his offering. “Birria is my favourite taco. It’s the one I’m really in love with,” he says. He decided to work on perfecting birria and make Broke Boy Taco synonymous with the deeply flavourful beef filling.
“I completely rebranded,” he says. “I made a video, and that video – in 24 hours – got half a million views. Then the next day, it was a line around the block.”
What makes a good birria taco? “To be honest, the secret’s in the sauce.”
Birria is traditionally a spicy, slow-cooked Mexican beef stew. Yarbrough makes his with dried guajillo chillies and hot chiles de arbol, which he soaks overnight in water and vinegar before blending into a paste and adding various spices, herbs and seasonings. He then adds steak – using 35 kilograms of meat per pot – and cooks it for eight hours.
When that’s done, he separates the beef to stuff in the tacos, and saves the hearty consommé for dipping each taco in. “The sauce that it’s cooked in, it packs a punch,” he says. “I just want it to be real bold. That’s the difference when you try mine versus someone else’s.”
At the shop, you can order three or four tacos with consommé and add-ons including cheese, avocado and sour cream.
If you don’t eat meat Broke Boy Taco might not be for you, given there are no other taco options – but Yarborough is doing a quesadilla, which he suggests ordering with avocado and orange sauce (made with dried peppers and oil) if you’re vegetarian. He’s also doing a birria quesadilla, plus chips and guac – but birria tacos are the star. Long-time followers will have seen the Broke Boy-branded birria ramen pots – and these are also available to order as an “if you know you know” off-menu special.
As for the shop, it’s an orange-fronted 18-seater that Yarbrough has left purposefully plain. “If you go to a place in Tijuana, a ‘mom and pop’ kinda place, it’s literally just going to be white walls or yellow walls. It’s going to be somebody taking the order and somebody cooking the food,” he says. “When you walk in, I don’t want you to know whether you’re in Tijuana or in Auckland.”
Drinks-wise, there’s a fridge of sodas on offer to quench your taco-induced thirst.
Yarbrough says he’s constantly fielding pleas from his American Facebook following to come and do pop-ups in the States – and he was even dubbed a “genius” by LA Weekly without ever having done a Broke Boy Taco event over there.
But this is his focus for the time being, one he’s happy to be doing his own way.
Broke Boy Taco opens Wednesday October 18 at 5pm.
Broke Boy Taco
964 New North Road, Mount Albert, Auckland
Wed to Fri 5pm–8pm
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