“I called it ‘Broke Boy’ ’cause I’ve always been broke,” Sean Yarbrough tells me, in his typically straightforward way. We’re discussing the evolution of Broke Boy Taco from scrappy pop-up to cult-followed culinary sensation to now, a place with a permanent address, something that Yarbrough explains happened without much of a plan. “I never thought I’d have my own restaurant,” he says, “but I needed one!”
Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Yarbrough spent 11 years in the Mission District of San Francisco, where he ate Mexican food every single day. It wasn’t until he whipped up some of his favourite tacos for a friend who asked what he missed most about the States, that Yarbrough started to realise that maybe he could turn his love for tacos into an actual career. “I bought a used, electric hot plate on TradeMe and made an Instagram account and just said, ‘Come try my tacos,'” he tells me. “First it was 20 people, the next time it was 50, then it was 100 and eventually it turned into what it is now.”
What Broke Boy Taco is now, is pretty major. Over the last couple of years, Yarbrough has hosted a series of pop-ups all over Auckland that became known for drawing significant and very enthusiastic crowds. His most recent endeavour was a pop-up residency at Ponsonby Social Club where, even after having run for months, his tacos would still sell out in a few hours — so consistent was the demand.
Now, Yarbrough is taking the exciting next step in Broke Boy’s evolution by opening a permanent spot in Mount Albert, and fans of his food are chomping at the bit to get their fix. Here, the space is pared-back and charming with hand-painted signs (by Sam Burton) and virtually no decor, while the menu is small and concise with Yarbrough’s signature birria tacos at the forefront. As he tells me, “No frills or fake shit, just good food.” For those who aren’t familiar with birria, it’s a type of meat stew that is a mainstay of Mexican cuisine. To make it right, the meat has to be marinated in adobo sauce, then cooked slowly in broth until it’s mouthwateringly tender and full of flavour. From what we’ve experienced, Yarbrough has perfected his recipe, although ask him and he says he’s always working to make it better.
The drinks menu is simple. “Coke is my favourite and happens to be the most consumed soda in Mexico so I chose that,” Yarbrough says. And while the food offering is more or less what we’ve come to expect from Broke Boy’s epic pop-ups, Yarbrough does divulge that he has added a ‘Big Plate’ option (which comes with four tacos, instead of the usual three) and that there will be a number of specials to come, so keep an eye out for those.
Ultimately, Yarbrough wanted to create a space where the food remained front and centre, a place that could as easily be found in Tijuana as it could in Auckland, and a place with authenticity and passion at the heart of its culinary philosophy. “I want people to leave happy,” he tells me. “Customers have to come pick up their tacos from me at the window when they’re ready and I’ll hand them their food personally, every time. That’s really important to me.” But for its simple facade and straightforward offering, do not underestimate the incredible standard of food being served at Broke Boy. Yarbrough, despite his understated approach, has proven himself a formidable force in the kitchen, and we’ll be watching with interest as Broke Boy continues to evolve. “I’m coming for all the food awards in New Zealand,” he says, with a laugh, “you watch!”
Wednesday to Friday, 5pm until 8pm
Saturday, 12pm until 8pm
Broke Boy Taco
964 New North Road