WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING?: Because José Arroyo isn’t in the ring getting trampled by a bull. photography by Matthew Hawthorn

A Bull Economy

How a Mexican rodeo landed near tony Bluffview.

Tacos and rodeo action: that was josé arroyo’s vision. His dream became a reality three years ago, when he opened Taquería Tierra Caliente (named for the “Hot Land” region of Mexico where he grew up), located just behind Stratos Greek Restaurant on Northwest Highway. You see, Tierra Caliente is also a plaza de toros—a bullring—and on summer weekends, the taquería plays host to jaripeo, Mexican rodeo, where “bulls brought out from hell” meet “riders who don’t fear death.” 

Arroyo admits that even as a computer engineering student in college, his passion was jaripeo and cooking tacos. “It runs in my blood since I was little,” he says. In 1988, he moved to the United States, working a succession of jobs in construction, agriculture, logging, and plumbing. “I told myself every morning that I would have my own business, making tacos.” Arroyo was celebrating a payday at a cantina when he was asked to become a taco cook at a restaurant. He parlayed this into his first taquería, which closed, and finally into Tierra Caliente, where his wife and children help with the business—but he makes the tacos. Fajita and al pastor (seasoned pork) are his favorites. “If I don’t like them,” he says, “nobody likes them.”

On a bright Sunday in May, nearly 300 people, mostly families, have come to Tierra Caliente to eat tacos al pastor, drink Modelo Especial, listen to live grupera music, and see jinetes (Mexican cowboys) ride bucking bulls. The most popular rider, El Bravo de San Luis Potosi, is thrown by his bull. A cross-dressing clown tries to distract the animal so that El Bravo can scamper to safety, but he is trampled badly enough that he has to be taken to a hospital. (El Bravo would turn out to be okay.) The Recuerdo del Norte band plays a few tunes, and Arroyo admires the show and the feast he put on. “There are a lot of opportunities in this country,” he says. “If you don’t take advantage of them, you are a fool.”

The jaripeo at Taquería and Plaza de Toros Tierra Caliente happens on Saturdays or Sundays. Doors are open at noon; rodeo starts around 5 pm. Call 214-358-2702.