In a parking lot near the former Memorex campus, deep inside one of Santa Clara’s sprawling industrial compounds, a crew is dramatically backlit against a red setting sun. As a graffiti-covered train rumbles past, three large, tattooed men—sporting black chef coats, aprons and backward, impeccably clean baseball caps—bustle around a custom built plancha.

They are Yordi Najera, Steve Gutierrez and Kellen Wallace, owners and operators of the Mexican-inspired pop-up Bay Style Catering, and today they are working to feed the hungry, beer-drinking crowd at Golden State Brewery.

Bay Style’s menu is simple and delicious. Customers may choose from either street tacos or mulitas (more on this later), with a choice of seven fillings—including beef, chicken, pork and a vegetarian option. There is no salsa bar where patrons can add onions, cilantro or extra sauce. Najera, Gutierrez and Wallace prefer to personally build and garnish each taco, making sure the blend of toppings is to the customer’s liking.

It makes sense to trust them. These three friends came up the hard way—sweating it out as dishwashers and prep cooks in the hanger-size corporate kitchens of Silicon Valley—and they know what’s good. Every cut of meat on the menu is a testament to their expertise, and each rub, marinade and highly refined technique they deploy tells a different story about their respective pasts.

Both Gutierrez and Najera worked for one of San Jose’s most notoriously cheap chefs, and it shows. They don’t waste money buying additional meat for their carne asada preparations. Instead, they butcher whole beef shoulder—carefully separating the tender Denver steaks and country ribs from the tougher cuts. The seared beef is tender, juicy and packed with the flavor of ribeye.

They spin the leftovers into some of the best beef barbacoa I’ve ever tasted. Slowly cooked in a thick sauce of chilies, spices and aromatics, the meat is both incredibly rich and so delicate it can be cut with a spoon. The savory, decadent qualities of the barbacoa are balanced by the tang of sherry vinegar. The depth and complexity of flavor elevates this humble cut of meat, transforming it into something truly noble.

Wallace is the most talkative of the bunch. Over the course of just a few minutes, he caught me up on the last five years of his life, which he spent working in a small town in Baja California. It was there that he truly learned the simple pleasure of peasant cuisine. He waxed poetic about the village abuelas conjuring magical dishes from just three or four ingredients. When I tried his al pastor, I could taste that divine inspiration.

The pork is doused in a strong marinade of achiote paste with pineapple and guajillo chiles. It is then meticulously layered on a spit and slow roasted for hours. The result is sweet and savory—with a vivid red, deliciously charred crust that ties the entire presentation and experience together.

Mulita in English means “little donkey,” a name I didn’t understand until Najera explained it to me. Much like the pack animal it’s named after, the Mulita is small, compact and designed to hold everything. Essentially it’s a double-decker quesadilla, filled with meat, cheese, onions, cilantro and a spicy avocado sauce. I choose to fill mine with carnitas and the vegetarian option of papás y rojos (potatoes and peppers). The carnitas was soft and well-seasoned, with just enough of a crisp edge to make it stand out against the other fillings. The papás y rojos were meaty and crunchy, as the spuds benefited from a good sear on the plancha.

The chicken was the sleeper hit. As a rule, I never order chicken in my tacos. Too often it is underseasoned, overcooked and bland. However, their achiote chicken blew me away. Using dark meat rather than white chicken breast, Bay Style marinates their bird in an achiote and garlic paste before searing it on the hot plancha. The result is a deep, mahogany exterior and juicy interior. After the final bite of my taco, a subtle spice lingered, continuing to warm my palate.

Gutierrez’s garam masala spice blend deserves all the credit here. Drawing inspiration from his Mexican and Fijian heritage, the seasoning mix is an apt metaphor for Bay Style Catering as a whole.

There is so much history wrapped in the food we eat. Globetrotting spices, seasonal fruits and vegetables, even cooking vessels all tell a story about the people behind the dish—the lives they’ve lived and the journeys they’ve taken. Everyone involved in Bay Style brings their own culinary aptitude to the kitchen to create flavorful experience that is at once familiar and exotic.