Whenever Dayna Lee fires up her stove, she returns home.
Home for Lee is Brownsville, Texas, a city at the very southernmost tip of the state, right on the border with Mexico. As a child, Lee grew up helping her grandmother in the kitchen, stripping the thorns off of juicy nopal cactuses or draping homemade tortillas over the flames.
She brings those warm memories to her cooking every time she prepares her fresh tacos, quesadillas, tortas, nachos and other dishes at her new popup food eatery, Comal 864, which she runs alongside her fiancé, Anthony Marquez.
“It’s very much frontier food, border-city food,” Lee said.
This type of cuisine — frontera food, as Lee calls it — is not fully Mexican or fully of the United States. Instead, it occupies that middle space where cultural histories merge, which Lee calls the deep tradition of the border.
“Our culture is super rich when it comes to showing love through food,” she said.
Comal 864 is an intimate operation. There is no fancy setup, nor flashy gimmicks. There’s not even a food truck or a fixed physical location. Lee operates as a popup taco stand out of two local bars, Fireforge on East Washington Street and The Whale on South Main Street.
Those looking to try her food will see Lee prepare it herself. You’ll select your dish and choose a type of protein: bistek, al pastor, chorizo, chicken, nopales cactus or black beans. To customize your dish, you can load up with as many toppings as you want from the toppings bar — not to mention Lee’s handmade salsas, which she whips up fresh each day.
“The spiciness of the salsas changes every day depending on how much my 5-year-old son annoyed me that morning,” Lee joked.
Lee said she hopes to expand to a brick-and-mortar location in the future, but she already says she’s feeling a renewed sense of joy in her work. For years she was a service manager at a large chain restaurant, and she also worked in the corporate world. Now she says she has no plans to return to sitting behind a desk.
“I’m excited to bring people a kind of food they may not have experienced before,” Lee said. “It’s made with love, and being able to showcase my home through my food is what brings me joy.”