Burritos, chimichangas, and margaritas aren’t real Mexican fare.
“When people come here, they think they’re eating Mexican food. I feel so bad,” laughed Carlos Alvarez, manager and part-owner of Don Tequila Bar & Grill on Kresge Drive.
The restaurant actually serves Tex-Mex food, which originated in southwestern states. It tastes good — but it’s nothing like what Alvarez grew up eating in his family’s home kitchen.
Later this summer, he will open 3 Amigos Taco Express, a small carry-out eatery with authentic Mexican food. It’s located just across the parking lot from Don Tequila in a space formerly occupied by Nutrition Zone.
Alvarez isn’t leaving the family business. The existing restaurant hasn’t been bought out. And the two won’t fight for customers.
Instead, 3 Amigos is Alvarez’s attempt to show Ohioans “food from across the border instead of next to the border,” he said.
“It’s a whole different ballpark, and that’s why we wanted to go a whole different route,” he said. Instead of a four-page menu with many choices, the carry-out restaurant will have more of a street taco stand model with a one-page menu and food that takes more time to prepare.
That includes traditional offerings like steak, chorizo, and al pastor (pork). Some of it is “more exotic stuff” that Alvarez hopes Amherst is hungry to try — like street corn, which typically uses mayonnaise, citrus, and seasonings. Or tacos el lingua, which is cow tongue, akin to soft beef tips. Or tacos de tripa, which is made using intestine.
The new restaurant will also have a small market with Mexican chips, candy, juices, cheese, and bread.
The idea is to complement Don Tequila’s offerings, not compete with them, Alvarez said. If the new restaurant takes off, it’s possible that 3 Amigos Taco Expresses could one day open right next to other Don Tequila restaurants the family owns in Elyria, Mentor, Eastlake, and Canton.
The name 3 Amigos references Alvarez, his father Juan, and family friend and business partner Antonio Mendez.
Juan Alvarez, now retired from day-to-day operations at Don Tequila, came to the United States from Mexico at age 15 and found a job as a dishwasher, gradually working his way up the ranks.
In 2001, the family moved from South Carolina to Lorain County and quickly purchased the restaurant.
The younger Alvarez started working there at age 12, going from dishwasher to cook and then taking a hand in management.
“Some people think things were handed to me, but my dad’s a pretty tough guy. He doesn’t work that way,” he laughed.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.