San Miguel’s ‘Mr. Taco’ Got an Early Start in Food
How a taco cart became a popular neighborhood restaurant
By Monty Dennison
The owner of perhaps the most popular neighborhood restaurant, Tacos Don Félix, in San Miguel de Allende, got an early start on his food career. December 16 will mark the ninth anniversary of his famous taco restaurant.
“I went to work in a butcher shop when I was 12 years old because my father had died and my mother needed financial help,” recalls restaurant owner Don Félix Gomez. Tacos Don Félix draws locals and tourists alike every weekend.
The restaurant is open weekends only because Félix, wife Gloria and their staff are busy serving 500 to 600 meals Monday through Friday to students in a local high school district. They also occasionally find the time to cater special events.
A handsome man with a ready smile and firm handshake, Félix greets repeat customers by name, as do his son and nephews who work alongside him.
Customers are ushered into the restaurant⎯which is on the ground floor of his house⎯and quickly served the most popular item on the menu, a free pork appetizer known as tostadita. They are then presented with a menu that features an array of tacos and enchiladas as well as salmon, filet mignon, rib-eye, shrimp, sea bass, and red snapper.
Tacos Don Félix does not advertise, butthanks to word-of-mouth and online recommendations from sites like Trip Advisorcustomers come from not only San Miguel but Mexico City, Monterrey, and Querétaro. About half are non-Mexicans, and half are Mexican.
Today’s Tacos Don Félix, with a seating capacity of 60 persons, is a far cry from the street-side taco cart he started with nearly nine years ago. And the taco cart was a big change from his days in the butcher shop, where he worked for five years before crossing the border into Texas when he was 17.
“I was a true wetback⎯I really did swim that river, and it was cold,” he recalls with a smile. He worked two years in Corpus Christi, learning roofing and English simultaneously. Félix still believes strongly in the value of knowing English, especially in a city where so many of his customers are English speaking. Both of his children speak English, as do his nephews.
Félix returned to San Miguel at 22 ready to marry Gloria, the girl whom he had met in a restaurant where he had delivered meat as a youngster. “I told myself that I was going to save money, return to San Miguel and marry Gloria,” Félix said. They have now been married 29 years and have two children and two grandchildren.
In the early years of his marriage, Félix worked nights in two restaurants owned by Gloria’s brothers, including 15 years at El Campanario, a well-known downtown restaurant that closed about four years ago. During the day he worked at the school district, where he has been for the past 21 years.
“Eventually I decided I wanted to own my own place and to offer something no one else was doing,” Félix recalls. That meant a wide range of tacos made out of sausages, beef, shrimp, chicken, huitlacoche, and pork. He looked for a location and decided to set up a street side cart three blocks from his home in Colonia San Rafael, northwest of downtown San Miguel. That was in December 2005.
The enterprise was an instant success. “The first Friday we opened at 5pm and had sold out by 7pm. The next day we doubled what we planned to sell, and we sold out again by 7. We doubled our plan again, and the same thing happened on Sunday.” For two years, Félix, his daughter and a nephew served diners at the stand, supported by Gloria back in the home kitchen.
As people began asking for items that weren’t on the menu, Félix decided to move the whole operation to his home, which he has now owned for the past 30 years. Initially, his staff of three was able to serve up to 30 people in what was his front terrace, living room and back garden. Those spaces have now morphed into a kitchen, patio, two dining rooms and bar. A rooftop bar is envisaged in a couple of years.
“I believe in expanding slowly and not spending money you don’t have,” he says. “My mother always told us that if you want something you must work at it,” Félix adds, a belief he has instilled in his own family members. His son and a nephew, who worked alongside him as children, are now well on their way to becoming lawyers.
Félix has been clearly influenced by his mother, a maid for 40 years up until two months before her death last year. She was 87.
“She said to tell the truth always, and to take care of your family,” he recalls. For Félix, that means helping family members learn the business at an early age. Nephew Lalo began working at the taco cart when he was 14, daughter Connie was 15.
Nephew Emilio began charming customers at age 8 when he handed them appetizers and later showing them the dessert tray. He is now 12, with four years of experience under his belt.
Félix’s granddaughter Fernanda, 10 years old, now greets customers with a broad smile and occasionally brings the dessert tray to the table. Her father Diego, Félix’s son, works alongside Fernanda and the rest of the family.
Félix estimates that over the past nearly nine years, he has sold more than 300,000 tacos. “I guess that’s why I’m Mr. Taco,” he jokes.
Monty Dennison is retired and divides his time between San Miguel at Colonia San Rafael and Seattle, Washington.