48: Tacos Tijuana
Taquería: Tacos Tijuana, 6710 West Thunderbird Road, Peoria
Open Since: 2016
Style: Carne asada and al pastor, done with Tijuana flair, served on tortillas prepared on-site
Signature Taco: Al Pastor del Trompo
It’s dinnertime on a warm Friday evening in April, a week shy of Tacos Tijuana's one-year anniversary. Owner Adolfo Torres Jr. wears a big, friendly smile above his strong jawline. His shoulders are athletic, and he is quick on his feet as he rushes to deliver plates lined with carne asada and al pastor tacos to every table under the shop's
The parking lot, where the food trailer sets up shop for lunch and dinner every Tuesday through Saturday, is no different from the hundreds of other intersections scattered across the Valley’s suburban sprawl. On the northwest corner of Thunderbird and 67th Avenue, the makeshift dining room sits next to the Golden Spoke bike shop and a Sonic, while the other two corners are occupied by competing gas stations.
But even the most ordinary intersection in Phoenix can look remarkable while the sun is setting — and on this particular corner, I knew I could find tacos worth traveling west to Peoria for. I wasn't alone. The workday traffic was only just beginning to subside, and the parking lot was already jam-packed.
Though the foot traffic on his Peoria corner is a far cry from the throngs that crowded Boulevard Agua Caliente in Tijuana, where Adolfo Jr. first ran tacos from the family cart as a teenager with his father, Adolfo Sr., at the helm, his business here is brisk and growing.
“We want to serve the best tacos. We won’t even consider bringing the ladder down to make more money," Adolfo explains while shaving fine slices of al pastor with a large knife. He carefully slides them onto warm tortillas that were made by hand moments earlier on the opposite end of the trailer. “Some people will say that it isn’t worth having a couple extra people on payroll to make fresh tortillas,” Adolfo Jr. continues. "That’s a difference maker … that’s the product we’re offering.”
Adolfo Sr. has been a taquero since the age of 16, when he entered the workforce in Mexico. At first, he had hopped around from cart to cart, learning the business of preparing and selling tacos. Then he began experimenting with recipes. Eventually, he became the owner of his own cart.
Today, at 65 years old, Adolfo Sr., continues to prepare his recipes here in the States, from the marinades for the meats to the salsas. “This is his baby right here,” Adolfo Jr. says, holding up a bottle of red salsa made from roasted arbol chiles. "My father’s special blend is all about getting the flavor correct, keeping the kick of heat in check. It shouldn’t burn your mouth. It should add to the experience of each taco."
Adolfo put his father on the phone, translating for him. “None of the sons know the recipe,” Adolfo Sr. says. “Someday they will know it, but not yet.”
Though as a young man Adolfo Sr. was running a successful cart of his own in Tijuana, he had other dreams. He hoped that one day he could raise his family across the border as American citizens. He made good on this goal as well, moving to Los Angeles, where Adolfo Jr. was born.
In the late '80s and early '90s, Los Angeles was in a state of upheaval. These were the times of the LA riots and the Rodney King scandal. Many recent immigrants, including Adolfo Sr., began to feel unsafe. “We need to get out of here,’” Adolfo Jr. recalls his father saying. “The streets are getting very dangerous.”
So the family moved back across the border to Tijuana, where Adolfo Jr. and his siblings were raised around the family taco cart business on the loud and colorful Boulevard Agua Caliente.
Adolfo Jr. and his siblings were U.S. citizens, so as high school approached, they decided that it was time to take advantage of their opportunity to earn their educations in the United States. In 2001, the family moved north again, this time to Arizona.
The family business did not come with them.
While working and studying in Phoenix, the family began looking for tacos like the ones they used to sell back home. But they struggled to find the same authenticity, quality, and freshness. “In the back of our minds, we remembered when we used to make tacos,” Adolfo Jr. recalls, "and we thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that again?”
Adolfo Jr. attended school for accounting, but, as he put it, “life happened,” and he didn’t end up finishing his degree. It was still his professional goal to start a business of his own. “I’ve always loved business ... and tacos were always our family business. There weren't any carts like ours around, so I felt that if our dad would do it, then we should really think about getting something started.” Adolfo Sr. agreed, but only if his family agreed to take care of the business side of things.
One year in, Adolfo Jr. takes great pride not only in his father's recipes and the fresh tacos they serve, but also in the unique service they provide, from table delivery to the clearing of tables. “You don’t have to stand up,” Adolfo Jr. says. “We’ll do it for you.”
The style of service offered at Tacos Tijuana would be more commonly found in restaurants than at a food truck. "It comes from that Mexican idea of family, that any stranger is welcome in your home,” he explained of their hands-on style. “That’s what I feel we do really differently at Tacos Tijuana.”
"It’s worth the drive over," Bustamante says. “And it’s a lot closer than Tijuana.”
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