New South Hill taco and burrito stop, Los Amigos Taqueria, finally opening
The “open soon” sign that’s been up for months at Los Amigos Taqueria is finally true. It’s happening. They really are going to open soon at 4215 S. Meridian.
A June opening for the South Hill taqueria is planned, although current restaurant restrictions and a shortage of supplies means that opening might look different than the owners originally thought.
However, they’ve passed all inspections and as soon as they get the cooler stocked, their plan is to start serving the tacos, burritos and other portable Mexican eats they’re known for. My personal favorite is their carnitas – served on a taco or in a burrito. A hallmark of good carnitas is the sizzled edges from a short trip on the grill before service, and Los Amigos Taqueria gets the crisped edges of its carnitas exactly right.
It just took a year longer than expected to get the doors open.
The taqueria formerly operated as the legendary Los Amigos taco bus in the parking lot of the South Hill Mini Mart and gas station at 11802 S. Meridian.
The Mini Mart property sold last year and that’s when the bus closed – on Cinco de Mayo 2019.
“There were a lot of adjustments that needed to be made,” said the owner’s son, Antonio Ruiz, Jr., of the old 5,000 square-feet New China Buffet space at 4215 S. Meridian that will be home to the brick-and-mortar version of Los Amigos Taqueria.
LOS AMIGOS STARTED AS A TACO BUS
Ruiz’ parents, Antonio Ruiz and Enedina Martinez, own and operate Los Amigos Taqueria. It’s a family operation with Ruiz Jr. working at the restaurant as well as a younger brother.
The move to the old Chinese buffet space is about two blocks away from where their taco bus operated.
And did I mention they have plans to bring the bus back to South Hill? More on that in a minute.
Back up many years to the story of how Los Amigos Taqueria became a taco destination in South Hill.
“In 2003, my dad started working with one of his relatives at a taqueria in Kent,” explained Ruiz, Jr. “His cousin was going to close the taqueria,” said Ruiz.
“Then, my dad said, ‘I like having a restaurant.’ That was when we purchased the taco bus that we have right now. Our first location was in Renton. We stayed there for one to two years. It was going well, but we got an offer in Puyallup at the South Hill Mini Mart. We saw the location. It was perfect. The traffic on Meridian is a pain for people driving, but it’s great for restaurants.”
Los Amigos became quite the destination when the adjacent convenience store opened a back deck and began serving beer, giving diners the option of dining on the deck (if they were 21 years or older) or at picnic tables adjacent to the taco bus.
Year round, the bus served its broad menu of taqueria eats at that location, which doubled as their commissary kitchen, which meant they could use that as a stationary location. Most mobile restaurants have off-site commissary kitchens they use as a home base of sorts, but for Los Amigos, home base always was that gas station.
THE CLOSURE OF THE TACO BUS
And then the property sold. The new owners planned to convert to a Chevron station and began construction. Ruiz said the new owners extended a generous offer to keep Los Amigos on site, but there was an unavoidable problem during the construction of the Chevron.
“They said we could be on the lot, but we couldn’t be inside the store. We had our own commissary there. We had our storage there. We had everything handy. But that was that. We had to think, how are we going to do that now?,” said Ruiz.
That’s when they saw the New China Buffet spot for lease a few blocks up. They looked at neighboring communities, but ultimately they wanted to stay in South Hill where their customers were. The family had already helped another family member open a sibling taqueria in Federal Way, so they knew they had quite a bit of work ahead.
What they didn’t bargain for was problem after problem with the interior of the New China Buffet location.
“There were a lot of cosmetic adjustments that needed to be made,” said Ruiz. “They had no real fire system there. It was just one thing after the other, you know, but we knew there was a lot of cosmetic things that needed to be done, but you never know until you go into the walls or up in the attic or start looking around.”
It took a year for the upgrades and repairs “It was just expense after expense after expense,” he said. No matter what obstacle was in the way, his parents persevered.
WHAT WILL LOS AMIGOS BE LIKE?
When they open, it likely will be take-out only unless Pierce County moves quicker than expected to Phase 2 and Phase 3 of reopening from Covid-19 restrictions. The family is prepared. They partnered with a local company to buy a sanitizing machine for their door handles. They’re stocking up on protective gear. They’re ready to serve diners.
The service will be casual, with ordering at the counter and diners finding their own seats in the 150-capacity dining room with a side room for groups.
Expect the same menu as the taco truck, upon opening. That means a menu of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, combo platters and all the usual taqueria favorites. Ruiz said possible menu additions include caldos – such as menudo and pozole. They’ll look at adding birria, Tijuana dogs, California burritos and seafood dishes. But don’t expect menu additions right away.
They want to gauge customer interest and open the doors before they change much.
“We’re not sure how busy we’re going to be. The last thing we want is to make more food than we need to,” he said.
And here’s something new that the kitchen space on the taco bus limited their ability to execute: fresh-made tortillas. “If you remember where the Mongolian grill station was at inside the buffet, that’s going to be a station for handmade tortillas. Not only will we have street-style tacos, but we’re going to have handmade tortillas,” said Ruiz.
The taqueria will continue to offer its green and red salsas, but Ruiz said they hope to add another salsa to the lineup.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
On the horizon is the possibility of bringing the taco bus back to South Hill, possibly in the same parking lot it previously called home. They also have plans to use the drive-thru at their new brick-and-mortar location, but code upgrades must be made before that drive-thru opens.
For now, they’re working at stocking up the cooler and getting back to making tacos. Check back here for updates on that.
LOS AMIGOS TAQUERIA
Where: 4215 S. Meridian, Puyallup
Opening: Planned for June, but Phase 2 Covid-19 restrictions will determine what that opening looks like. Pierce County is still in Phase 1 of reopening right now.
MORE SOUTH HILL TAQUERIAS
This has been a big year for taquerias in South Hill.
In March, the long awaited Taqueria El Rinconsito opened near South Hill Mall. The restaurant is an outpost of the small, locally-owned regional chain. Here’s a story about that.
This week, Fiesta Taqueria opened its South Hill location behind Jimmy John’s and Pier One off Meridian. The restaurant is an outpost of the downtown Fiesta Taqueria. Here’s a story about that.