When Gustavo Munoz and Alejandro Enriquez started working together nine years ago at El Tren Grill, they bonded over their love for their Mexican culture and homemade food of their homeland, whose recipes had been passed down to them by their families.
Munoz, 46, owned the Tallmadge restaurant El Tren Grill at the time, and Enriquez was a promising new cook there. The two became good friends, and six years ago, they started talking about opening a taqueria together.
Now, they’re proud co-owners of Amigos Taqueria in Stow, which opened May 12 and focuses on the authentic dishes of their hometowns. That includes recipes perfected by Munoz’s parents, who owned a taqueria in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, for many years.
Munoz’s family moved to Pittsburgh in 1998 and Munoz, who is a Strongsville resident, moved to Northeast Ohio in 2013. Enriquez, 37, who originally hails from Veracruz, Mexico, moved to Wisconsin in 2007 and to the Akron area in 2013. He lives in Stow.
“He is a very talented guy. He has a lot of skills,” Munoz said of Enriquez, who is both co-owner and chef at Amigos Taqueria.
Restaurant specializes in authentic Mexican fare
Both Enriquez and Munoz wanted to bring the tastes and look of home to their small new eatery, which seats 22. It’s located at the north corner of the Bridgewater Park retail development, which also includes Skyline Chili, Brubaker’s Pub and Hunan of Stow.
They specialize in authentic Mexican fare that starts with handmade corn tortillas made on a tortilla press for entrees such as street tacos and the traditional huarache.
The restaurant’s Birria taco is made with shredded, stewed beef that’s served moist with its own broth, inside two handmade tortillas. The dish is served with a side of soup featuring the same broth, Birria Consome.
“It’s fresh,” Munoz said of the handmade tortillas, the base for numerous dishes that chef Enriquez and the kitchen staff were preparing Thursday.
With Amigos Taquerias, Munoz and Enriquez have moved away from Tex Mex. Another traditional Mexican favorite that Enriquez made Thursday was the huarache, an entree made with a long, elliptical, handmade tortilla.
That’s covered with refried beans, a choice of meat ranging from ground beef to marinated pork with pineapple, and then traditionally topped off with cilantro, onions and shredded cotija cheese. Housemade guacamole and red sauce are served on the side.
The huarache can be eaten by hand because the handmade taco is so thick.
“It’s just like an open taco,” Munoz said.
These restaurant owners put freshness at a premium, including guacamole made fresh tableside at their Stow eatery, served in a three-legged molcajete bowl made from volcanic stone. The tableside guacamole also will be offered at their upcoming Amigos Taquerias location in Strongsville, an 85-seat restaurant expected to open by late June.
Amigos Taqueria also offers traditional agua fresca, or fresh water, made daily. Offerings on Thursday were watermelon, lemonade, hibiscus and Horchata, which is rice water with condensed milk and cinnamon.
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The dishes the restaurateurs serve food in matter, too. They include handmade, hand-painted Mexican pottery that Munoz said keeps the heat. Patrons from Mexico get excited when they see the plates, he said.
“That makes them feel like they’re home, because there we eat on these plates,” Munoz said, showing off a brown, shallow bowl with black and yellow painted accents. “It brings the environment to them.”
Dishes, decor reflect Mexico
The restaurant’s decor, created by Munoz, offers a taste of Mexico too, with burnt orange walls, burnt wood above the front counter and on the booths, colorful parrot and gecko figures as well as pottery on the walls, and folk art including a tin metal piece.
“He (Enriquez) decorates the plates, I decorate the outside,” or the dining room, Munoz said with a laugh.
The Amigos Taqueria menu includes bowls, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, fajitas, sopas (soups), tortas (sandwiches) and more. One carryover menu item from the former El Tren Grill, which Munoz sold several years ago, is the popular Burrito Amigos, filled with chicken, chorizo, rice and beans, and topped with pico de gallo and melted cheese.
A big feature of the restaurant’s menu allows for building your own customized entree. That includes starting with a taco, huarache, quesadilla, bowl, sope (handmade, thick corn tortilla), torta or machete (long corn tortilla).
Next, guests can choose from fillings including chorizo, steak, carnitas (slow-cooked pork), ground beef, al pastor, chicken, tinga (shredded chicken cooked in chipotle tomato sauce), lechon (Mexican-style pork roast), veggie or Birria. Finally, toppings include cilantro, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, fresh lime, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, jalapenos, refried beans, corn, onions and mayo.
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Amigos Taqueria is a family affair that depends on the help of numerous family members. That includes Munoz’s father, Gilberto Valadez; and his sister, Marta Hicks, who handles the back-office work. Also lending a helping hand is Enriquez’s fiancee, Madison Baughman, who handles marketing and public relations.
Munoz, who sold El Tren Grill several years ago, said his goal was to open several smaller Amigos Taqueria restaurants rather than one large one. That way, he and Enriquez will have an opportunity to make a greater impact in multiple regions with the authentic fare they’re offering.
“The dream is to grow” and eventually add a third location, Munoz said.
Arts and restaurant writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurant: Amigos Taqueria
Where: 4147 Bridgewater Parkway, Stow
Hours: 11 am to 9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm Friday-Saturday