An authentic Jalisco-style taste and a strong customer base makes Tacos Tapatio a staple food truck in the Valley.
Five years ago, Saul Jimenez was selling tacos for $1 from his in-laws’ backyard. Now he owns a successful food truck and catering business, with plans to open a restaurant in under two years—a goal he set to achieve before his 30th birthday.
The food truck’s name is Tacos Tapatio—a reference to Saul and his wife Ellie Jimenez’s roots and culture. Tapatio means “people from Jalisco,” where he and his wife have family, specifically in a small town called San Miguel Alto.
Saul’s mother and mother-in-law taught him the Jalisco style of cooking, which uses only fresh ingredients, and all of the recipes he makes on the daily.
From a Mesa Backyard to Food Truck
After gaining a reputation for his backyard tacos, Saul graduated from his in-laws’ house and began catering for private events, which in turn led to him opening the food truck two years ago. The couple say they’ve seen around a 50% growth in customers over the past year.
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Tacos Tapatio caters all kinds of events—from weddings and birthday parties to corporate events and graduation parties. Saul says they’re happy to travel to accommodate customers, which has brought Tacos Tapatio as far as Pinetop and Flagstaff.
The COVID-19 pandemic set Saul and Ellie back on getting their first food truck by about a year, since many of their catering events were canceled. But in July 2021, they were finally able to open their food truck as the next step in their journey.
Spreading the Word
Word-of-mouth and referrals have helped Tacos Tapatio tremendously, said Ellie.
Saul runs an Instagram account that he has grown to over 3,000 followers, where he posts daily specials, hours, and locations. Since opening his food truck, the account’s following has almost doubled.
“The power of social media is incredible nowadays,” Saul said.
Tacos Tapatio routinely parks at A&P Nursery on Brown and Recker Roads and at Goldwater Brewing Co. on Recker Road and Longbow Parkway in east Mesa, mainly because they are close to home for Saul and Ellie.
“I want my business to be in the center of where I’m from,” Saul said.
Goldwater Brewing Co. originally reached out to Saul, after they noticed many customers were getting food to go from Tacos Tapatio and eating it at their bar. Goldwater does not serve any food at their location.
Connecting with Customers
Saul runs his business as both family-oriented and with what he calls a “customer mindset,” that has helped him build a loyal customer base and get his name out in the community.
“If I was a customer, how would I want to be treated? How would I want to be served? Your customers are the foundation of your business,” Saul said.
Ana Alba, one of three employees who works for Tacos Tapatio, said everyone there is close, and the workers get to know customers on a one-on-one basis.
Saul said Tacos Tapatio keeps regular customers by making their first time a great time—for example, by striking up a conversation with them even if it’s a busy night, and making everything fresh on the spot.
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Customer Jaime Rodriguez said Saul and Ellie are very young-spirited simply because of their age, but they can also connect with their older clientele.
“It’s a Mexican tradition of just being super super friendly,” Rodriguez said.
Ellie said she makes it a point to always ask for the customer’s names, trying to memorize them by their second visit. “A lot of my clients have just become friends because they’re always just talking to me about what’s going on in their life,” she said.
The Valley is riddled with taco trucks, but Saul doesn’t see them as competition.
“I feel like the sun is bright enough to shine on anyone, so I don’t really envy anyone, or I don’t feel like we have any competition,” Saul said. “Every business has their own clientele.”
Tacos Tapatio makes tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and Tapatio fries with meats like birria (shredded beef), al pastor (pork), carne asada (steak), shrimp, and pollo (chicken) to choose from. But that’s just the basics: like their location, Tacos Tapatio changes their menu by the day–hungry patrons are encouraged to check out an updated menu on their Instagram page to see what is available.
The business sources its meat from Encinas Meat, a distributor based in downtown Phoenix, because of its high quality.
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“Tacos Tapatio is the one taco truck that tastes just like what I used to find when I would go visit my grandma in Mexico and you got your little street vendors on the corner,” Rodriguez said.
Customer Ruben Valenzuela said Tacos Tapatio has made him a regular because of the level of customer service, the quality of the meat, and the seasonings that they use all make them stand out.
“I’m willing to make a drive for those tacos,” Valenzuela said.
Tacos Tapatio offers specials, like family bundle Fridays, where customers can get 10 street tacos with any meat for $20, so parents can feed their whole family without breaking the bank, Saul said.
Opening a Restaurant
Saul said he plans on opening a Tacos Tapatio restaurant in the Mesa or San Tan Valley area in the next few years.
“If customers were to come to my restaurant, it would feel as if they were actually in Jalisco,” Saul said.
Ellie and Saul want to control the quality of the food and their service, so just one restaurant location is in their plans.
“You don’t want to open too many things at once or too fast,” Ellie said.
They still plan on offering catering services once they have a brick-and-mortar location open, Saul said.
Opening a restaurant has always been Saul’s dream, as it will only bring in more customers and more opportunities.
“Their name is becoming really big and they have all this success coming their way, but at the end of the day they still stay true to themselves and they stay humble,” Rodriguez said.