Annette Laurel misses taco stands in San Antonio, Texas, where she could get soft corn tortillas, a variety of seasoned meats, fresh garnishes and homemade salsa.
That’s why she’s so excited about Taqueria Olvera, a new Mexican restaurant in Fairview Heights.
“It reminds me of being back home — the atmosphere, the food, everything,” said Annette, 57, of Belleville, who moved to the metro-east 15 years ago while in the Air Force.
She was eating lunch last week with daughter Krystal Sills, son Will Walden and grandkids Penelope and Dominic.
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They got a mixture of tacos and burritos, with barbacoa (steamed beef), carnitas (pulled pork), guisado de res (chopped beef) and pastor (marinated pork). They also ordered extra rice.
“I’m Mexican, and I’m very picky,” Annette said. “I usually make my own food, but, oh my, this is good.”
The restaurant is owned by Manny Olvera, 30, of O’Fallon. He emigrated from Mexico to California with his family as a child, later moved to Illinois and graduated from O’Fallon Township High School in 2002.
Manny and his wife, Cecilia, opened Taqueria Olvera on March 9 in Market Place shopping center. Taqueria means “taco shop” in Spanish.
“I wanted to bring something more authentic to the area,” Manny said. “By that, I mean this is the type of thing you find in Mexico. There aren’t many places around here.”
Restaurant decor is simple and modern with red and black tables and chairs and a giant mural with a desert landscape and cowboy silhouette, painted by Smithton artist Brent Alexander.
You’ll often find the Olveras’ 3-year-old son, Manny Jr., in the dining room, wielding a plastic sword.
Customers order at the counter, where they can see meats and garnishes before ordering and choose their own combinations for tacos and burritos.
“People see things on a menu, but they aren’t sure what they look or what they taste like,” Manny said. “Sometimes we give free samples.”
Garnishes include pico de gallo, cheese, lettuce, guacamole, limes, onions, tomato, sour cream, cilantro and chipotle mayo.
Taqueria Olvera also serves aguas frescas, which is water flavored with fresh fruit, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, lime and tamarind, as well as rice and hibiscus.
“We have margaritas, Mexican beer and Mexican sodas, including Coke,” Manny said. “It’s Coca-Cola, but it’s from Mexico. They don’t use corn syrup. They use cane sugar.”
Manny formerly worked in heating and cooling and earned a degree in computer networking technology at Ranken Technical College.
In 2009, he and Cecilia bought Tequilla Mexican Restaurant in Freeburg. It’s part of a small chain in St. Louis and Southern Illinois.
Taquria Olvera gets a thumbs-up from Russell Self, who isn’t Mexican but is known by family and friends as a connoisseur of Mexican food. He stopped in recently with friend Tim Jones, his fourth visit in two weeks.
“This is not one of your typical ‘ground-beef places,’ as I like to call them,” said Russell, 46, of Belleville. “They have all the different unique meats. The closest thing you’re going to find to this is in Fairmont City.”