By Nancy Tannler
Mon. – Sun. 11 – 9
3060 SE Division St.
Mon. – Sun. 11 – 9
Texas natives Matthew Fields and Rebecca (Becky) and Ian Atkins know tacos well because growing up, that was one of their staple foods. The Atkins were successful restaurant owners in El Paso, and this is where their friendship with Matthew began. He was working in the food industry for nine years and eventually decided to head north to follow a friend to Oregon. It was in the early days when the conversation around starting a restaurant together began.
When the Atkins decided to migrate north, the three of them decided to start their restaurant business and they knew exactly what kind it would be. The first Stella Taco opened on Alberta Street eight years ago and the success of the first one encouraged them to expand into the new business opportunities on Division St. in 2014 creating a slightly smaller version of Stella Taco here.
El Paso is about eighteen miles from Mexico and twenty to New Mexico. Before all the drug wars started, people migrated back and forth all the time.“We had a big family with a mixed heritage and it was not uncommon to cross the border on Sundays for a family brunch,” Matthew said. “Or for any occasion since it was safe to do so.”
The ease of this back and forth mingled the two cultures in a natural way. The sharing of food and languages was a big part of this exchange.
In this part of the southwest, tacos are sold everywhere – at the local coffee shop, the 7 Eleven, street stands and in restaurants. “People eat them for breakfast lunch and dinner,” Matthew said. Tacos have become more elaborate over time but sometimes they would consist of just a corn or flour shell, beans or meat, cilantro, radish and a squeeze of lime. He describes the perfect taco as a combination of chewy and tangy with bright notes of flavor.
In creating the menu at Stella Taco, they’ve gathered their best recipes to create a variety of tacos to choose from. Their tacos showcase proteins using beans, beef, chicken fish, eggs, seafood and pork; prepared in all different ways and served with vegetables and toppings that give each choice a distinct flavor. The prices are very reasonable with the intention that the diner will try a variety of them.
For vegetarians and vegans there’s the hand-battered fried avocado, spice roasted mushrooms with mole and several bean filled tacos. The fish tacos use lightly battered wild-caught Alaskan cod. For the meat lovers, there are tantalizing selections like the housemade chorizo (pork sausage), pollo asado (grilled chicken), carnitas (pork), steak; pulled pork and chopped beef, each served with a complimentary sauce and sides.
The atmosphere at Stella Taco is family and kid-friendly. “We wanted to create a place where kids have things to do while the parents enjoy their food or a drink,” Matthew said, “and for it to feel comfortable to all walks of life.” There are lots of games and kids activities as well as a board game night once a week.
They serve Dear Mom wine, gently warmed, other wine and beer, a large variety of margaritas and a full bar and soft drinks, like Jarritos and Topo Chico. The Jarritos are fruit flavored sodas, and Topo Chico is carbonated water. Taco Tuesday serves up the chefs one of a kind creations. Other specials are served up daily. Stella Taco is open everyday.
Matthew, Becky and Ian preserve the days of their youth in El Paso and the friendliness of their multi-culutral experience by sharing the foods of this culture and having a space that encourages family and community. Stella is Becky’s grandmother’s name. She was someone with a foot in both worlds and an inspiration to her granddaughter.
Stella Taco’s self-serve makes food happen quickly, reasonably and tasty – a great combination for a taco meal.