Ruben Jimenez and Roberto Mercado: Making Tradition Modern
Having grown up around the restaurant industry, cousins Ruben Jimenez and Roberto Mercado envisioned themselves owning their own taqueria, and despite separately pursuing different careers, they are finally following a path that is in their blood.
As co-owners of Taco Lounge, a modern take on the traditional taquerias or taco shops that are found on the streets of Tijuana, Jimenez and Mercado offer their customers authentic Mexican tacos in a modern, sit down environment.
Following the lunch rush of Taco Tuesday, Jimenez and Mercado sat with La Prensa San Diego and shared what makes their taqueria shop stand out from the rest.
“We just wanted a place where you can get authentic TJ tacos, Mexican tacos, and at the same time, having that better presentation,” Mercado said.
Taco Lounge is located in East Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch district and is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The restaurant has a combination of modern colors and designs, with touches of traditional Mexican printed tile and an open kitchen that allows customers to see their food as it is being prepared.
Jimenez and Mercado also focused on not only providing authentic Mexican tacos, but also took the time to find unique flavors for their salsas and fresh waters, they said.
Their salsas and fresh waters like horchata, jamaica, and cucumber waters are made daily and are not made with syrups, according to Jimenez.
Mercado added that their sodas are bottled sodas as opposed to a soda machine because that is what is traditionally found in a taqueria in Mexico or Tijuana.
Although they originally planned on opening a taqueria and only sell tacos, they decided to also have options like burritos and quesadillas because customers in San Diego are accustomed to taco shops that offer different menu items.
“We decided to be a taqueria and taco shop to have really authentic tacos, but at the same time provide what people are accustomed to here on this side of the border,” Mercado said.
The cousins also own a taqueria in Tijuana that follows that same concept.
Jimenez said that their vision for Taco Lounge was to open a taqueria that provided a clean sitting area for their customers.
“Usually taquerias are a place where you stand up and eat tacos,” Jimenez said. “Our taqueria in TJ, a lot of people like to go there because it is a nice place where you can take your wife, girlfriend, your kids, you want to stay there and you want to eat there.”
Both having lived in Tijuana, where “almost every person considers themselves a taco expert,” they felt that there was no taqueria in Chula Vista that was to their taste or the taco shops were located in West Chula Vista, Mercado said.
The idea of owning a taqueria came to Jimenez and Mercado at a young age when they moved to the United States and realized that Chula Vista was lacking in authentic Mexican tacos, this being before there was other taquerias in the city.
“We grew up in TJ where on every single corner there’s taquerias and we used to have three taquerias like a block away from our house,” Jimenez said.
However, the pair went on to pursue different careers and the idea of owning their own authentic Mexican taqueria fell on the backburner.
Mercado pursued a career in the real estate industry and Jimenez is a contractor, however, they have collaborated on buying and rebuilding homes for over 10 years.
As time went by, they saw tacos shops appearing in Chula Vista and although they were both in different careers, they decided to go for it.
“I think it’s in our blood, even though he works in real estate and I’m a contractor, the food business was always in our blood,” Jimenez said.
After a process of a year and a half, Taco Lounge opened in December 2017 and already the pair is planning on opening more restaurants around San Diego. They are also planning on introducing more items like a birria taco and a New York steak taco.
Jimenez said that their goal is to change their careers and focus on the restaurants.
“When you do something with passion and with your heart, I don’t doubt that our business is going to be successful,” Jimenez said.