The idea for Abuela's Tacos at 4225 E. Sahara Ave. came to Las Vegas native Leslie Valdes in a flash, like the light bulb going off over a character's head in a cartoon.
"My grandmother was in the hospital, and we thought we were going to lose her," Valdes said. "It just came to me: 'Abuela's Tacos.' My dad just looked at me, thought I was going crazy, but I told him that I needed to do this -- I'm going to open up my own taco shop."
"Abuela" is the Spanish word for grandmother, and Valdes' grandmother is doing much better now. The restaurant she inspired seems to doing fine as well. It opened in January in a space in a strip mall that had been a carburetor shop. There are still quite a few automotive businesses surrounding it, and many have made the shop a regular lunchtime stop.
On one wall are two portraits -- one of Valdes' 86-year-old grandmother and the other of her husband's 90-year-old grandmother. Below those portraits a sign reads in Spanish, "What better food than the food of our grandmothers?" On the opposite wall is a bulletin board that has been rapidly filling with snap shots of customers' grandmothers.
"I want all my customers to bring pictures of their grandma to put there," Valdes said. "Grandmas are very special to most people. I know I am thankful for my grandmother and know that no one can cook like her. This is why it is called Abuela's Tacos, because everyone knows that grandmas make the best food."
Valdes has taken that statement literally, hiring several grandmothers to work at the shop, including cooks Cirila Rivera and Rita Ayala and her own mother, Mary Ramirez, who works the register and is grandmother to Valdes' two children.
"All three had been unemployed for more than a year when we started," Valdes said. "My son asked me why everything was closing. I got tired of the bad economy and wanted to do something positive."
Valdes works full time with the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, but she has a master's in business and wanted to put it to use. Although she had the plan, she knew she was underfinanced for the endeavor, so she brought in a partner, Jaime Gomez, who believed in her vision, despite the economy.
Although Valdes' heritage is Cuban, she felt authentic Mexican tacos would be a more viable business in the neighborhood. She may add a Cuban sandwich to the menu eventually, but she wants to keep it simple. Her mother contributes by making Cuban-style flan for their dessert menu.
The restaurant serves tacos and burritos with a choice of meats, including asada, barbacoa, chicken, lengua, al pastor, chicharron verde, fish and shrimp. The cooks make the tortillas fresh to order, right in front of the customers.
"Fish and shrimp tacos are hard to find in Las Vegas," Valdes said.
The majority of the menu comes from Ayala, who has lived here 25 years but grew up in Durango, Mexico. She speaks little English, but Valdes interpreted for her when asked where she got her recipes.
"I didn't know this," Valdes said, obviously touched. "All of her recipes come from her grandmother."
Through Valdes, Ayala added that her grandchildren eat at the restaurant, and she's pleased that they enjoy her food.
Although the restaurant brings Valdes much joy, there is a bittersweet side to it.
"In September, it got to be too much for my father to take care of my grandmother, so she moved to Miami," Valdes said. "The doctors don't want her to fly now, so she's never seen the restaurant. I told her all about it, though, and she's very excited."
For information about Abuela's Tacos, call 431-0284.
Contact Sunrise and Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4532.