Taqueria el Tesoro opened in late January on Arkwright Place in Edgewood, not far from the intersection of Moreland Avenue and Memorial Drive.
Business partners Alan Raines and Darryl Howard have a long history of working in Atlanta restaurants. Notably, Raines was involved with Cantina La Casita in East Atlanta Village, and more recently, El Tesoro in Decatur.
At Taqueria el Tesoro, Raines and Howard are evolving a restaurant concept, starting with a counter service coffee shop and breakfast and lunch spot that’s housed in a small roadside building tucked away in a mostly residential neighborhood. But the master plan calls for adding indoor and outdoor spaces, with front and back patios, and an expanded kitchen and dining room, making way for dinner service and a full bar.
The current configuration is cozy and quaint, with 16 seats crowded into a narrow corridor that includes a combination order counter and barista station and a semi-open kitchen in back. The decor could be called rustic-historic, with Mexican tiles, repurposed doors, festive colors and shelves lined with knickknacks from Raines’ travels in Mexico.
In keeping with that, the menu is eclectic Mexican, with flavors from multiple states, and offerings ranging from breakfast and lunch tacos to stuffed and griddled burritos, house-made chicken, pork and veggie tamales, soups and specials of the day. Fresh salsas include mild roasted tomato, spicy salsa guacamole, and fiery arbol verde.
At the barista bar, you’ll find Counter Culture coffee and Mexican-style drinks, such as macchiato, espresso, cortado, cappuccino, fresh horchata, and bottled sodas, plus a display of Mexican-inspired pastries and desserts.
Last week, as the last of the lunch crowd was leaving, Raines took a break and sat down at a table at Taqueria el Tesoro to talk about the concept and the menu.
“Casita and Tesoro in Decatur didn’t work out from a partnership standpoint,” Raines said. “I conceptualized those and then stepped aside and went back to my other job in sales. The difference here is that this is all I’m doing.
“Darryl is a classically trained chef, turned contractor, now, so he and his gang did most of the work here. The building had been a convenience store and a barbecue place, and it used to be part of a larger commercial area, but this is all that’s left. We came in and did a new roof and new plumbing and new everything, so it took us about 10 months.”
As to the final look, Raines said it was mostly inspired by his remembrances of Mexico.
“People ask me who the designer was, and I’m like, ‘This is just me remembering 15 or 18 trips to Mexico that I used to make with sales calls,’” he said. “For instance, the cinder block here in the dining room had 40 years of different colors on it, so we had a muralist come in and put our logo on there and make it look like it was part of that age.”
Speaking about the menu, Raines agreed that it could be called a “greatest hits.”
“It is from places I’ve been, and where I’ve eaten in Mexico,” he said. “And for breakfast tacos, we pulled from some Texas and border favorites, including a migas taco. We were going to just be a taqueria, but we realized that the neighborhood also wanted a coffee shop, so we decided to open early and do that.
“At lunch, we have some things that are a little less common. The budin is a sort of Mexican lasagna with tortillas, cheese, salsa guacamole and refried beans. The mulita is like a grilled cheese sandwich with corn tortillas with filling between, and cheese inside, outside and all over. And, of course, with the tamales we do the core ones, but we’re going to start doing some breakfast tacos with fruit and some other crazy things.”
Summing up the role of Taqueria el Tesoro and its place in the neighborhood, Raines said, “We want people to appreciate it for what it is. It’s fresh, we run out of things, everything’s not always super quick, but it’s made to order, and in that way, it’s authentic.
“As far as the bigger picture, we look forward to expanding and having a really fun time out here for the neighborhood. We’re right on the Beltline extension that connects to the Stone Mountain trail. We plan to have fiestas out here, and that may be kind of like you stumbled on a little place in Mexico and there was a carnival in town.”
1374 Arkwright Place SE, Atlanta. 470-440-5502, eltesoroatl.com.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Taqueria el Tesoro
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.