This South L.A. family now serves their famous tacos árabes from a new full-service truck
The savory smell of pork, beef and soft tortillas warming on the stove drifted from the doors of Los Originales Tacos Árabes de Puebla. It’s enough to make your mouth water. Inside their food truck, the Villegas family was hard at work on a recent Thursday evening, calling out orders and handing plates of their steaming and savory food to eager customers.
From Thursday to Sunday, the South L.A. family takes their business to Boyle Heights, where for seven years they have served their cuisine from a modest trailer on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Esperanza Street.
Now, the Villegas family prepares their Pueblan-style food from a new and bigger truck, thanks to a loan from the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, or LURN — a nonprofit community development organization that helps small businesses.
Through the micro-loan program, known as the Semi’a fund, the family was able to retrofit a new full-service truck — an upgrade from the trailer they had been attaching to the back of their truck for years. The new truck proudly displays the family’s new logo with custom artwork by local artist Ernesto Yerena.
“If it wasn’t for LURN, we wouldn’t have the truck. They’ve really helped us,” said Arely Villegas, one of the daughters who helps prepare and serve the food.
Since the program began in 2016, LURN has worked with 34 low-income business owners to provide capital and business coaching, said LURN’s economic development associate Maribel Garcia.
“We ask for a variety of different things to verify their incomes and expenses … Some clients need more support from us to get that stuff together and we work with them,” said Rudy Espinoza, executive director of LURN.
The Villegas’ took over the business from a relative in 2012, with a goal to create authentic tacos árabes that reminded them of their home in the Mexican city of Puebla.
While the definite origin of tacos árabes is not completely clear, it is believed they were brought from the Middle East by Iraqi or Lebanese immigrants during the time of the First World War, according to a Serious Eats article. Their tradition of spit-roasted, thinly sliced lamb wrapped in a pita-like bread, known as Pan Arabe, quickly became a favorite in Mexico.
Soon, the Mexican people added their own twist to the tacos. When lamb became too expensive, it was replaced with pork. Spicy Mexican chipotle sauces were mixed in with the tahini or yogurt sauces.
“In our state of Puebla, it’s really popular at night to see someone selling tacos árabes,” Villegas said. “No one was selling these types of tacos here [in Los Angeles].”
At Los Originales Tacos Árabes de Puebla, everything remains true to the taco’s origins, except for the meat.
“I see it as a way of honoring the history because we still use the same spices that they used, so if you tasted it, you would think you were eating shawarma even though it is pork,” Villegas said, gesturing to the large piece of spit-roasted pork rotating inside the food truck.
To celebrate their new truck, the family held a grand opening celebration February at their regular location. The event included mariachi bands, speeches from family members, free food and a visit from a priest who blessed the new truck.
“It was a really beautiful event and really ceremonial,” Espinoza said. “It was really touching to see the family together, which was really characteristic of that business because the whole family is involved.”
With about 100 guests in attendance, the family has undoubtedly adopted a loyal customer base over the years.
Even on a quiet Thursday evening, customers line up around the block to grab food after a long day at work.
There are customers like Cristobal Anya, a Huntington Park resident who has been visiting the truck for nearly six years after hearing about the food from a friend.
Anya religiously orders the tacos, adding just the right amount of lemon and hot sauce from the bottle.
“Other restaurants say they have tacos árabes, but no. I only buy them here,” he said.
Open Thursday through Sunday from 6:30 p.m. until midnight, Los Originales Tacos Árabes De Puebla is located at 3600 E. Olympic Blvd in Boyle Heights.