Leonel Aragon started his life as an entrepreneur in 2009, selling tamales from the back of his red pick-up (la troquita) in the Super Save parking lot.
A few months later he upgraded to a trailer located in the same spot and had it for four years.
“We had a loyal clientele right from the start,” Aragon said, “but it was hard work. My wife and I got up every day at four in the morning to prepare the food, then we would take it to the trailer and make sure that everything was ready by seven-thirty.”
“We were always tired,” said his wife, Nena Aragon.
They used to cook at the Taos Food Center.
“They were really supportive,” Aragon said. “But it feels good to have our own place now.”
The restaurant opened on January 20th and kept the original name of the business, Leonel’s Tamales. It is located next to Baskin-Robbins.
Looking for a brighter future
Leonel and Magdalena (Nena) Aragon are from Nuevo Casas Grandes, in Chihuahua. They moved to Taos twelve years ago.
“We wanted a good place to educate our children and start a new life,” he said. “Things turned out right. Our oldest daughter, Anahi, will start working with us soon, making delicious Mexican desserts. Janeth is in Taos High and our youngest, Leonel, goes to Enos Garcia Elementary. I’m so proud of them.”
Healthy Mexican food
Only Aragon and his wife work full-time in the restaurant, though they have part-time help.
“It’s basically a family business,” he said. “That’s what allows us to stay afloat and keep the prices as low as possible.”
“We buy locally and get as many fresh items as we can,” Nena said.
They don’t use flour in the green chile sauce. It’s healthier without it, Aragon said.
“We get fresh meat for the hamburgers, not frozen stuff, and the tortillas don’t have any preservatives,” said Nena. “They are homemade in Española.”
Recetas de Abuelita
Many of the recipes they use come from Nena’s grandmother.
“She taught me ten different ways to prepare chicken,” she said. “I really like it grilled. It doesn’t have too many calories but still tastes good.”
Oscar Gonzalez is a regular client. He just came to pick up an order of Nena’s grilled chicken to go. It includes twelve chicken pieces with three large sides and twelve corn tortillas, plus salsa, for $25.95.
“Nena’s chicken is one of our most popular combos,” said Aragon. “It’s big enough for a family of four and maybe there will be something left for el perro.”
Leonel’s Tamales is open seven days a week, Mondays through Saturdays from 7 am to 8 pm, and Sundays from 8 am to 3pm.
They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner.
One of their most popular items is the breakfast burrito (made of meat or vegetables) and accompanied with hash browns, eggs, cheese and chile. It costs $ 3.70.
Another traditional Mexican breakfast dish is a chilaquiles plate (fried tortillas strips smothered in red or green chile) that comes with two eggs, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and sour cream.
Tamales—just the best
But their tamales stand out. They have been essential in making the business a success.
There are two kinds—the traditional savory tamales made of green chile, cheese and chicken, or red chile and pork, or vegetarian, and the sweet kind, stuffed with a mixture of pecan, pineapple, raisins and coconut. They make great desserts and afternoon snacks.
“This is the best place for tamales in Taos,” said Florence Valerio, who came to buy a dozen.
Burritos, tortas and more
Patrons can choose from a variety of burritos —steak, beef, chicken, vegetarian, chile relleno, and ranchero.
There are also cheeseburgers, quesadillas, gorditas, Navajo tacos, Frito pies, and three kinds of tortas.
“The New Mexican torta has meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and salsa,” said Aragon. “The Mexican is made of pork, avocado, mayonnaise and pico de gallo.”
I also discovered a Cuban torta (pork, ham, white cheese, avocado, pico and jalapeños),
“All tortas all are served in horno bread,” said Nena.
For drinks, there is a selection of sodas, plus orange juice and organic coffee.
You can’t go wrong with horchata, a refreshing rice mix that is served chilled. However, I took mine home and warmed it up. It tasted like liquid rice pudding, with a hint of cinnamon.
Poco a poco (little by little)
“We have increased the business poco a poco,” said Aragon. “From the troquita to the trailer, and now we are in a restaurant.”
“We want to thank the Taos community that has made possible for us to follow our dreams,” said Nena. “And we’d like to invite them to visit us in our new location. Son bienvenidos aquí.”
Leonel’s Tamales is located at 519 Paseo del Pueblo Sur
Phone: 575 776 7054
Open Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 8 pm
Sundays from 8 am to 3 pm