Leonel’s Tamales opens restaurant in town

Leonel's Fresh Tamales


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.”

Breakfast dishes

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


About dovalpage

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Taos, New Mexico. She has a Ph.D. in Spanish literature and teaches at UNM Taos. She also freelances for Taos News, Profile, Hispanic Executive and other publications. A bilingual author, she has published eight novels, six in Spanish and two in English, two collections of short stories in Spanish and one in English. Her English-language novels are A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). Her collection of short stories The Astral Plane, Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond was published by the University of New Orleans Press in 2012. In her native Spanish she has authored the novels Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Posesas de La Habana (Haunted Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), La Regenta en La Habana (Edebe Group, Spain, 2012,) Orfeo en el Caribe(Atmósfera Literaria, Spain, 2013) and El retorno de la expatriada (The expat’s return, Egales, Spain, 2014). Her short novel Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event) is currently being published in serialized format by Taos News.
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