Taco Rey Mexican Restaurant is a family tradition in Southeast Texas with fresh, sensational Tex-Mex favorites and reliable, friendly service.
But it doesn’t stop there…
Taco Rey is a family legacy dating back to 1960, a locally-owned business in the heart of Mid-County, a long-time active partner in community festivals and events, and a committed cheerleader for all things Southeast Texas.
Hand-rolled tortillas. Hand-mixed spices. Famous tacos. Frozen margaritas. Addictive salsa and queso…
It’s all here and more, and we can’t wait to serve you!
The Real Rey
1960: In the hard-working, Gulf Coast town of Port Arthur, Texas, a family passion became the new family business. Albert “Apa” Ramirez was a talented commercial artist and musician. He would paint advertisements and signs for Coca-Cola, local businesses, retail shops, and such around town and in the Nederland, Groves, and Port Neches communities.
Apa the artist wanted to see more opportunity for his family and saw a special artistry in his wife’s home cooking. And he thought opening a restaurant with her family recipes on full display would be a hit. And so it began…
The Ramirezes put the recipes and time-honored traditions into action and opened its doors on Bluebonnet Boulevard in 1960. The tacos—with the legendary seasoned beef and crisp, flavorful bite—quickly became a famous craving for folks of all ages and all backgrounds. The low price, quick service, and one-of-a-kind flavor put the Ramirez start-up on the map.
Named Taco Rey (or “Sandwich King” in Spanish), the restaurant was then organized and it flourished as area folks discovered the wonderful new taste and ever-growing menu.
In the 1960s, Apa and his wife introduced Southeast Texas to a whole new blend of Mexican flavors and exciting culture, all with an efficient, treat-you-like family service. The bar for quality Tex-Mex restaurants was set!
•••••••••• “We were the first drive-through restaurant in the city (Port Arthur) and the first to sell homemade flour tortillas,” Ramirez said. “And we still do it the same way we did it when we started out.” ••••••••••
The little shop got busy with more customers making it a regular stop for daily or weekly lunch in Port Arthur. Students from nearby schools like Thomas Jefferson (TJ High School) would line up for a fun, fast lunch: 6 TACOS for A DOLLAR!
Other specials at the time included 5 Shrimp Tacos for $1 and the Number 1 Dinner went for just 65 cents (now called the Deluxe Platter). The festive, bright colors of the restaurant’s exterior gained attention and set the tone for the collection of ecclectic, artistic, pop culture decor of the interior.
“Albert loved antiques and collected the many items displayed at Taco Rey, [including] the old phone booth taken from the Sabine Hotel, items from the Logan Hotel, and antique punched tin ceiling tiles that were taken from homes being torn down in Port Arthur,” says his daughter and former general manager, Delores Hamilton.
Even the wood covering the walls of the near century-old building on Nederland Avenue is the work of Albert, who salvaged the beaded boards from demolished homes and painstakinglly treated and installed the wood.
“Back then the Ramirez children were young and in elementary school,” said Ramirez, the home cook turned restauranteur. “The business opened late, pulling in customers from the nearby drive-in theater who wanted an after-movie meal.”
The Ramirez dynamic duo would stay at the restaurant until midnight cleaning the facility then go home and put the beans on to cook overnight. In the morning she would bring the cooked beans to the restaurant for another day of business.
“We didn’t know anything about the restaurant business,” Hamilton states. “When we opened she (her mother) used a small skillet to cook the taco meat.” “It hasn’t always been easy like this [today’s operation],” Ramirez says. “When we first started we had 13 -to 14 hour days. We’d mop the floors and cook and clean. You have to put a lot of effort into this to be successful,” she says.
The hard work paid off as success indeed followed. In 1983, the restaurant moved a few miles north to the current Nederland Avenue location. The building was formerly a three-bedroom, two-bath home—something extraordinarily unique for the early 1900s.
The Past, Present,
The Taco Rey recipes are all original and haven’t strayed from their beginnings over 60 years ago. The commitment to quality and heritage are ever present, even today. Employees are like family and tend to stick around for decades. One loyal employee has worked alongside the Ramirezes for over 40 years. She makes eight to nine dozen flour tortillas by hand each day and said she never thought about working anywhere else because she’s “very happy here.” Even Mrs. Ramirez has stayed active in the restaurant making fresh flour tortillas and working behind the steam table for years. Why change a good thing? Just add to it…
In keeping with the fun collage of decorations from the original restaurant in Port Arthur, the restaurant today holds memories and mementos from days gone by. Among the favorites is the most eye-catching piece from Albert that sits out front as the restaurant’s calling card AND as a city landmark: the two-headed car.
He bought the old clown car and put his talent to work by hand-painting it like the American flag in red, white, and blue. The fun, funky work of art is known far and wide, making it a photo spot for diners and even passersby. The car still stands today right out front as a beacon in the Golden Triangle sun, calling out to Tex-Mex lovers to guide them home.
Framed advertisements from the golden era, photos, old menus with old pricing, antiques, community pictures, old company signs, and glossy photos of stars from Hollywood’s glamour days line the walls and ceilings for a captivating visual for diners of any age.
“When I walk through here towards a table to devour my usual order of the fajita burrito dinner (and sopapillas), I like looking at the old ads for movies and cars on the walls,” says local Taco Rey fan, Travis Myers. “But my favorite artifacts are the old helmets and photos of the local refineries and high schools. Gulf Oil and Chevron, old football programs…these little glimpses of the community’s past and present all here in a great queso-scented time capsule.”
The family tradition continues today with the Ramirez’s nephew, Johnny Collazo. In 2017, Johnny Collazo took the reins of the business with a clear mission of keeping the recipes, keeping the tradition, and keeping the quality. The only addition was to add more opportunity to get the great legacy and famous flavors out to more people. Collazo upgraded the payment system to accommodate more customer options and added the delivery service Waitr. Then for celebrating the 60th anniversary, he unveiled the new Taco Rey logo—a retro-meets-modern design that pays homage to Uncle Albert’s painting and the 1960s era logo/sign of the restaurant. The famous landmark of the two-headed car is prominently featured. He also added the wildly popular Taco Rey food truck and trailer for getting out to more people for events, catering, and co-ops with other local businesses. He’s added street tacos to the food truck and trailer menu and added new flavors and drinks to round out the offering.
Today, Johnny mixes the spices every morning just as his family has done for so many years. We still make our family recipes and serve with a smile. Keeping the momentum going is a joy for us at Taco Rey. We are excited to share our history, our family, and our flavors for you and your family for many years to come. We invite you to join us and feast like a king at the one and only, Taco Rey!