“The owners and employees of Frontera … Los Mexicanos … the [Mexican] restaurants in Jacksonville, they come here to eat,” the 33-year-old said with a laugh. “We’re the only authentic Mexican around here.”
So what makes the food authentic? For one thing, unlike most Mexican restaurants, there’s nothing with ground beef on the menu; all the beef is chopped steak. Secondly, everything is made fresh, every day, including the tortillas. Finally, there is a buffet of salsas, ranging from mild to tongue-scorching.
The menu, which includes typical Mexican fare such as tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, nachos and more, comes from Luis’ native Michoacan, a state in southwest Mexico. Luis immigrated to California when he was 12, and came to Alabama as an adult through his work as a selector for Supervalu Distribution Center. He noticed the lack of authentic Mexican in the county, and opened the restaurant with his brother three years ago.
His brother has since left the restaurant, but Luis continues to keep it a family business: His wife, Rosa, is the cook, and his cousin Francisco helps wait tables and ring up customers. Other family members assist with cooking and serving as well.
From the outside, most people may not even know that Michoacan exists. Housed in a nondescript former gas station near Oxford High School Stadium, the restaurant is connected to a mechanic’s garage and could easily be bypassed.
Inside, the emphasis is on the food, not the décor. Soccer balls (or pelotas de fútbol) hang from the ceiling. Bottled drinks are self-serve. Counters and shelves are filled with Mexican candies, pastries and curiosidades Mexicanas — trinkets and toys.
The most popular items on the menu are burritos, menudo and tortas, which Luis calls a “Mexican hamburger.” The portions are healthy; the burrito is a 14-inch tortilla stuffed with meat (beef, chicken, shrimp or a mix), beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream.
“The burrito probably weighs 1 1 /2 to 2 pounds,” said Luis. When people try it for the first time, he says they often say, “That’s the biggest burrito I’ve ever eaten.”
The price is right, too. That burrito, which could easily be two meals, is $5.99. The most expensive items are $8.99. And on Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., tacos are 99 cents.
The restaurant also offers fresh homemade Mexican drinks: horchata (water with rice and cinnamon), which Rosa says is “refreshing when it’s hot out,” and tamarindo (juice from tamarind fruit plus sugar). They also sell Mexican drinks from the cooler — “Jarritos is like Mexican coke,” Luis said. Other Mexican drinks and pre-made foods (flan, rice, gelatin) are also available.
Located only a short bit down Highway 78 from Oxford High School, Luis says his store is now attracting teenagers after school. They’ll grab a couple of tacos, he says, or try out some of the candies, cookies or Mexican drinks.
While some of the menu items may be a bit exotic for those who are used to eating Tex-Mex — such as the beef tongue quesadilla — Luis says everyone should come and at least try it out.
“They’ll like authentic Mexican,” he said. “Nobody around here has anything like this.”
Nueva Taqueria Michoacan
229 Hamric Drive E., Oxford,
Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Free delivery within a five-mile radius for orders of five or more.
Words to know
Azada — steak
Pastor — marinated pork
Pollo — chicken
Chorizo — sausage
Camaron — shrimp
Lengua — beef tongue
Tripa — tripe (beef stomach)
The salsa buffet
Salsa, ranked from hottest to mildest:
• Molcajete (tomatoes, green chiles, cilantro, and lime) is the hottest of the salsas, named for the bowl made of volcanic rock that it is served from.
• Red salsa, made from tomatillos and red chiles.
• Green salsa (salsa verde).
The buffet also offers pico de gallo (tomato, onion and cilantro mix), a spicy carrot and pepper mix, and cucumbers and radishes, which Luis says “gives a good taste to the tacos.”