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This roving Mexican food cart traded in its wheels for a brick and mortar location with handmade pinatas, a hand-painted mural and more delicious Mexican fare.
Specializing in dishes such as tortas, burritos, tacos and quesadillas, Taqueria El Chaparrito is a business with deep family roots.
The husband and wife team of co-owners Saul Martinez and Lourdes Casillas share a lifetime's worth of cooking knowledge.
Barbacoa, chicken, pork, lengua and tripa are cooked daily, while papoles, a type of cactus, can substitute for meat as a vegetarian option. Traditional mexican drinks suuch as horchata, Tamarindo and Hamaica are made in-house as well.
The dream of opening the restaurant goes back to the days of his youth in Mexico, Martinez said. “When I was a baby, my mom helped me cook in my house and I liked to cook. When I saw this, I wanted to open a restaurant.”
His first business was the food cart, which opened October 2017, he said. Having no cover from weather, and an inactive period during the winter, quickly showed him a restaurant location was necessary.
“We were thinking, ‘What is the best place to be for the whole year in Lansing?’” The Old Town neighborhood was it. Taking jobs in construction to support his family and dream, Martinez wanted to give his wife a family business instead of having her work for somebody else.
“I never dreamed about this, but he had a dream that he wanted to open this his whole life,” Casillas said. “We kept together working as a family.”
There were no authentic Mexican restaurants when he arrived in Lansing in 2001, Martinez said. “The meat tacos we sell come with only cilantro, onion, lime, salsa and radishes. This is the traditional Mexican taco.”
They will serve tacos the traditional Mexican way as well, he said. There is a full condiment bar with fresh veggies and salsas to dress the food. “Take whatever you want. Make it whatever way you like. It’s not a problem.”
Taqueria El Chaparrito means “shorty taco restaurant” in English, Casillas said. She got the name from her grandson. “I told him to help me name the restaurant. We were thinking about it and he said, ‘Grandma, grandma I have a taco name: Chaparrito!’ He kept saying it and we thought OK.”
Casillas said the community in Old Town has been supportive. “We try to like everybody if everyone likes us. With the different cultures and everything, we try to be together so we can work together.”
Casillas and her daughter painted the old style church on the wall and made their own pinatas for decoration.
The Taqueria El Chaparrito food cart will be active for special occasions, Martinez said.
“It was a lot of steps to do it, but thank god we made it,” Casillas said.
Taqueria El Chaparrito
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Taqueria El Chaparrito
401 Cesar E. Chavez www.facebook.com/ Taqueria-El-Chaparrito