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Taco Palenque: From Humble Beginnings to the Heart of McAllen

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Pictured above, from L-R: McAllen City Commissioner Antonio “Tony” Aguirre; Juan Francisco Ochoa, Jr. “Pancho chico”, and his wife Patricia Ochoa; Luis Elizondo, Supply Chain Manager; Marcelo Rodriguez, Marketing Field Manager; Patricia Barreto, Sr. Manager of Marketing and Guest Relations; Adal Cisneros, Operations. Photo credit City of McAllen
Pictured above, from L-R: McAllen City Commissioner Antonio “Tony” Aguirre; Juan Francisco Ochoa, Jr. “Pancho chico”, and his wife Patricia Ochoa; Luis Elizondo, Supply Chain Manager; Marcelo Rodriguez, Marketing Field Manager; Patricia Barreto, Sr. Manager of Marketing and Guest Relations; Adal Cisneros, Operations. Photo credit City of McAllen

Texas Border Business

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By Roberto Hugo González

McAllen, TX, October 9-2023–On the busy streets of McAllen, Texas, lies a gastronomic landmark that has warmed the hearts and filled the stomachs of countless patrons for a quarter of a century: Taco Palenque. Today, Tony Aguirre, the McAllen City Commissioner, reflects on this journey, a tale of resilience, determination, and the dream of a family that turned their passion for authentic Mexican cuisine into a legacy.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Aguirre fondly recalls, “Life has a funny way of making connections. Back in the late ’90s, I saw a business breathing new life into an old Taco Cabaña spot. Curiosity led me to the Ochoa family, new settlers from Laredo with a vision for McAllen. A vision they transformed into reality.”

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Indeed, the story of Taco Palenque started much earlier. It was in 1987 when Juan Francisco Ochoa, affectionately known as Don Pancho, inaugurated the very first Taco Palenque in Laredo, Texas. With a mission to provide the rich and diverse flavors of Mexican cuisine, Don Pancho set the stage for what was to become a beloved establishment.

Pancho chico gratefully acknowledges Tony Aguirre's recognition of Taco Palenque's legacy at the McAllen City Council chambers. The proclamation marks a journey from humble beginnings to becoming an integral part of McAllen's rich culinary field. Photo City of McAllen
Pancho chico gratefully acknowledges Tony Aguirre’s recognition of Taco Palenque’s legacy at the McAllen City Council chambers. The proclamation marks a journey from humble beginnings to becoming an integral part of McAllen’s rich culinary field. Photo City of McAllen

Fast forward to 1998, and the Ochoas saw an opportunity in McAllen, a city with a vibrant community and a deep appreciation for authentic Mexican food. The family’s hard work and dedication paid off, as the McAllen branch turned out to be a pivotal point for the brand. As Juan Francisco Ochoa Jr., or Pancho Chico as he is called by his friends, mentioned, “McAllen was the point of skyrocket for the brand.”

The success in McAllen paved the way for Taco Palenque’s expansion, reaching cities like Brownsville, San Antonio, and even venturing outside Texas, with a total of 31 locations across the United States as of 2023.

But beyond the expansion, it is the essence of Taco Palenque that has endeared it to the masses. With a commitment to quality food, exceptional customer service, and a philosophy of treating everyone like family, Taco Palenque has not only served mouth-watering dishes but also given back to the community that embraced it.

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On the stage of McAllen’s councilmember chambers, Pancho chico stands proud as he reflects on Taco Palenque’s remarkable journey, embodying a tale of culinary passion, family legacy, and dedication to the community. A true testament to dreams turned reality. Photo City of McAllen

“It’s more than just a proclamation,” Aguirre says, holding the official document that declares October 10th, 2023, as Taco Palenque Day. “It’s a testament to the journey, the hard work, and the resolute spirit of the Ochoa family and the entire Taco Palenque team.”

As we trace back the origins of tacos, from the ancient streets of Mexico to their migration into Los Angeles and then being embraced by the US, it’s evident that this humble dish, with its rich history, has the power to connect and bring together diverse communities. As McAllen celebrates Taco Palenque Day, the city not only honors a brand but also the spirit of entrepreneurship, community engagement, and the shared love for a dish that transcends borders. The story of Taco Palenque is, indeed, a testament to how food, passion, and hard work can weave into success, legacy, and community love.

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