Antonio and Melissa Estrada started with a food truck offering authentic Mexican street tacos, burritos and quesadillas in late 2018.
“We always sold out,” she said.
In October 2019, they opened Tacos El Jefe in the Houston County Galleria in Centerville, having sold their food truck to open the walk-up restaurant.
They next bought a bigger and better food truck in November 2021, setting up at Food Truck Friday events in Perry and Centerville and at schools for teachers and faculty.
Today, they’re expanding again with a dine-in restaurant in Fort Valley.
Tacos El Jefe Mexican Restaurant opened quietly Wednesday for a “soft opening” with a limited menu at 1030 Peach Parkway in the former New China Buffet spot. Their grand opening is now slated for Saturday.
“We’ve always wanted to have an actual restaurant where people can sit down and enjoy it,” Melissa said.
“And have a beer,” Antonio chimed in.
Antonio and Melissa operate the new restaurant in Fort Valley with the help of their daughter Brianna, niece Brittany, and son Alex, who will go back and forth between the restaurant and the Centerville mall location. Their daughter Santana operates the mall location.
Featuring authentic Mexican food, their new restaurant builds on their dishes of tacos, burritos and quesadillas offered at the walk-up restaurant in the mall — including their most popular dish, Birria tacos.
But unlike their walk-up restaurant in the mall, their dine-in restaurant in Fort Valley will soon offer a full menu that includes appetizers, caldos (soups), tortas (sandwiches) and all things Birria — including Birria quesadillas, Birria burritos, Birria tortas and even Birria pizza and Birria ramen.
They also offer crunchy and soft shell American-style tacos with steak, chicken or ground beef with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream.
Additionally, their expanded menu includes fajitas, salads, fish and shrimp dishes as well as specialty dishes.
“He does all the seasoning,” Melissa said of Antonio. “He does all the cutting. He puts all the flavoring in the food.
“He doesn’t tell anybody his recipes either — not even me.”
The full menu also includes several Mexican breakfast dishes and offers roasted chicken options from a fourth of a chicken to a half of a chicken to a whole chicken to a family meal of two roasted chickens.
There’s even Tlayudas on the menu. A Tlayuda is an extra large corn tortilla fried or grilled topped with a choice of meat plus beans, cheese, queso fresco, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and fresh jalapenos.
“It’s like a big tostada,” Melissa said.
“Like 14 inches,” added Antonio.
They also offer handmade tamales, and Melisa makes their tres leches cake, flan and choco flan.
The colorful restaurant also includes a bar, but they’re waiting on their alcohol license before they can serve beer, margaritas and other spirits.
Before they bought their first food truck, Antonio had his own roofing company for 15 years and Melissa had two boutiques — Sassy Britches and Pink Pineapple Marketplace — for which she made a lot of the clothing that was sold.
“He wanted something different to do, and he loves to cook,” Melissa said. “He’s always loved to cook.”
A native of Mexico, Antonio said his mom and dad taught him how to cook and most of what’s served in the couple’s restaurants and on their food truck are what they’d eat in their home.
Melissa kept the boutiques for a while, finally closing the last one in the mall to help Antonio more at the walk-up restaurant and now the dine-in restaurant. She also sells her T-shirts and tumblers in their new restaurant.
Tacos El Jefe translates Tacos the Boss or “the boss of tacos,” Melissa said.
“He’s always been the boss” of whatever he does, she said.
Restaurant hours are from 9 to 9 Monday through Thursday, 9 to 11 Friday and Saturday and 9 to 6 Sunday. The number is 478-822-0200.