St. Louis Standards: Taqueria Durango is a North County Institution | Food & Drink News | St. Louis

click to enlarge The Lopez family is the heart of Taqueria Durango.  - ANDY PAULISSEN

Andy Paulissen

The Lopez family is the heart of Taqueria Durango.

The Lopez family had no idea they would open a grocery store and restaurant when they moved from California to St. Louis in 1993. In fact, they weren’t even sure their move would be permanent. Transferred from the west coast to the middle of the country thanks to their father’s job, Angelica Lopez and her siblings were told they were packing for a few years. Then it was extended. And extended again. Before they knew it, they were a decade into their new life — and they loved it.

“My father worked for the May Company, then affiliated with Famous-Barr, doing IT for them,” Lopez says. “The company moved here and we decided to stay. We really liked St. Louis. We got used to it. It’s a nice place to live, but when we got here, there were hardly any Hispanics around, and there was “There’s only one store on Cherokee Street. We thought, why not run a little shop and see how it goes?”

That little shop has grown into Durango Taqueria (10238 Page Avenue, Overland; 314-429-1113), a Spanish supermarket, meat market and restaurant that has endeared itself to the Overland community and beyond. Founded in 2003 as a small market, the Lopezes have expanded twice, rebuilt once due to a fire and continue to grow as one of the premier Mexican restaurants in the area.

click to enlarge Taqueria Durango is one of the most important Spanish restaurants in the north of the province.  - ANDY PAULISSEN

Andy Paulissen

Taqueria Durango is one of the most important Spanish restaurants in the north of the province.

Looking back on how they got started, Lopez is grateful to her family for their hard work building the business and the community for their support. As she explains, Taqueria Durango was never certain to be a success. Like any place that started out, trading in the market, simply called Durango, was slow at first. However, news of the offer gradually came out and they started to get solid support from retailers in the region who were asking for more and more. In the end, the Lopez family gave in to their requests.

“People kept asking us if we had food that we could serve, but we didn’t,” Lopez says. “We had the food in the back that we would eat, and my parents have always been the kind of people that if you had food and someone asked, they’d tell people to come along. People kept telling us we were in a restaurant; we thought not that we could, but we decided to do it, and it went better than expected.”

The Lopezes opened Taqueria Durango in 2010 in the adjacent storefront. The restaurant was an instant success, prompting them to expand again when the dog grooming business left its store at the end of the strip mall. Now a thriving market, dining, and event space, Taqueria Durango hummed along, earning a reputation as one of the area’s most traditional Mexican restaurants and markets. Then, ten years later, disaster struck.

click to enlarge Taqueria Durango had to be completely rebuilt after a fire in early 2020 - ANDY PAULISSEN

Andy Paulissen

Taqueria Durango had to be completely rebuilt in early 2020 after a fire.

“The fire came 20 days before the lockdown,” Lopez says of the fire that devastated Taqueria in early 2020. “My aunt called me around 3:30 pm and I never expected to hear what I heard that day. She told me to call the fire brigade… I hadn’t even left the main street of my subsection when my sister called back and said it was all gone.”

On the afternoon of March 5, a fire broke out in Taqueria Durango’s deep-fat fryer, raging through the kitchen and engulfing the restaurant in flames. The entire storefront was destroyed in just moments—a scene that sends Lopez chills as she recounts how everyone escaped unharmed. She and her family were grateful for that, even though their business was in the ashes; their gratitude was heightened when they heard the news that, within hours of the fire, local chef and Taqueria Durango regular Brian Hardesty had set up a GoFundMe to help them through such a difficult time.

“I spoke to him and he said he was sorry for what happened — that he’s been a long-time customer — and he did this for us because we’re part of the community,” Lopez says. “It was very moving for me and for all of us. I will always thank him for that.”

click to enlarge Taqueria Durango serves traditional Mexican dishes.  - ANDY PAULISSEN

Andy Paulissen

Taqueria Durango serves traditional Mexican dishes.

Just as the Lopez family began to wonder how they would clean up and rebuild, another challenge presented itself: the pandemic. Unable to sell their restaurant fare for takeaway and thwarted in their attempts to rebuild because the municipal permit offices had closed, they focused their efforts on the market, which was fortunately damaged but not destroyed, and outlined a vision for what they wanted Taqueria Durango 2.0 when they could reopen.

In June 2021, they unveiled that vision to the world and reopened a new Taqueria Durango that Lopez says is better than ever. Not only has she changed the physical footprint of the space, she feels the fire crystallized in the minds of customers how much the restaurant means to them. She hears these stories all the time, whether it’s multi-generational families celebrating their milestone events, or a middle-aged old college student who still wants to have his birthday parties at the restaurant like he did in high school. No matter how much the fire has taken the Lopez family out, their tenacity and the love of their regulars have returned so much more — which Lopez says gives her and her loved ones the energy they need to keep going.

“I love how people can sit here and meet others and have great conversations,” Lopez says. “People have made friends just by sitting at the bar. Our customers and our community don’t judge you; you just come in, have a few tacos, a conversation and a good time. Even though there are a lot of sacrifices involved, that makes everything is worth it; that makes us want to keep doing what we do.”

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