Edgar Alvarez is back in the restaurant business.
A longtime fixture in the Strip District at Reyna's Taco Shack, the cheery 53-year-old Mexico City native has opened a new place in the South Hills formerly occupied by the short-lived California Taco Shop on Route 51.
Now named Edgar's Authentic Mexican Cuisine, there have been few cosmetic changes to the restaurant except for new area rugs that create a warmer environment. The food, however, is a different story.
In a city with scant options for authentic Mexican, the menu is created from family recipes, say Alvarez and his sister, Gladys Sanchez, who runs the restaurant with her two daughters, Nadia, 23, and Tania, 21. Their mother's recipes emphasize Mexican sauces, chiles and spices.
Alvarez and Sanchez have worked together before as owners of Taco Loco in the South Side, which lasted 10 years in four different locations before closing in 2008.
Since then, the city's taste for Mexican food has evolved from earlier associations with places like "Taco Bell and Chi-Chi's," Alvarez says, adding that he also sees many more Latin American customers in the Strip. "The Spanish community is growing up in Pittsburgh," he says.
But not quite fast enough. And that, says Sanchez, is why they decided it was time to open the new place, which expands on the dishes that Alvarez serves in the Strip.
"I'm Mexican, and I love my food, but when I go to the other [Mexican] restaurants, I can't feel the Mexican flavor," she says. Last year, she says she told her brother, "'It's time. We have to do this.'"
The new location, at 2760 Saw Mill Run Blvd., is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
For now, Alvarez plans to continue running the taco shack outside Reyna's. The Strip reminds him of Mexico City, where everyone sells their food and wares on the street. And it's work he loves doing.
"There is one thing I say always — whatever you want to do, you have to make it with love," he says.