Tasty, authentic Mexican food, served quickly for a reasonable price are the trio of reasons why Grays Harborites – as well as those passing through – can’t say enough about Taqueria San Jose in South Aberdeen. And, it’s what keeps them coming back.

But the secret ingredient – the salsa on top – is the warmth and friendliness of owner Alberto Fonseca, who talks and teases with customers in English and Spanish. His employees, nephews Antonio, Eduardo and Manuel Fonseca, also clearly enjoy interacting with people as they quickly cook and plate hot meals.

“We love the touch of the people, it makes a big difference,” says Alberto, 48. “I don’t want to just make good food, but also give friendly cheer, to stop and talk. We are also providing a sense of community.”

The restaurant’s location in the food court across from the movie theater at The Shoppes at Riverside Mall is perfectly situated to chat with customers, including PUD workers, Grays Harbor College students, teachers, prison workers, tourists, and families enjoying a burrito or tacos before or after a movie.

With the Covid-19 shutdowns and the temporary closing of the theater, Alberto says he’s glad for a good reputation, a healthy take-out clientele Popular Taqueria San Jose Offers Tasty Tacos, Sense of Community and his location, which provides plenty of parking and quick access to the restaurant to pick up food.

The restaurant’s reputation includes glowing reviews online: “Hands down best tacos ever. … Try their hot salsa. I will make a special trip all the way just for this place. They love what they do and it shows,” says one Yelp reviewer from Spokane.

For a small restaurant, the menu is extensive, but their burritos and tacos are the most popular. Recently, Alberto added a new creation to the menu – asada fries, nachos made with French fries instead of tortilla chips.

The food tastes authentic and fresh, he says, because they make everything right there. While meals are quickly put together, it is anything but typical fast food. The tacos – served open face on small corn tortillas with a choice of meat – come perfectly seasoned and beautifully garnished. The burritos are generous in size and bursting with flavor.

“We cook from scratch. We make the chicken and beef here, the rice, fresh guacamole and the salsa Mexicana,” he said. In fact, the salsa Mexicana, also called pico de gallo, is sold in area markets and farmstands, including Jay’s Farmstand in Hoquiam, J’s Farmstand in Aberdeen, Thriftway Pickrite in Montesano and the Front Street Market at Seabrook.

To accompany a meal, in addition to typical soft drinks, diners can order authentic Mexican fare including horchata, jarritos and varying fresh juices including carrot, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberry and hibiscus.

The youngest of eight brothers, Alberto and his brother Ignacio opened the Aberdeen restaurant in 2001 with another partner. Then it was called Los Gallos (The Roosters). In 2005, he and Ignacio bought out their partner. Then in 2018, when Ignacio decided to retire, Alberto bought the restaurant and changed its name.

Taqueria San Jose is a name that honors his hometown in Mexico. San Jose de Gracia, with a population of about 5,000 people, is in the Jalisco state of Mexico, near Guadalajara.

That’s where his father and mother, Antonio and Carmen, now both gone, began selling food. His father invented a new dish with mashed potato filled tacos, fried with cabbage and red sauce on top. He tried out his creation, dubbed “tacos dorados” at a carnival. It was such a hit, that he continued to sell it on the neighborhood streets, and eventually turned a portion of their home into a small restaurant.

Alberto, who only attended school through sixth grade, fondly remembers peddling his father’s homemade ice cream with a cart in the afternoons and helping sell tacos at dinner time.

Now with his own successful business, he is grateful for the opportunity to learn responsibility early. And, noting his lack of formal education, he wants to encourage others: “Never stop believing in yourself. You can go as far as you want.”

While Alberto honors his birthplace by naming his restaurant after it, he and his wife, Maria, have clearly made Aberdeen their home. This is where they’ve raised their four sons, Alberto Jr., 22; Osbaldo, 19; Estevan, 15; and Imanol, 10. Of them, he said, Estevan, in particular, seems to have an interest and a knack for cooking.

While being in the restaurant business during a pandemic hasn’t been easy, Alberto says he is grateful for all the support the community has given the restaurant this last year as well as the past 19 years.

Taqueria San Jose is currently open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Check Facebook page for updates or (360) 538-4855.