West Valley City • After a tragic accident left their daughter with brain damage, Carolina Marquez and Adrian de los Santos Luna started making tacos to help pay the medical bills.
The couple, who had moved to Utah from Tijuana, Mexico, more than a decade ago, began by serving the tacos outside their home, where their 9-month-old had fallen into a container that held a small amount of water. With eight children and mounting bills, they needed to make more money than Adrian’s construction job paid.
The lines of customers grew long enough that the couple decided to turn their taco cart into an indoor restaurant.
Tacos Mi Caramelo — or “my sweet," a nickname for their daughter — opened in 2015 at 1808 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, and it has kept its taco cart feel and prices.
Customers line up at separate spots depending on the type of taco they would like. There’s a line for al pastor (pork), carne asada (grilled steak) or tripa (small intestines); and another for beef head or cheek and pork stomach. Tacos are $2 each — except for the tripa, which are $2.25.
Employees make the tacos to order and, when asked, will turn them into quesadillas ($4.99), vampiros ($4.50) or mulas ($4.99 for corn tortillas and $8 for flour). The vampire tacos — named for the way the dried-out, concave tortillas resemble bat wings — are filled with meat, melted mozzarella and guacamole. The mulas (also known as mulitas) are similar to quesadillas, with melted cheese and meat sandwiched between two soft tortillas.
The menus above the counter — where drinks like limeade, horchata and agua de Jamaica are sold — are in Spanish. But at least one of the employees can help English speakers. The restaurant offers 70 percent discounts to veterans and law enforcement.
For dessert, a separate spot inside the restaurant sells flan, tres leches, banana splits and churros.
Carolina Marquez credits the recipes and the restaurant’s concept to her husband, who recently died. Adrian de los Santos Luna started out warming tortillas when he was 9, she said through a translator, and eventually learned the craft.
“He had this idea in his head how he wanted it to look,” she said of the restaurant.
It was also his idea to keep the restaurant open all night on the weekends. The couple used to work nights at a factory making cameras. They’d finish at 4 a.m. — hungry.
“He would say, ‘If I ever have a restaurant, I’m going to be open for those who come out in the middle of the night,’” she recalled.
It was a smart business move: She said the late hours draw not only night-shift workers but also night owls looking for food after an evening of partying.
“After 3 a.m.," she said, “it’s all partiers.”
The most popular dish is tacos al pastor. The stacked pork, vibrant orange from spices including chile and chocolate, is wrapped around a pineapple on a spit. Cooks grill the corn tortillas in the juice from the meat, slice the meat onto the tortillas and then top them with cilantro, chopped onions, hot sauce and guacamole. Chunks of pineapple and cactus are available for an extra 75 cents.
“It’s very fresh. The cooks are cutting it and cooking it right in front of you,” Marquez said. “We have the best tacos. You won’t find them anywhere.”
Tacos Mi Caramelo • 1808 W. 3500 South, West Valley City; (801) 883-9245 or http://tacosmicaramelo.com. Open Sunday-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 24 hours.