The long-awaited Sonora Taquería threw open its doors in Stoke Newington this summer and you’re in for a treat.
This fast casual Mexican restaurant and takeaway is run by husband-and-wife Michelle Salazar de la Rocha and Sam Napier serving flour tortillas with a choice of beefy fillings – or nopales (grilled cactus leaves) for vegetarians!
The business, which operated as a stall in Netil Market for three years, launched during the first lockdown and survived by delivering tortillas by bike. They amassed a huge following (over 23,000 followers on Instagram) and the queues outside their Stoke Newington High Street restaurant are testament to their popularity.
It’s a happy conclusion to a particularly stressful time. The business saw off a legal challenge from another London Mexican restaurant who had trademarked the word ‘taqueria’ and wanted them to stop using it.
Michelle, 29, said: “Taquería means taco shop – it’s a bit like trying to trademark the name pizzeria or café. But they’d been granted a trademark 20 years ago at a time when Mexican food wasn’t as popular here. In order to keep the trademark, they had to defend it – they were quite litigious! We were very lucky that a lawyer reached out to us and offered to help for free.
“The story was huge in Mexico – everyone knew about it.”
More than 130,000 people signed a petition supporting Sonora Taquería – they won their legal battle and set about launching as a bricks and mortar business.
Through a Kickstarter campaign they raised almost £75,000; enough money to launch on the High St on the site of the former Massala Indian Takeaway.
Running a food business was never on the agenda for the couple, who met while at university; he specialised in film and creative writing and she was studying digital media.
But, born and raised in North Mexico, she needed permission to stay in London and the best option was to try for an entrepreneur visa.
She added: “I pitched the idea of a food business and learnt how to cook this food on my own, watching YouTube videos and getting recipes from family members (from my Mum, uncles and Grandma). Our signature dish is carne asada (grilled beef) – it’s the most identifying dish from the region I grew up in.
“You’d find variations of this food everywhere in my home town. Flour tortillas are what define us. Ours are made with wheat flour (as they are where I come from), they’re incredibly thin and flaky and made simply with flour, salt, fats and water.
“Lots of people ask for cutlery but I won’t allow it. This food tastes better when you eat it with your hands! It’s gets a bit messy but we have napkins.”
The prevalent flavours include beef, charred vegetables, coriander, chili, tomato and onion
Michelle’s cousin runs a food franchise serving chicken in Mexico so she’s had extensive insight into the industry.
While Michelle looks after everything in the kitchen, Sam, who grew up in Cambridge and then Stoke Newington, looks after everything else. The couple married last August at Stoke Newington Town Hall and catered their own wedding.
She said: “Stoke Newington is quite a special place. Sam worked in cafes here so knows it well. We’ve lived here for 10 years - It’s the first time I’ve felt I was in a neighbourhood.
“We’ve definitely noticed customers travelling to see us; lots of people come over from London Fields. We are very lucky it’s so busy. We are having to make so much food we can’t keep up. There’s usually a queue every day when we open.”
The restaurant is mainly for takeaway but has 18 covers downstairs. It’s open from 12pm till 4pm Thursday to Sunday.
The menu includes tacos filled with grilled options such as carne asada, caramelo, lorenza, adobada, campechano or nopales, quesadillas with beef, pork, nopales or a mix. Or guisados (stewed) dishes including barbacoa, cabeza, bean and chorizo tacos or quesadillas.
Sonora Taquería has just launched a collaboration with Yard Sale Pizza – ‘La Sonorense’ has their signature beef barbacoa, red onions, fresh jalapenos and a fresh salsa verde.
They hope to start serving breakfast soon. Check them out on Instagram