Cheers: El Charro’s puffy tacos will be on the move

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

El Charro, a family-owned chain of Mexican restaurants, is known on the east side of Metro Detroit for its unique soft tacos with a deep-fried corn shell that the owners call “puffy tacos.”

Now, with the launch of a new food truck, folks all over Metro Detroit can get their hands on a freshly made puffy taco from El Charro, along with chips and salsa, guacamole and other house-made staples.

“Most people in Macomb County know El Charro, but you go into Oakland County or Wayne County, outside of Grosse Pointe ... most people have never heard of us,” says co-owner Jeff Martin. “We wanted an avenue to get the taco into people’s hands that aren’t from the east side.”

Martin’s aunt, Consuelo Gregson, opened the original El Charro restaurant 45 years ago in Fraser. Not long after opening, she sold the business to Martin’s mother, Delia Martin. The family, including Jeff Martin and his brothers Mark and Ed and sister Lynn Cacchione, helped grow the business to include locations in St. Clair Shores, Macomb Township and Troy. All the locations except St. Clair Shores offer a full bar menu.

The original location, at Masonic and Utica roads, opened in a former hamburger joint in 1971. Cacchione says because the site sold hamburgers before becoming El Charro, her mother would make hamburgers to appease the customers.

“Back then people didn’t really eat Mexican food ... my mom started giving (away) the soft-shell tacos.”

The St. Clair Shores locale (with a drive-through window) opened in 1980.

Inside the four restaurants, the Martin family and a staff of more than 200 crank out 11,600 soft tacos a week. The recipe comes from the siblings’ grandparents, Rasalio and Consuelo Rendon, who brought it to Michigan from Texas.

A hamburger can still be found on El Charro’s menus today, along with hot dogs and French fries under the heading “gringo food.” The soft-shell tacos are served with ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, mahi-mahi or beans.

Cacchione and Martin say the secret to the warm, fried soft corn shell is consistency in the recipe and technique. It starts with a corn mix called masa, and the family recipe — which they would not share — has specific instructions for the timing of mixing, seasoning and refrigeration of the dough. The Martin siblings have spent decades practicing the process.

Look for El Charro’s food truck this spring and summer where food trucks are found, including Campus Martius and Eastern Market. The truck, which can serve anything on the restaurant menu, can also be rented for special events.

Chocolate-maker expands

Bon Bon Bon will open a new chocolate factory in Hamtramck, not far from their original flagship location on Evaline near Jos Campau in the heart of the city.

The new spot is just north at 11360 Jos Campau in a two-story brick building that formerly housed a heating and cooling company. It will have a storefront and a larger production kitchen in which to make the delightful bite-sized gourmet bon bons.

Owner and founder Alexandra Clark also runs a shop in downtown Detroit in the Chrysler House. She’s the creative force behind unique bon bons with ingredients like cayenne pepper, earl grey tea, brie, squid ink and more, as well as traditional components like dark chocolate, peanut butter and cinnamon.

Tiki time

Sunday, the Sugar House in Corktown will celebrate Polynesian culture with a tiki party featuring Ron Zacapa rum.

Besides a tiki drink menu, the craft cocktail bar will offer a peek at their forthcoming spring beverage menu. The party starts at 5 p.m. at 2130 Michigan in Detroit. Tropical attire is encouraged, but not mandatory.