Mesa banned her tacos, so she’s in Chandler - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Mesa banned her tacos, so she’s in Chandler

December 5th, 2019 development
Mesa banned her tacos, so she’s in Chandler

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Alma Kerby never thought she’d be able to open her own brick-and-mortar taco shop.

She had already been quite successful selling her special “drowning tacos” out of a food truck on the street corners of Mesa.

Kerby would pitch a tent and set out chairs for her customers to use as they enjoyed her Mexican cuisine.

It was really enjoyable, she recalled, because it got residents to come out and mingle with one another.

But then the city told Kerby she had to move. Her truck was parked near her husband’s car battery shop and unless Kerby’s menu included batteries, the city told her she would have to relocate.

“And I said, ‘Well, my cart has a battery. Does that count?’” she joked.

Though it was devastating to close her taco truck, Kerby said, it ultimately pushed her to dream bigger.

“Basically, we were forced out of that location,” she said. “But it was good for me because it kind of pushed me to move forward.”

After searching across the East Valley, she found an empty shop in Chandler and opened The Drowning Taco in October.

Her menu is mostly the same as when she was in the taco truck. She’s got street tacos, Sonoran hot dogs and French fries topped with nacho cheese.

She personally loves the tripas tacos, which consist of grilled meat taken from the cow’s small intestines.

Kerby’s Mesa fans still long for her tacos, but she’s building a new fan base in Chandler.

“A lot of people are happy that we’re here,” she said.

The mother to six never saw herself as having time to run her own business.

It was her father, Ruben Ontiveros, who really encouraged Kerby to share her culinary skills with the community. He’s originally from El Paso, Texas, where drowning tacos are a popular dish among the locals.

Chico’s Tacos, one of El Paso’s oldest and most famous eateries, is known statewide for serving rolled tacos submerged in a bowl of spicy tomato broth.

Kerby said Chico’s tacos was always a popular staple in her household – a place for her family to visit whenever they ventured back to Texas.

Thanks to appearances on the Food Network, the restaurant earned a reputation as the local go-to spot for comfort food.

“In El Paso, it is the White Castle of restaurants,” Kerby said.

As a gift for her father, Kerby attempted to replicate the restaurant’s drowning tacos. It took her 10 years of experimentation, she said, before she finally found a recipe that matched the flavor of Chico’s Tacos.

With the nudging of her family, Kerby started selling her tacos and hot dogs out of a cart on the roadside in 2017.

It didn’t take long for word to spread around the Valley about Kerby’s cheesy, crunchy tacos drowning in tomato broth.

“People started flocking to us and it just kind of became a media sensation,” she said.

Phoenix New Times crowned her food truck as the best of 2019.

Kerby shared her success with a group of other food trucks that had been stationed all along Broadway Road. There were little trucks on almost every corner, selling corn-on-the-cob and burritos.

“We called it hot dog world,” Kerby said.

Mesa officials told the vendors they’d have to get off Broadway Road if they didn’t have the necessary permits.

The city’s in the process of spending $31 million to revamp the road with new traffic signals and better lighting.

Kerby said she understands the city’s actions, but she still pines for the communal camaraderie of slinging food on the street corner.

“I miss being out there with the people,” she said.

Her new Chandler shop certainly affords Kerby some more room to operate and the chance to play around in the kitchen. She’s planning to add flan soon to the menu.

Despite the warm welcome from Chandler, Kerby said she’d like to get back to Mesa at some point, as she still hears from customers who crave her tacos.

“People do miss us down there and they were very upset we moved,” she added. 

The Drowning Taco is open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.