PARIS — When Katherine Morin Mitchell moved to Maine 17 years ago, following her husband to his home state, the taco and burrito situation was not ideal.

They drove as far as Boston on friend’s check-this-out recommendations. They flew back from visits to her family in Los Angeles, suitcases heavy with frozen bundles.

“TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) would poke them and prod them, and one of them even asked me, ‘Why are you bringing burritos?'” Mitchell said.

She answered, “Because you can’t buy them out there!”

The couple even tried to unlock a secret recipe from a favorite spot in their own kitchen. Then a decade-plus in, they did it.

“We figured out the sauce one day, something that was close to what they have in Los Angeles. We joked, ‘We could sell this,'” said Mitchell, 43.

Now, they are about to open their fourth location.

Luchador Tacos began in 2017 out of a wooden food trailer. It has grown to a storefront at a plaza at 243 Main St. in the village of South Paris and locations in Windham; North Conway, New Hampshire; and, soon, Worcester, Massachusetts.

That flavor and experience they had been chasing?

“I think it’s a simplicity,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times on the East Coast, you’ll go to a Mexican food place and the meat and the salsas are drowned in cheese and dairy. The most elusive thing that we were looking for was the simplicity where you get a warm tortilla that’s been sprayed with oil and you have some carne asada, which is a marinated steak, and then just some raw cilantro and onion and either a red or a green salsa — just very simple but very delicious.”

She was surprised by what a beacon that first trailer became.

“Within the first three months of opening, I met more Californians than the previous 10 years that we’d lived here because they come out of the woodwork — ‘Oh my god, you have food like they have back home, because there’s just no food here, no food that’s recognizable,'” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she tries to steer new customers toward the street tacos on the menu, encouraging them to hold off on the cheese, lettuce and sour cream, for now, so “for the first time at least, just try it the way it’s supposed to be eaten.”

Her husband, Josh, an engineer, left his job to be her partner in the company and help handle the quick growth — all while scouting for more locations.

“He’s just very analytical, very methodical, where I’m kind of like ‘happy go lucky, that’ll work!'” Mitchell said. “He’s the yin to my yang. We make a good team.”

The couple returned from California last week not from a trip grabbing more burritos but this time for an even more unexpected reason.

Last winter, amid all of the traveling between restaurant locations and raising three teenagers, Mitchell said she forgot to change her car’s oil and the engine seized. It sent her car shopping and she eventually fell in love with a 2021 Hyundai Palisade SUV at Rowe Auburn.

About a month later, in April, she heard from a cousin who works for Hyundai. The company had an upcoming marketing campaign highlighting owners and her cousin had nominated her.

“I told them your story, about how you left East LA and you went to Maine, and you and your husband opened taco shops, and now you have three of them and you’re opening a fourth, and they just loved the story of your journey, of being from East LA, moving to Maine and bringing the flavor there,” Mitchell recalls her cousin telling her.

Mitchell was one of eight owners picked for Hyundai’s “Journeys” campaign. Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz came to the Windham store to shoot the couple and their daughter, Megan, in June.

Mitchell said she was nervous, but “(Leibovitz) and her team are just lovely,” she said. “She was gracious, very easy to talk to.”

The campaign culminated in a Los Angeles cocktail party last week written up in Vanity Fair. The couple were treated to a hotel stay, airfare and a $600 food allowance.

“We ate at our usual place, King Taco,” Mitchell said. “We get that every time I’m home.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.