Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Thank you, Mr. Martinez: Remembering the founder of King Taco

A screen shot from King Taco's Facebook page.
A screen shot from King Taco's Facebook page. Facebook.com

Long before fleets of food trucks selling ethnic-hybrid tacos, waffles, lobster, and what not were plying the streets of Los Angeles, there was Raul Martinez, Sr.

Southern California's iconic King Taco chain got its start in 1974 in a converted ice cream truck, out of which Martinez cooked and sold his tacos to hungry patrons before turning his business into bricks and mortar when he opened his first outlet in Cypress Park.

Martinez died at age 71 on Tuesday, according to the company. He leaves behind a thriving Mexican food empire - with 20 King Taco outlets - and a legacy that's pure L.A. as an immigrant whose enterprise ultimately became part of local culture.

Taco lovers will argue over who in town does the best tacos al pastor (spit-roasted pork "in the style of the shepherd"), but King Taco's are famous: meat steeped in a sauce that's a little smoky, a little sweet, and mouth-searingly hot in the very best of ways.

Burritos, sopes, tamales, rotisserie chicken and other items completed the menu, but tacos have always been the mainstay, with several locations open late into the night for those seeking a nocturnal taco fix. Martinez also eventually opened El Taurino, another Mexican eatery.

On the restaurant chain's Facebook page, people posted condolences and paid tribute. L.A. Taco, of the tacos-and-culture website, posted:

He was a giant in the world of tacos and will be greatly missed by all.

A fan named Frankie Vasquez posted simply:

GREATEST INVENTOR EVER!

In mourning of Martinez's passing, King Taco restaurants were temporarily closed on Wednesday. But they're open again.

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