In the span of the last year, Adrian Romero went from construction worker to food truck operator to brick-and-mortar restaurateur, specializing in the Agua Prieta-style Mexican cuisine he grew up on in Douglas.
On Dec. 13, Romero, who has lived in Tucson 13 years, opened Ole Rico Mexican Steakhouse in the original Mr. K's BBQ space at 1830 S. Park Ave. The restaurant serves a streamlined menu of burritos, Mexican sandwiches and quesadillas, ranging in price from $2.50 to $4.50. The most expensive item on the menu is the $12 grilled steak plate served with tortillas.
Romero said he has been cooking all his life, but he made his living doing construction with an uncle in Tucson. Last spring, he rolled out his Ole Rico food truck, which looks like a little cabin on wheels. He cooked steaks and burgers on an outdoor grill fueled by mesquite wood. He parked mostly on Tucson's southside near South Valencia Road and South Westover Avenue, and took the truck out on weekends to a few community events including Cyclovia and Second Saturdays Downtown.
Business was good, but the south side neighborhood wasn't the safest.
"It was kind of dangerous where I was at," Romero said. "Where I was at in Pima County, it was hard to find a spot."
Romero said he decided to make the leap to permanent restaurant after talking to the building's owner, Charles Kendrick.
Kendrick, the namesake for Mr. K's BBQ, runs his Afro-American Heritage Museum in half of the building and has had a restaurant in the other half since the late 1990s.
"I think it was the only possible setup for me to work the menu because he has the outside grills," Romero said.
Romero said he started working on cleaning up and painting the space in November. It had been vacant for months, since a short-lived Caribbean restaurant closed last summer. Mr. K's, which Kendrick's son, Ray, ran for more than a decade, moved further south on Park to 6302 S. Park Ave. in summer 2012.
Ole Rico is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Read more restaurant news in Thursday's Caliente.