Robert Christian likes to joke that he’s “the gringo, she’s the Mexican.” So when it came time for him and his wife Leticia Ramirez to drop out of the clothing/makeup business in 2008 and open a restaurant, they decided to merge their culinary cultures onto one menu.

“We didn’t just want to be a Mexican place that offered a burger. We wanted to offer amazing specialty burgers that are equally as awesome as the Mexican food,” Christian said.

Hence, Papa Locos Tacos and Burgers, a Mexican restaurant and kicked-up burger shack in the heart of Rita Ranch.

They’ve buzzed along at 8201 S. Rita Road next door to an unassuming gas station/convenience store for seven years or so, earning raves on Yelp: “... I never thought I’d be longing for food from a gas station stop, that serves as a one stop shop for haircut, mini-grocery to the most fabulous Mexican food!!!!!!” gushed Liz W of Portland, Oregon. “You wouldn’t think that a restaurant connected to a gas station would be good. And most of the time, you are right. This place has such great food, you would forget you are in the middle of nowhere eating at a gas station,” added Tucsonan Teez G.

Because they have no liquor license, diners regularly get wine or beer from the neighboring store to carry in.

Last November, Christian and Ramirez opened their second location, this one at 7940 E. Broadway, in a 1,300-square-foot space that once housed a Wingstop outpost. They serve the same streamlined menu of tacos pan fried or soft, Mexican hot dogs, house chimichangas, sandwiches and burgers — the house Loco burger comes single or double. They hope to have a liquor license soon to serve beer and wine; there is no convenience store neighbor to fill that gap, Christian noted.

Before they started their restaurant, Christian, whose background was in engineering, and Ramirez, who once worked for Chanel, ran a collection of retail makeup kiosks in the Tucson and Park malls for seven years. They also had a clothing store in the mall at one point.

But around 2008, when the economy started to sour and business slowed, the couple got out of retail and into restaurants.

For Ramirez, it was natural fit. She comes from a family that has run taquerias in her native Guaymas, Mexico, for generations, her husband said.

Ramirez runs the kitchens of both Papa Locos locations, bringing some of her family’s tradition and recipes to the table. Christian runs front-of-house.

“It’s a lot of work, but we’re managing,” he said.

Papa Locos in Rita Ranch is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. The Broadway restaurant is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. Follow them on Facebook at Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.