Taco Palenque: Chain to open restaurant at former Payless site

HARLINGEN — Taco Palenque appears to finally have found its way to Harlingen.

The building which housed the now-closed Payless ShoeSource location at 1102 S. Expressway 83 will be renovated to Taco Palenque’s specifications in a $450,000 project, according to documents filed with the state.

The fast-casual restaurant, if all goes well with construction, is expected to open sometime in late spring or early summer.

“It’s the former Payless site, right there in front of the Wal-Mart,” Harlingen developer Ephraim Flores Jr. said yesterday.

Taco Palenque has eight locations in the Valley, including Brownsville, McAllen (3), Weslaco, Mission, Edinburg and Palmhurst.

“We’re going to go to Harlingen and we should be in business sometime in the late spring,” Patrick Woodin, operations managing director, said yesterday.

“That store will have 35 to 45 employees, and we’re really excited to come into town,” Woodin added.

Location is a primary consideration for any company looking to expand, but it is especially critical for restaurants.

At the Payless site, Flores believes they have found a premier location.

“It’s one of the best locations in the Valley, quite frankly,” Flores said. “From a traffic perspective, a visibility perspective, obviously it’s right in the center of gravity, right in the center of Harlingen commerce. That’s actually why Taco Palenque picked the location.”

Juan Francisco (Don Pancho) Ochoa, originally from Sinaloa state in Mexico, founded the El Pollo Loco restaurant chain in Mexico in the 1970s. Since then, El Pollo Loco has established locations in Pharr, McAllen, Mission, Edinburg and Brownsville.

He followed that success with the first Taco Palenque in 1987 in Laredo, expanding to McAllen in 1998, Brownsville in 2001, San Antonio in 2007, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in 2008, Houston in 2010, Mission in 2011 and Weslaco in 2015.

The company now has developed a third restaurant branch, Palenque Grill, which has locations in McAllen, Laredo and San Antonio.

“We’re pretty excited about it, I’ll be honest,” Flores said “Even though I’m the developer, my family are big fans of Taco Palenque — the food’s great, we love the food, et cetera, et cetera, right?

“I think it will be good for Harlingen, quite frankly.”