Words by Charlotte Janelle
Los Angeles Spice in South Paris
Luchador Tacos Sets a Bar For Authenticity
Katherine Mitchell, owner of Luchador Tacos in South Paris, serves up the vibrant flavors and colors of her East Los Angeles upbringing and her Mexican heritage to an adoring clientele in western Maine.
She moved here in 2004 with her husband, a Maine native. “Coming from the city to the country was a big culture shock. … Not being able to find [familiar foods] added to the homesickness,” says Mitchell. She started selling authentic Mexican food from a small roadside stand in 2017. The shack had flair and caught on quickly. The following year, she moved down the street to her current location.
In the otherwise nondescript strip mall on Main Street, Mitchell’s taqueria stands out. There is a selfie-ready pair of 10-foot aqua and orange Los Angeleno wings painted on an outside wall. The plate-glass windows amplify the restaurant’s technicolor decor and warm atmosphere. One wall boasts a mural of her old neighborhood; the cement for one of the skyscrapers, Mitchell says, was poured by her father. The hallway leading to the restroom features a canopy of rainbow umbrellas and wallcoverings that represent a walk down memory lane for this native southern Californian. There are posters of famed Hollywood movies and prints of legendary luchador wrestler Blue Demon, whom Mitchell grew up watching. His blue and white costume colors are the same as her beloved Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mitchell set up her restaurant in the fast casual style epitomized most recently by Chipotle, where customers choose ingredients to be added to tacos, burritos, and bowls. But she takes care to prepare the ingredients in a style authentic to her heritage. And while Mitchell has earned accolades from the Food Network for her nachos—which come with carne asada (marinated and grilled beef), nacho cheese, and tomatillo sauce, just like they do all over LA—she considers her tacos to be the star of her show. If you ask, Mitchell will assemble her ideal East LA street tacos comprising carne asada, fresh onions, and cilantro on two corn tortillas with a lime wedge on the side. Since the tacos come in sets of three, she adds a medium-hot green salsa to one, a hot chile sauce on another, and pico de gallo on the third. They are perfect in their simplicity.
Mitchell contends cheese, sour cream, and lettuce on tacos is a uniquely American thing. Especially on the East Coast, eaters want dairy on them. She offers those items, of course, but says traditional Mexican food is made by layering ingredients to add flavor and color. At Luchador in South Paris—and in the two other locations she’s opened in North Conway, New Hampshire and Worcester, Massachusetts—the food is all cooked in house. The meat is hand cut and seasoned with her own spice mixes. The carne asada is marinated in orange juice, garlic, and lime juice. The green salsa has six secret spices in it, while the red salsa has a blend of dried Japones chiles (for flavor) and Arbol chiles (for heat).
Mitchell gives customers a taste of the food she holds close to her heart. Her success is evident by the line out the door.