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New Mexican restaurant evolving out of Italian cafe in Vancouver

Sisters from Mexico City want to bring authentic tacos and more to Main Street.

Sometimes when new restaurants launch it's a dramatic departure from what had been at that location before.

Brenda Olmos Abarca is going in the other direction and hoping to ease the neighbourhood into her new place, after opening Talavera two months ago in the former Cofeteria spot (4363 Main St.).

"We are trying to make it just Mexican, but we want to do a slow transition because of the customers," she tells V.I.A.

While Cofeteria got going near the end of 2022 as a coffee and donut shop, by early 2023 it had evolved to specialize in "Italian Street Food." Prior to Cofeteria, the space was the longtime home of Trilussa, another Italian eatery.

Cofeteria gave Olmos Abarca their recipes and she's continued making a variety of pasta and other dishes, but she's slowly adding more and more Mexican items, with the goal of offering a 100 per cent Mexican menu by the summer.

"We don't want to do it now because there are a lot of loyal customers for the last restaurant," she explains. "And they just came for the pasta, and we don't want to lose those customers."

That means over the next few months there's an unusual Italian-Mexican fusion going on with some of the dishes.

"We just added new, Mexican style pastas; that is the 'a la poblano' and the 'al chipotle,'" says Olmos Abarca. "The 'a la poblano' is so popular."

All authentic Mexican soon

Olmos Abarcas, 27, runs the restaurant with her sister Ximena, 23, while Lorena, 18, is a local university student who works part-time at Talavera. The long-term goal for them is to create an authentic Mexican restaurant, something Olmos Abarcas says she doesn't see much of in Vancouver.

"I tried a lot of Mexican restaurants here, for example, the tacos, and you don't feel the Mexican flavour," she says. "I don't know what happened, but it's not authentic; I think our authentic flavours will be the difference."

The three sisters grew up in Mexico City, where their parents ran a restaurant selling tortas, tacos, and quesadillas. A couple of years ago, the sisters moved north as students. Now Olmos Abarcas is bringing the family's food service experience to Vancouver, and hope locals will appreciate that.

"I hope people start to come and try the real, authentic Mexican food," she says. "Because sometimes they go, for example, to Taco Bell and then go 'Oh, I love tacos' and, like, that is not a taco. I'm sorry, but that is not a taco."

She notes that it took some time to find suppliers who could get her the ingredients to match Mexican flavours, but that's been sorted.

"We found a lot that bring Mexican things here, that's why we can do the authentic flavours," she says "It's a little bit expensive, but I think our prices are good."

Along with the tacos, Talevara's menu will include torta de chilaquiles and pozole, among other mains and desserts like flan and drinks like horchata.

Talavera is open daily a 9 a.m. (with Mexican breakfast items) and closes at 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Friday to Sunday they're open until 7 p.m.

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