Big Sur Taco Going the extra mile to bring tacos to the people

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By Laith Agha
Photos by David Royal

His name is Saul Reos. You may know him as the owner of Big Sur Taco, the first and only pop-up taco restaurant in Big Sur.

Reos would like a “proper” taco truck, the only item on his Christmas wish list. If he had such a truck, he explains, he would be able to serve tacos along the whole coast.

The truck didn’t come—at least, not yet. So for now, Reos and his girlfriend Heidi Bates set up their food stand on weekends at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, where they sell the signature tacos that became a local sensation after the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge cracked and left much of Big Sur isolated from the rest of civilization last year.

“It’s been one of my dreams to have a taco truck and a restaurant,” Reos says. “Especially in Big Sur, because I grew up around there.”

Reos’ story is one of true capitalism: He saw a void in the market, and then capitalized on it.

When the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge lost its battle with nature last winter, cutting off the only direct route from the Monterey Peninsula to anywhere in Big Sur south of Pfeiffer State Park, residents and businesses were largely cut off from the north. Some residents and commuting workers — and eventually tourists — adapted by walking a path around the broken bridge from Pfeiffer, up a barely improved trail back to the quiet highway.

The people living south of the bridge were still basically cut off from the north.

So Reos saw it as an opportunity to start pursuing his dream, and he set up his taco stand near Loma Vista Gardens, a half-mile south of the broken bridge.

“I did it because there were a few (hikers) coming over,” Reos says. “But mostly I did it for the locals because everything was so expensive.”

But first, the Carmel resident had to get his grill, ingredients and other equipment to the south side of the bridge.

Dragging that stuff on a bumpy, hilly dirt path wasn’t a terribly feasible option. So, on the Fourth of July, Reos and Bates went the long way around, driving south on Highway 101 to King City, through Fort Hunter Liggett. From there, they had to go over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a 24-mile stretch that reaches nearly 2,800 feet into the sky before taking its daring traversors through more than 100 cliffside-hugging turns on their descent to the coast.

Naturally, they did the drive in a limousine (Reos owns the limo, a 1992 Lincoln that he says he keeps to drive around for fun).

“It was scary,” Reos says. “There was my girl, my dog and me in the limousine full of stuff. Going down the hill, I had to put it in first gear.”

But once they reached Highway 1, the last 40 minutes up the coast was smooth cruising. They opened the stand and called it Highway 1 Tacos. Now that the highway has reopened, it’s now called Big Sur Tacos.

Along with the residents and workers, tourists began making the hike south, as this alternative route temporarily became a popular adventure for those still wishing to eat at Nepenthe or Deetjen’s, or to visit other popular destinations such as the Henry Miller Library or the Hawthorne Gallery.

This helped generate some nice business. After setting up at Loma Vista a half dozen times, Magnus Toren, who runs the library, invited Reos to set up there. The taco stand has been there on weekends ever since.

Toren says he’s known Reos for about 10 years. He says he invited Reos, whom he calls “a hard-working dude,” to bring his taco business to the library to both help out Reos and to help ensure the Big Sur valley continues having an affordable dining option. (Tacos are $3.50 a pop.)

“It’s so great to have his high-quality tacos here,” Toren says. “I hope it can continue. It makes for a better experience for everyone.”

So, Reos didn’t quite get his Christmas wish of a taco truck that would allow him to drive around and serve tacos to the whole coast. But he still has his taco stand, and now, with the road open, the customers drive to him.

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Laith Agha

About Laith Agha

Laith Agha is a former Monterey Herald reporter and Peninsula native. He recently returned to the area after a long hiatus in that big urban area a little to the north and in that even bigger one to the south — which helped confirm long-held feelings about the Giants and Dodgers.