by Sharon Tausch
When it comes to Mexican cuisine, herbs and spices are not necessarily the stars of the show. There are sauces, cheeses, and traditional culinary vegetables enhancing a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. However, the most important ingredient added to the culinary creations served up at Tilly’s Tacos and California Burritos is the element of freshness – and the recipes of a loving Hispanic grandmother that have been handed down for generations.
Tilly’s Tacos and California Burritos is housed inside a familiar bright red Mexican-food trailer parked two days weekly at the West Vue Center in Versailles. The local “venue on wheels” has become a seasonal tradition for locals looking to enhance their food options with take-home and carry-out orders. Although the name “Tilly’s” is painted on the food trailer, the entrepreneur who started the business and greets her customers at the serving window is actually named Olga.
“Tilly was my grandmother’s name,” said Olga, “and it was her home recipes and the love she put into cooking for her family that inspired me to name our company after her.”
As a child growing up in southern California, some of Olga’s fondest memories included watching her grandmother cook for a family of nine sons and their families.
“I had nine uncles,” said Olga, “and one of my most dominant childhood memories was watching Grandma in the kitchen cooking for her family – cutting up fresh meat and vegetables to create her own kind of culinary magic. I was Grandma’s favorite out of 38 grandchildren, and she is actually the one who named me.”
According to Olga, who can be seen daily inside the trailer with her husband Loren and daughter Tiffanie serving up tacos, burrito bowls, and other south-of-the-border specialties, every piece of meat, lettuce, or tomato has been personally chopped or sliced before being added to the order.
“Grandma would have nothing to do with pre-cut lettuce or ground meat,” said Olga. “There was only hand-sliced chicken, beef, pork, lettuce, and tomatoes going into the food she served her family. Grandma was my heart, my business is my heart, and we cook our food as if we are cooking for our family.”
Olga said food safety is very important to her. “We have all commercial appliances inside the trailer, and we make sure that all surfaces are clean and sanitized. We have many years of experience under our belts and are strong with hospitality. We serve the simple good food we ate when we were growing up. My grandma was known for her hard-shell tacos and, just like she did in her kitchen, we fry our own shells and tortilla chips, roll our own burritos and hand-cut our own lettuce.”
According to Olga, flavor is important and, equally important, is the uniqueness of taste. “We have a new ‘Party Burrito’ that is like a party going on in your mouth. It is made with fresh cilantro, onion, and a variety of other ingredients,” she said. “What we are doing now works for us. We are in Versailles on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and in Laurie on Fridays, and we also offer catering services. On weekends, we often serve at the concert series at Ozark Amphitheater, sometimes filling orders for more than 100 tickets in an hour and a half, and at Shawnee Bluff, an outdoor venue where we just had our first serving experience since the pandemic arrived. It was of course different from usual, with everyone keeping their distance, using hand sanitizers, and there were little signs reminding everyone to ‘social distance.’ It worked out great, however, and everyone enjoyed the music.”
One of the perks of being able to serve food at the Ozark Amphitheater is that Olga and her family are able to meet and sometimes talk with the musical artists who perform there. “We have met Wynona Judd, Pam Tillis, Sara Evans, Trace Adkins and some others who come over and eat with us between performances. They are all such nice, down-to-earth people, and sometimes they say something about us while they are onstage.”
Another of Tilly’s calling cards is that Olga and her family offer vegan and gluten-free meals, which go over well with the female country artists. “The ladies like our burrito bowls because they can eat them with forks,” Olga said.
Olga and Loren are from California where she grew up in a family to which tradition and good food was important. “Holidays were special, but for my grandma, they were no different from any other day when she would be up at 4:30 a.m. cooking and preparing for my grandpa’s lunch, and the house would already be smelling of fried taco shells and flour tortillas. She always had fresh-cooked beans on hand, tomatoes, and onions, said Olga. “The food I serve at Tilly’s is what I grew up eating.”
Olga and her sister Belinda, who has owned and operated a lucrative food truck business in San Diego for more than 15 years, are carrying on the family tradition of serving up fresh and tasty food as if everyone to whom they serve is family.
“Belinda makes the best chili relleno EVER,” said Olga. “I have two sons who live out there and work for her.”
Olga’s grandmother Tilly passed when she was 72, leaving behind a legacy of love and tradition, according to Olga, who now has six grandchildren of her own. “I have figuratively become my grandmother,” said Olga, “and will continue the tradition of serving up to our customers the finest of Mexican cuisine we can create.”
For those who would like to learn more about Tilly’s California Tacos and Burritos menu, schedules, hours, and catering services, Olga invites them to go to her website that she built herself at www.tillysmexicanfood.com.