Chances are good you’re planning to spend the year’s first day doing nothing more strenuous than thumbing the remote control between football games.

Trio of tacos: A preview of what's to come
A tasty trio from El Taco Luchador

And chances are even better you aren’t motivated to cook anything nourishing or dubiously luck-producing such as corned beef, black-eyed peas and cabbage. (What crazed soul thought up such a notion?)

Well get off the couch and head over to El Taco Luchador, which officially opens today at 2 p.m. Trust us, you’re in for a treat.

Created by Fernando, Christina and Yaniel Martinez, who also own Mussel & Burger Bar and Guaca Mole (which also are open today, making me wonder if they ever take a day off), the taqueria is located at 938 Baxter Ave., where Edward Lee’s Potstickers didn’t stick and where Li’l Cheezer’s melted down after about a year.

As far as restaurants go, it’s little, maybe 600 square feet up front for the cooking line and 24 seats and tables. When the weather warms more seating will be available on the patio.

Coming soon to Baxter Avenue: El Taco Luchador
Now open on Baxter Avenue: El Taco Luchador

Like Guaca Mole’s main dining room, it’s brightly painted and casual with wood chairs and tables. On its walls are luchador masks (luchadors are wrestler-entertainers in Mexico, much like those in the United States’ WWF) and cartoonish images of wrestlers. The not-so-subtle message is, “This place is for everyone.”

Especially anyone who likes food created by Fernando and Yaniel, who made their mark on Louisville’s dining scene at Havana Rumba and Mojito Tapas Restaurant. The tacos and tortas are highly flavorful and stuffed with multiple meats, sauces, cheeses and lots of pickled veggies.

Tacos will set you back $2 to $2.75 each; three more than filled me up during a recent soft-opening lunch. Tortas, which are sandwiches made on bolillo bread filled with meats, cheeses and toppings and lashed with savory sauces, cost $7 to $8 each. The bread alone is worth getting one.

The Menu
The menu at El Taco Luchador

The day we visited, the first of several soft-opening days, the bolillo delivery was running late, so we settled on some tacos.

About halfway through our meal the loaves arrived still warm from the bakery, and you could smell them from across the room. (If you haven’t had it, just imagine a good baguette and a chewy Italian sandwich roll got married and produced hybrid offspring that were chewy, crispy and yeasty.)

Minutes later, an ahogado (filled with carnitas, Oaxaca cheese, tomatoes and pickled jalapenos and served with a spicy-earthy guajillo sauce) came to the table, and our trio quickly split it between us. If you’ve had good taqueria tacos but never a torta, choose that (there are seven on the menu) for your first visit.

Tacos are outstanding, too, and in that way we’ve grown to expect the Martinezes will set their food apart from others: by elevating ordinary standards through the clever use of premium and sometimes unexpected ingredients that are served beautifully and affordably.

Tinga Taco from El Taco Luchador
The Tinga Taco

The tinga ($2) is a perfect example: a combination of guajillio-braised chicken with queso fresco, pico di gallo and guacamole. Incredibly flavorful and a real treat for the eyes.

My son not only devoured his Baja fish taco (batter-fried cod with chipotle aioli) before I ever saw it, he actually uttered the words, “I really like the pickled cabbage on this!”

We both had tacos al pastor (marinated pork, pineapple, cilantro and pickled onions), which were outstanding.

Has that whetted your appetite? Then vamanos, amigos!

Store hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays, noon-10 p.m., and  Sundays, noon-9 p.m.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

3 thoughts on “Highlands’ first taqueria, El Taco Luchador, opens at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Day

  1. We stopped in yesterday and inquired about wheelchair accessibility: Although there is no ramp in the front, they indicated that wheelchair access is possible through the rear entrance by the kitchen. They said to simply call for assistance upon arrival.

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