Oscar’s Taco Shop Athens: The Best Baja Around

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I think it’s safe to say that 87-year-old David Ruiz and his 80-year-old brother, Javier, never expected to facilitate the opening of 33 family-owned, authentic Baja-style casual eateries from California to Florida, but that is just what has happened. And, I can say as someone who has lived in Mexico, as well as traveled all over that nation, their stuff is the delicious real deal, and they demonstrate that the American Dream is still very much alive. Two generations later, the grandkids are now opening restaurants, the most recent of which is at 1260 US Hwy 72 E Suite A, and is located just down from Starbucks and Smoothie King.

I sat down with Adrian, who is the grandson of Javier, and who opened the Athens location in partnership with his Uncle Enrique, who goes by Ricky. I began to learn of their amazing story, and I am sure the tales of blood, sweat, toils, and tears could fill more than one book. He spoke with obvious affection and honor for his family as he told me their history.

Uncle David was the one who taught Javier everything about the restaurant business, and in 1967, Cotija’s Taco Shop opened in San Diego. There have actually been people who have come to the new location, have seen the sign on the wall that tells some of Oscar’s history, and have exclaimed, “I have eaten there!” Between 7 brothers who have carried on the family business, there are now 33 restaurants, and Javier is still working. Years ago, Adrian moved to Springhill, Tennessee where he finished high school. He then opened Cali Burrito in 2017, and Adrian still wears his Cali Burrito hat proudly. “Honestly, it was rough,” he said. He then told me about the times he felt like he had made a mistake and the restaurant was not going to make it. However, there is a lot of collective wisdom in this family as well as from his wife, and he was told, “Wait 18 months and see what happens.” Sure enough, when they got over the 18-month hump, they began to flourish. Now the Oscar’s Taco Shop location in Athens is both open and thriving. He has also been blessed with a two-year-old and a newborn, and those boys are the light of his life.

What is the Oscar’s Taco Shop secret? “Everything is made from scratch,” Adrian said. The proof of that in any establishment is always going to be in the salsa, and as I poured salsa verde on my burrito bowl and took a generous bite, I knew he was right. It truly was some of the best I have ever had. Somehow, at Oscar’s they have managed to blend authentic homemade Baja with the convenience of fast food, and it just works. Adrian brought out Javier for me to meet, and I am so pleased to picture him in this article. He is man who has poured his kindness and wisdom into his family and his customers, and it shows up in the food. Oscar’s Taco Shop also enjoys honoring seniors by offering a 15% percent discount on Wednesdays!

The brothers have an interesting arrangement when it comes to expanding and opening new shops. They have all agreed that they will maintain a ten-mile, non-compete radius around each shop; so if you see a new Oscar’s Taco Shop opening anywhere in the area, just know that they are operating within the design of the family business.

Another thing that Adrian told me is that when they hire people who have worked in other establishments, most often they have worked either exclusively out front or in the back, and have just had one job, such as cooking or food prep. At Oscar’s, if you choose to work there, you are going to learn the whole operation. The cross-training is a smart move, and it serves to bring a well-rounded experience for the staff. It also works well in the event that someone may be interested in opening their own Oscar’s Taco Shop, and that has happened more than once. You do not have to be a Ruiz by blood in order to own an Oscar’s Taco Shop, but you certainly will be adopted into the family if you do.

There are tacos, burritos, fajitas, bowls, fries, quesadillas, salads, breakfast burritos, and more. You can eat in, take it to go, pick it up at the window, or order online. Whichever way you choose, you will be giving your tummy a treat that will feel like it was made with love…because it was. Visit Oscar’s Taco Shop today and see what happens when a family creates a coast-to-coast opportunity to experience authentic Southern California Mexican food.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner