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Olé to new Amigos
Andrew A. Duffy - Times Colonist
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April 12, 2012
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Ramesh Espinoza, left, and Tony Espinoza at the new Puerto Vallarta Amigos restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf. Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

The family that brought Mexican food to the streets of Victoria has established a new, more stationary option - or as stationary as a floating home at Victoria's Fisherman's Wharf can be.

The Espinoza clan started with a customized food truck under the banner Puerto Vallarta Amigos 18 months ago at the bottom of Yates Street.

They've since added a second truck and are now taking their fresh take on authentic Mexican cuisine to the water's edge.

Co-owner Jorge Espinoza said it's a little like coming home.

"What better location than Fisherman's Wharf, where you can have a great view, great atmosphere and it actually feels like Puerto Vallarta when it's sunny," said Espinoza.

That may be a slight stretch, given Victoria's climate, yet Espinoza thinks the new location on the docks across from Barb's Fish and Chips and the Fish Store & More will be as popular as their two food trucks.

"Once the tourism season starts and the cruise ships are in I think it will be very good," he said. "We've always had the comments from people asking for a fixed location."

And the wharf seems very happy to have them.

Curtis Grad, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority which runs Fisherman's Wharf, said Puerto Vallarta Amigos is a nice addition to the mix.

"From its industrial past, Fisherman's Wharf has blossomed into a vibrant and eclectic destination for residents and visitors alike," he said.

The Espinozas found their Fisherman's Wharf home last fall and after buying the building and worked over the last six months to renovate and update the floating home to accommodate a full kitchen. The doors opened last weekend, with a grand opening planned for Saturday.

"In the future, if things go well, we may expand to the second floor," he said.

Espinoza said they have been looking for such a spot since shortly after they flipped open the side of their first truck and started filling tacos. That first truck, downtown at Yates and Wharf streets, was joined less than a year later by a second van that parks at Uptown, in a second-level parking lot above Walmart.

"Now we have this, less than two years since we started. We've been growing really fast," said Espinoza.

"I think people in Victoria have been waiting for real, authentic Mexican food," he said.

"Many people who come [to us] have been to Mexico and they tell us this really tastes like Mexico. And with the trucks they get to feel the same kind of ambiance.

There's a lot of street food in Mexico."

Puerto Vallarta Amigos is very much a family affair.

Jorge, brother Ramesh, and their parents, Antonio Espinoza and Angelina Cortes, are owners of the business that prides itself on using family recipes handed down through the generations. The family had restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Morelia, but now are focused on what could be called Puerto Vallarta North.

"Honestly, in the summer we feel Victoria is really like Puerto Vallarta. It's a small city, not too big not too small, the weather is perfect and the people are lovely. We really like Victoria," said Jorge.

Jorge and Ramesh came to Victoria nine years ago for university.

"Then we started doing some [market] research," he said, noting they started adding in the family strengths - father Antonio's tourism industry experience, mother Angelina's years of experience as a chef - and created the Mexican street food concept.

But while the Espinoza family love their new city, Jorge admits the family - his grandparents are now Victorians as well - still misses Mexico.

"We love Mexico, we miss it a lot, but it still has some social and political problems that make you look for other options," he said, adding the recent coverage of drug-war violence tars the entire country.

"Unfortunately, it's gotten worse. One of the reasons we came here was for that," he said. "It's a shame because it's not that bad, especially when you go to tourist places. They are really safe."

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