La Tapatia Market and Tacos brings Guadalajara to Morgantown.

If you’ve driven Green Bag Road in the direction of Sabraton in the past few months, you’ve probably noticed a food truck you’ve never heard of parked in a prominent place.
That food truck—or food trailer, really—is the kitchen of La Tapatia Market and Tacos, the hottest new Mexican cuisine in town.

Silvia Ornelas and Sela Garcia opened La Tapatia in December. Ornelas came to Morgantown 17 years ago from the Mexican state of Jalisco, west of Mexico City, the home of mariachi music and tequila. She worked in the restaurant industry, then opened her own place, El Jalisco in Westover, around 2010. Garcia, also from Jalisco, came to Morgantown to study at WVU, and she worked for Ornelas in Westover. Patrons liked the restaurant, but its out-of-the-way location proved to be a challenge, so Ornelas closed it.

Lately, though, friends have been driving all the way to Washington, Pennsylvania, to a Mexican taco stand and market there. “I decided to give it another try.” Ornelas says. The name La Tapatia describes a person from Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco. “Here, Mountaineer. There, Tapatio, if you’re a boy; Tapatia, if you’re a girl.”

La Tapatia’s configuration—kitchen outside—is unusual for this part of the world, but it’s authentic to the style of food. “We wanted to do like in Mexico,” Ornelas says. “They have the taco stands always outside, and they’re the best tacos. The trailer draws people in to see what we have, too.”

Order outside or in, then claim one of the few tables if you’re eating there. “We have tortas, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, nachos—but tacos is the main thing,” Ornelas says. “The most popular would probably be asada.” La Tapatia’s tender, rich, and deeply flavorful carne asada has just the right amount of char. Dishes can also be ordered with carnitas, chicken, shrimp, tongue, and chorizo. Ornelas smashes and serves guacamole fresh in a molcajete, the rough black mortar and pestle made from volcanic stone that releases oils when the seasonings are crushed. The restaurant’s fresh-made tomatillo salsa comes in a mildly spicy green version, with serrano peppers, and a slightly spicier red one with arbol.

Inside, the little market carries a surprising variety of Mexican goods: posole, mole, Maseca corn mixes for making tortillas and tamales, and dried peppers and other
seasonings, along with canned goods, bottled hot sauces, packaged sweets, piñatas, and Mexican soda and beer. Occasional Facebook posts note fresh offerings like tomatillos or nopalitos, the edible young paddles of the prickly pear cactus.

La Tapatia may put tables in the parking lot this summer for an even more authentic experience. The restaurant also does catering—call for details.

14 Marvin Gardens, 304.241.1545, @tapatia304 on Facebook

photographed by Julian Wyant

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Pam Kasey
Written by Pam Kasey
Pam Kasey has traveled, brewed, farmed, counseled, and renovated, but most loves to write. She has degrees in economics from the University of Chicago and in journalism from West Virginia University. She loves celebrating Morgantown and West Virginia as executive editor at New South Media.