The owner of downtown taqueria Monarca brings flavors of her childhood to her new home.
At Monarca Mexican Taqueria, it’s all about family. Owner Irlanda Huff describes the fresh, handmade cuisine as “Mexican soul food.” The recipes are a blend of Veracruz and Oaxaca flavors, incorporating cooking styles from two branches of her family. “Food is our love language,” Huff says. “When people come over, that’s our thing—we offer them food.”
Huff was born and raised in Veracruz. When she was a young woman, she and her parents moved between Mexico and southern California, but Huff found a new home while visiting a friend in the East—specifically in Morgantown—when she met her would-be husband, Christopher, at a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Together, they found a shared love of Middle-earth, Mexico, and food. A year later, the two were married.
Choosing a permanent place to call home, they prayed about where to establish roots. “We knew that if the Lord wanted us to be here, everything would fall into place,” Huff says. And fall into place it did—they bought a home in Morgantown and adopted the children they were fostering. Additionally, her husband’s employer, a pool cover company, decided to close its doors but offered him a chance to take the reins. Together, the family weathered the storm of the pandemic, and his business thrived as homeowners sought improvements during lockdown.
Huff herself had long dreamed of becoming a business owner, of opening a restaurant to bring the flavors of her childhood to life. The couple struck a bargain: If she would help him grow his business, they would save together to open hers. On January 1, 2023, her dream became a reality when they signed the lease on Walnut Street. Monarca opened its doors for business in February.
Huff has been cooking for as long as she can remember. Her mother, Laura, and her grandmother Reina taught her many recipes, including homemade tortillas and tamales. On holidays, she remembers, an assembly line of grandchildren would help Reina stuff upwards of 1,000 tamales to be shared with friends, family, and neighbors.
Nestled between Starport Arcade and Blue Moose cafe, Monarca gets its name from the Monarch butterfly. Huff likens the butterflies’ annual migration to her father Bo’s migratory field work and to her own journey between Mexico and the U.S. “This is home,” she says. “It’s been a journey, but this is where we’ve chosen to grow.”
There’s truly a story behind every dish on Monarca’s menu, especially the daily specials. The Mexican meatballs, for example, were one of the most difficult dishes for Huff to learn when she was younger. No matter how closely she followed her grandmother’s recipe, the meatballs would fall apart in the broth. “Eventually, my grandmother told me, ‘Your hand is too hot,’ and she would have me soak my hands in ice water. Sure enough, it worked. Still to this day, every time I make meatballs I soak my hands in cold water.”
Sharing her family’s recipes is an emotional experience for Huff. She says she is incredibly proud to bring a bit of her home in Mexico to her new home in Morgantown. She suggests the tacos for a familiar favorite, but her recommendation—and her kids’ favorite—is the chata: similar to a gordita, a crunchy but soft Mexican arepa, deep fried, then stuffed with your choice of meat, cheese, then garnished with fresh salsa, house-made queso fresco, and lettuce.
236 Walnut Street, “Monarca Taqueria” on FB