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Meet Carmen Barragan-Zavala and Omar Zavala of Taqueria Juanitos in Van Nuys/Lake Balboa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carmen Barragan-Zavala and Omar Zavala.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Carmen and Omar. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born in Los Angeles and moved to the Bay Area as a kid which is where I met my husband, Omar. One of the things that brought us together was this vision we had of owning our own business, preferably something to do with food. We both love cooking and eating. It only made sense that we’d end up owning a restaurant. Taqueria Juanitos is a 30 year old relic in the heart of Lake Balboa, it was owned by my aunt for the greater part of its existence and I had spent time there since I was a little girl. When we heard she wanted to sell it we jokingly threw our bid. Two weeks later we packed up our little apartment and made the trip down here committed to making this thing happen. We aimlessly worked our asses off for a few years with one goal in mind: open a restaurant. Suddenly it was clear that this was the opportunity we had been working for all along. Coming down here to take over Juanitos was both a blessing and an honor. We’re simply grateful to be here.

Has it been a smooth road?
Some would say we had it easy, I beg to differ. We moved away from our families and everything we knew. We came down here with our two kids and had to adjust to a whole different life. We had never owned a restaurant, my Peruvian husband had never been a taquero, I had never filed quarterly taxes. Against all the odds, we made it work. Not to mention there were people who doubted us and really wanted to harm us and our business. It was a really toxic environment to be catapulted into when we just want to thrive and the people around us wanted to see us fail. There has been growth from that and we’re passed it, thankfully. We’re in a comfortable place now, surrounded by people who genuinely support us. However, we’ve got a long way to go with what we’re planning on doing with Juanitos, it might not always be a smooth road but still, one worth pursuing.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We specialize in making delicious food! We’re known for many things but if I had to pick one I just couldn’t…there’s too much. Juanitos is the after school kick it spot, it’s the lunch hour spot, it’s the place you swing by to pick up dinner for the fam when you don’t wanna cook, we’re a little bit of everything. Food-wise what can I say? I’ve heard many things from our customers but people generally love our carne a sada. We have customers who come from as far as Simi Valley just to eat our chicken tacos and people who come almost daily just to have our carnitas. We also can’t forget to mention our nachos and asada fries which are really popular with the kids. We pride ourselves in many things but if I could narrow it down, it’s bringing people together. We love to hear people laughing and coexisting over our food. At Juanitos we’re also committed to providing a safe and inclusive space that people can come to and just unwind for a bit. We hope we can continue bringing people together for many more years and we want to welcome everyone to come try our food.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is jam packed with so many delicious taco spots, each unique in their own way. It can be competitive and maybe a little intimidating but when you love what you do and you believe in yourself, you can pretty much set up shop anywhere in the world. El que quiere puede.


  • Tacos $1.75
  • Asada Fries $10.76
  • Tortas $6.90
  • Burritos $8.50
  • Nachos $8.26

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Carmen Barragan-Zavala

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