Suarez Restaurant has a patina that belies its age. The restaurant looks decades old, despite having only been open for six and a half years. Outside, a pit room greets customers, while inside, knickknacks are placed perfectly on wall-mounted bookshelves, photos of the menu items plaster the walls, and customers gather around lacquered wood tables. What’s more, most of the diners seem to be senior citizens—at least first thing in the morning, when I visited. 

The Laredo restaurant is small space with a long line and seating that’s hard to come by. Customers just have to share tables. My friend and I asked an elderly couple if we could sit across from them, and they happily asked us to join them. “It’s all about community,” says Ernesto Suarez, the 23-year-old who owns the restaurant with his parents, Herculano and Sonia Suarez. It’s just one of the things that makes Suarez Restaurant special. 

In addition to the comforting and nostalgic ambience and decor, there are the sweet regulars, some of whom dine at the South Texas–style diner five days a week, according to Suarez. The food is plenty comforting as well, but I’ll get to that shortly. Then there’s the heartwarming story of the Suarez family, which persevered through financial struggles to get to this point.

In the 1970s, Herculano and his father opened a meat market in Laredo that bore the family name with a logo of a pig. It was successful enough that they opened a second outpost. Later they added groceries and other foods to their offerings, and life and business were good for a little while. Then the butcher shop’s sales began to decline, and in the early aughts, Herculano closed Suarez Meat Market and left Laredo to work the booming Permian Basin oil fields.

In the late 2010s, during a bust period, Herculano returned home without a job. Bills piled up. The Suarezes considered filing for bankruptcy and selling their house, but they decided to bank on a leap of faith by going back into the food business. The family members weren’t interested in owning another meat market—they had another idea. “Opening the restaurant was our last shot,” Suarez says. They got a loan and began to renovate a space that was previously a florist’s shop.

Suarez Restaurant opened in August 2017, using the same logo of the meat market. A high school senior at the time, Suarez was more interested in having fun and did not like being stuck at the restaurant. Eventually, after graduating, he committed to the family business. “I started to see people really liking the restaurant,” Suarez told me. “I started seeing how blessed we were.” 

Groceries and mesquite charcoal at Surez Restaurant.
Groceries and mesquite charcoal at Suarez Restaurant. Photograph by José R. Ralat
The butcher cases at Suarez Restaurant. Photograph by José R. Ralat

It was going so well that Suarez’s parents expanded the restaurant’s footprint to include a meat market and grocery store, even selling the mesquite charcoal the restaurant uses to prepare carne asada. Then, in 2021, they opened a second, larger location with a slightly different name, Suarez Quality Meats, about seven miles from the original store. The family’s fortunes had reversed. 

Being so young, Suarez was reluctant to run the original location on his own while his parents oversaw the newer one. “I was kind of nervous, as obviously whenever the quote, unquote owner leaves—in this case, my parents—a lot of businesses, usually they go downhill,” he explained. But Suarez put in the work and gave his employees the confidence and support they needed to maintain the quality of the service and the food. “Obviously, if it wasn’t for their hard work, I’d be struggling,” he added. When I was on the phone with him, he spent as much time chatting with me as he did fielding questions from his staff. 

He also does the a lot of the same work they do, from running the register and clearing tables to brewing the next pot of free coffee and taking orders. “A lot of people my age, they’re still partying or doing bad things,” Suarez said. “Thankfully, I’ve never messed around with drugs or partying and none of that stuff. I don’t have the time.”

His attention and focus are evident in the exquisitely flaky South Texas–style flour tortillas. One carried a heavy portion of roughly chopped, silky beef cheek barbacoa pulled from the aluminum-wrapped whole cow head cooked in a steamer pot. Its seasoning was simple. “It’s not a secret. It’s salt,” Suarez said in a matter-of-fact tone.

The carne asada taco was pungent and packed with wallops of smoke. As finely chopped as the beef was, the meat was springy. I told my friend that I couldn’t remember the last time I had carne asada that good.

The weenies-and-eggs taco had slices of hot dogs that curled just a bit, a sign that they were charred before the eggs were introduced to the pan. In contrast to the weenies, the eggs were soft. It was a homey taco enjoyed in a homey surrounding. 

When I ordered the tripas, I asked that they be cooked “crispy but not too crispy,” and they were served to me soft on one side with a slight crunchiness on the other. 

The hits continued with the carnitas taco, even if it was slightly oily for my taste. We also had a chopped brisket taco, which, like the carne asada, spent time getting licks of fire from glowing mesquite charcoal. My litmus test breakfast taco of potato and eggs was perfect. The chunks of potatoes had firm exteriors and fluffy interiors and were draped in shawls of whisked eggs.

My meal was washed down with the thin, chuggable diner coffee I adore and punctuated by the happy din of customers, including our conversation with our tablemates. To call Suarez Restaurant remarkable is like calling Laredo’s commercial truck–clogged international bridge busy—an understatement. And Suarez takes the responsibility of keeping it that way seriously. “Right now, my life is too good to mess it up,” he said.

Suarez Restaurant
4800 McPherson Road, Suite 3, Laredo
Phone: 956-602-0230
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 7–10