In the space between ABC Columbia and the Whig is a glass door that could be overlooked if not for nearby customers armed with to-go bags. The door opens to Family Fresh Mex, a mom and pop store that first started as a food truck in 2013 and has since opened its brick-and-mortar location.
As a veteran of the Soda City Market, the brick-and-mortar location closes on Saturdays to make way for food truck operations at the market.
Braden Shain, senior director of development at the USC School of Law, found Family Fresh Mex as he walked around looking for lunch close to where he works. He happened to look in the Family Fresh Mex window and said he was pleasantly surprised to see a small, manageable menu on the chalkboard.
“I looked in and saw the menu and I was like, 'This actually looks really good.' Some restaurants their menu is a monster — especially at a Mexican restaurant,” Shain said. “You have to flip through four pages, trying to find what you want, but here, it seems to be a really pointed menu.”
Smaller menus are a sign the food has been selected for a reason and will be well-executed, Shain said.
Ramirez said his inspiration for the menu was family. He said his wife used to have a restaurant in Jalisco, Mexico.
“The only thing we had to teach people was the difference of authentic and Tex-Mex,” Ramirez said.
Family recipes are applied to nearly all of Family Fresh Mex's authentic food, according to Ramirez.
“We cook the beans, we smash the beans, we refry the beans,” Ramirez said. “And everything, almost everything, we make.”
Customers can find authentic Mexican fare with house-made salsas and guacamole — and no sour cream, as Ramirez adamantly stated. Popular items include tacos dorados, burritos and breakfast tacos — the staple food of Austin, Texas.
Natalie Hasbrooke, a fourth-year public health student, grew up in South Texas and has fond memories of getting breakfast tacos with friends.
“I would go with my friends a lot before class (to get breakfast tacos). I was still 14 at the time, so I couldn’t drive, but my parents or someone had to take us and it was just a nice way to kind of hang out before school got started,” Hasbrooke said.
The convivial nature of breakfast tacos extends into the way Ramirez interacts with customers. Shain said the thing he appreciates most about Family Fresh Mex is Ramirez’s willingness to walk customers through the menu.
“See, check this out,” Shain said, pointing to Ramirez helping a customer understand the menu. “That's guidance, which I love this as a consumer, right … you can tell that he cares.”
Ramirez said his care extends beyond food. He understands the expenses that college students face with costs of books, tuition and housing are piling up. Because of this, Ramirez said he plans to offer USC students a special.
The Family Fresh Mex located at 1200 Main Street is currently undergoing renovations. Ramirez expects Family Fresh Mex to move into the former Persona Pizza space in December.