It was their newborn daughter and a lack of authentic taco restauants in the area that inspired Sonia and Jose Sepulveda to open up their own restaurant, Lilly's Taqueria. Now celebrating 14 years of business, Lilly's has gained a favorable reputation among taco fans and grown so much the Sepulvedas opened a second location in Goleta.
"Lilly's was inspired by the lack of authenticity and consistency the self-called 'taquerias' were serving," recalls Sonia Sepulveda. "That was not only acknowledged by us, but by family members and friends that boosted our self assurance at house parties and cookouts. 'You should open your own taqueria,' we would hear all the time. Not to mention our luck of charm, the biggest and most important inspiration, Lilly. Our now 14 year-old daughter was our main inspiration so that we could pave a better future for her, That was 14 years ago. We named it after her: Lilly's Taqueria!"
Lilly's offers a casual dining atmosphere and tacos that are under $2 each. A variety of beef fillings are offered, as well as pork, chicken, and veggies. The meat is on the generous side, and the restaurant features a salsa bar where customers can embellish their dish with sauces of varying degrees of spiciness and toppings. Some days there's a line out the door, but service is speedy and by the time a customer has finished paying they often find their order already waiting for them.
Sepulveda agrees that fast, friendly service and quality food are among the reasons why Lilly's has made so many taco fans in the Santa Barbara area and keeps them returning. "From when it opens to when it closes, you will be greeted by smiles and employees eager to feed you," she explains. "With our menu being broken into three selections, simplicity and cleanliness will be seen from the moment you step foot inside Lilly's. The ambience is casual and cozy, filled with conversations and laughter, providing a family feel environment, leaving out any racial difference at the door."
Unlike some Americanized Mexican restaurants, Lilly's stays true to the country's cuisine. That means some of the menu items can be a little off-putting to diners that are used to the more common cuts of beef: tacos made with cow tongue, cheek, lips, and intestines are available. For the truly adventurous, however, the restaurant is their nirvana and also offers a highly unusual dish: the ojo, or cow eye, taco.
"We love our 'eye' taco," says Sepulveda. "(It's) authenticity and delicacy at its finest. We steam the entire beef head and extract the eye when it reaches perfection, dished out on two warm steamed tortillas serving as its delicious structure. Although this might not be for first timers, our regulars and the taco connoisseurs now live for the eye taco."
There is one thing that is unavailable at Lilly's, and as Sepulveda explains, it has to do with keeping the restaurants family-minded, the very thing that inspired her and her husband to open the restaurant. "We have always had a vision that the children will be our future clients; therefore, we made a decision to never sell alcoholic beverages at our locations, and we love and stand by our decision. We love families!"