After losing its longtime home, Mexican taco shop and store reopens nearly four times as large

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The new La Estrella tienda at 2323 Ridge Court has two levels. The top level, shown here, is the taco shop portion of the business, while the lower level is the market and store.

When Kwik Shop filed plans in August 2020 for a new store at 25th and Iowa streets, the result was one of Lawrence’s largest convenience stores literally bulldozed one of the city’s smallest — La Estrella Mexican tienda and taco stand.

That Kwik Shop at the northwest corner of 25th and Iowa is now largely complete, but the more interesting part of the story is the tiny La Estrella is far from done.

And far from tiny, anymore.

La Estrella in recent days has opened a new 6,000-square-foot, two-level Mexican convenience store and taco stand at 2323 Ridge Court. As you may remember, we reported La Estrella had reached a deal for the former First Med building — the one behind the CVS store at 23rd and Iowa streets — in March 2021.

After more than a year of planning and remodeling, La Estrella opened with a big dining room, a large selection of Mexican meats and groceries and lots of new additions — not the least of which is a deed.

“Owning our own property here is a huge deal,” said Raul Perez, who owns and operates the business with his wife, Adany. “When they sold the building we used to be in, that put us in a real spot.”

It also put the husband-and-wife team in a more aggressive state of mind. The new store is almost four times larger than the one they had on south Iowa Street. Raul admits he wasn’t necessarily that aggressive in the days after the bulldozers razed the property. He credits his wife with having the idea of going big.

“She said, let’s find a temporary space and use the time to find our own, real place,” Raul said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Raul Perez owns and operates La Estrella with his wife, Adany Perez.

La Estrella indeed did operate in a temporary location for about a year, sharing space with Lucky Seb’s Dumpling Bar and Grill at 2210 Iowa St. While Raul was grateful for the space to keep his business open, sharing a kitchen made it difficult for the taco stand to really present a full menu.

That’s not a problem now. The taco stand portion of the business is no longer just about tacos, and is probably too big to be considered a stand anymore. The kitchen, in addition to offering tacos, is now offering Mexican sandwiches called tortas, tamales, and a dish called gorditas, which is a corn cake stuffed with steak, pork or chicken. The menu also features burritos, quesadillas, and multiple styles of tacos, including birria style, which traditionally uses a meat stewed in chiles and spices and tortillas that are pan-browned and made crispy with the fat from the stew.

“It is one of our most popular dishes right now,” Raul said.

Soon, the shop also will be offering a large selection of Mexican ice creams and flavored waters served at a long counter that already has been constructed in the dining room. Look for water flavor combinations like lime with cucumber, a fruit punch version, a coconut-infused water and even a pecan-flavored water.

Some of those flavors also will show up in ice cream offerings. There will be some additional ones like pistachio — a very popular Mexican ice cream flavor — plus a rice and milk offering and Gansito ice cream. That last one uses a popular Mexican snack cake, similar to a Twinkie, as a topping for the ice cream.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

La Estrella has a large dining room for its taco shop, and an ice cream counter, pictured in the background, is planned to open in about a month.

The shop won’t have to go far to find its Gansitos, or many other ingredients for that matter. The lower level of the 6,000-square-foot building is devoted to the tienda — Spanish for store — portion of the business.

That’s the type of business La Estrella has been in the longest, opening a Mexican convenience store about 20 years ago and expanding into the taco shop business about six years ago, Raul estimated.

The store portion of the business is now bigger than it has ever been. There’s an entire wall of Mexican candies, including something called rebandanas sandia — a watermelon lollipop with chiles.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Bulk spices are part of the offerings in the market portion of La Estrella.

There are also bulk spice bins featuring several dried ingredients, including multiple types of chiles, a Mexican pepper leaf called hoja santa, and even dried shrimp. Another wall is devoted to Mexican soda pops and other drinks that might not quite fit that definition. I’m talking about Zana Mia drinks, which serve as evidence that carrot juice must be significantly more popular in Mexico than here. The brand combines carrot juice with all types of offerings, such as mango, guava and pineapple. Another part of the store includes multiple aisles that are filled with canned goods ranging from beans to various vegetables and peppers commonly used in Mexican dishes, and even some Mexican-brand shampoos and other household items.

One of the more elaborate parts of the store is a fresh meat counter, which also stocks a variety of Mexican cheeses. The meats range from bacon to a thinly sliced beef steak used in making carne asada. There’s also sausage available. Combine the chorizo sausage with the beef steak to get campechano, which is one of the featured meat fillings at the taco shop upstairs.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A meat counter that specializes in certain cuts of meat commonly used in Mexican dishes has been expanded as La Estrella moved into its new location at 2323 Ridge Court.

Raul said he plans to open a bakery in the downstairs space. While it will include some traditional Mexican sandwich and dinner breads, Raul is betting that the breakfast treat of conchas — an often colorful sweet bread — will be a big hit.

Look for the bakery to open in about two months and the ice cream counter in the upstairs space to open in about a month, Raul said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

La Estrella has moved into the former First Med building at 2323 Ridge Court, which is just south and east of 23rd and Iowa streets.


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