Ruta Smith

El Pincho Taco owner Sandra Aguirre learned how to make tamales and other Mexican standbys during her youth in Mexico City. She’s combining those lessons with a love of Mexico City street tacos at her Meeting Street restaurant, serving up hearty creations made with hand-made tortillas and other fresh ingredients.

The kitchen was where Aguirre recalls spending quality time with her family as a child in Mexico City. “My grandmother has been cooking tamales for the last 45 years,” she said. “Cooking has always been in our family. I would see my mother cook desserts and she would sell them outside of her house which is very common in the city.”

When she moved to Charleston 18 years ago, Aguirre found a lot of restaurants cooking Tex-Mex cuisine, but few were doing the southern Mexican food she grew up making. With years of at-home experience under her belt, Aguirre started El Pincho Taco as a catering company in 2017, popping up at breweries, markets and festivals around Charleston. One year later in October 2018, she opened El Pincho Taco at 616 Meeting St., now sandwiched between Mozzo Deli and Local 616.

Her grandmother’s tamales only appear on the menu for special occasions — they take two days to prepare — but Aguirre’s five-person team that includes her mother makes up to 450 corn tortillas each day.

Aguirre gave us the inside scoop on some of her favorite El Pincho tacos, tortas and tequilas.

Tacos and Tortas

Cochinita Pibil Taco ($3): This taco combines marinated pulled pork with habanero slaw for a flavorful bite with a little kick. “We added this about a year ago and it’s been one that’s really stayed on the menu,” Aguirre said.

Campechano Taco ($4): Why have one protein in your taco when you can have two? In this taco, Aguirre combines seasonal steak with chorizo she makes in the restaurant each week.

Cubana Torta ($16): “The tortas we make are also huge,” Aguirre said. “We basically make them with any of the protein choices and we make a fully loaded Cuban. It’s almost a pound.” Joining the meat on the Mexican-style sandwich is a fried egg, guacamole and house-pickled jalapenos.



Of course, every taco needs a beverage companion, and El Pincho has you covered with over 75 kinds of tequila. A favorite? La Gritona reposado tequila made by Melly Cardenas, who leads the only female-owned distillery in Mexico City, according to Aguirre.

Using this and other tequilas, Aguirre came up with four cocktails with names based on historic Mexico City sites. The Palacio, for instance, is named after the Palacio de los Deportes, a landmark arena. Another is named for a church her family frequented when she was a child.

El Pincho Taco is a restaurant built on family recipes and tradition — Aguirre and her mother still work side-by-side in the kitchen like they did years ago in Mexico City. Perhaps the only thing that rivals the heft of their committment to their home cuisine is the size of their taco and torta entree.