Chinese buffet out, Mexican cuisine in

Published 11:33 am Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Johnny Sanchez, right, and his uncle Jose Sanchez are going into business together after buying the Oriental Express. Jose also runs a food truck that will be part of the business. -- Eric Johnson/

AHS graduate back in the restaurant game

Longtime Austinite Johnny Sanchez moved back six months ago, saw an opportunity to open a Mexican restaurant, and didn’t think twice.

Oriental Express, an Austin staple at 501 W Oakland Ave. for more than 30 years, closed at the end of December after Sanchez agreed to buy it. He finalized the deal on Dec. 30, and plans to re-open it as Maya’s Taquerias & Restaurant by March 1.

“Every time I visit town, people recognize me and ask me when I’ll open something here,” Sanchez said. “That’s why I always wanted to come back.”

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Sanchez will team up with his uncle, Jose Sanchez, who runs a taco truck called Los Pericos Taquerias, to offer authentic Mexican cuisine like a menudo stew, cocktails, carnitas and Mexican desserts on weekends, along with mainstays like tacos, burritos, fajitas and sandwiches all week. They will prepare the food fresh in front of the customer assembly-line style, similar to Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Sanchez — who lived in Cannon Falls, Minn., where he owns and will continue to run a Mexican restaurant — is an Austin High School grad who worked his way up at El Mariachi Mexican restaurant in Austin before branching out in The Cities.

Sanchez said the building is a little small for what he wants to do, but the taco stand will help.

Lim Lerum opened Oriental Express in 1979, and said while the business was still running strong, it was time to retire.

“My mind says I can stay there for 100 years, but my body says it is time to stop,” she said. “We had a lot of great customers over the years.”

Oriental Express closed on Dec. 28.

Maya’s will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later Sunday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to possibly 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.