CULT FOOD - TACO VILLA
By TRICIA PETERSON
“Maybe you don’t like it, but I do,” is the basic mentality of the folks who frequent these establishments. Most of these places have been around a lifetime, and generations of Topekans have kept them alive. Topeka has several restaurants with an almost religious, or cult-like following, so to speak. You’ll find the following eating establishments might just convert you too.
All of the restaurants on this list have something about them that keeps people coming back. Sometimes people can point to a particular menu item or an aspect of the place that draws them in, but many, can’t explain the pull. It is just part of who they are—something they do instinctively.
As someone who frequented Taco Villa as a child, I can attest that it is the same as it was back then and will probably remain the same for years to come. That familiarity is all part of the appeal. You can come back after years and know it will be just like you left it: the food, the atmosphere and the people.
Gary Stickley’s family has owned Taco Villa since 1973, when his mother and father opened it. He worked there on and off since the beginning and then took it over, when his father retired.
“We’ve always had a lot of regulars. I keep the food the same as it’s always been so that if you ate here in ‘73 and you come back on summer vacation and you eat here now, we have the same menu and same food that we always have had,” Stickley said. “I’m really lucky because we have grandparents, great-grandparents and their kids and the kids they’ve had [eating here today].”
Taco Villa is located on 21st Street off the corner of Fairlawn, nestled on the back corner of The Toy Store and within walking distance from Topeka West High School. It’s like a hidden gem. When you walk in, it takes a second for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. The smell of warm corn tortilla shells—my favorite part—welcomes you. When you get up to the counter you can see the heads of the cooks as they prepare the food, and there is always a cashier who greets you kindly. Gary is usually nearby, making sure the restaurant is running smoothly and talking to regulars, keeping their welcoming reputation alive.
“We have good food, good service, reasonable prices and it’s kind of a people place in here,” Stickley said. “We enjoy our customers, we know everybody. We know who you are, where you work and that just happens over the years. You just get to know so many people.”
Not everyone loves Taco Villa, but that’s part of its appeal. The fact that some people would almost die trying to convince you that this is the best place to eat in town is what gives it a cult following.
Everyone who loves Taco Villa will rave about its fried our shell that is topped with meat and cheese sauces. It’s a basic menu item, but because it has been made the same way for generations, the “ Thing” is almost like a drug people swear by.