All in the family

(First published in the September 26, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Taqueria El Zebas opens on Sherman Street


Family involvement will be big at the new Mexican restaurant, Taqueria El Zebas. Owner/Manager Alejandra Rodriguez-Nieto is in the flowered dress. From left: her father Gauvain Arenas, her mother Alejandra Nieto and her aunt Emma Arreola. On the right is her sister-in-law, Victoria Noreno.

When asked where she finds the confidence to open her own restaurant while also working a day job as a nurse, 25-year-old Alejandra “Allie” Rodriguez-Nieto just smiles and shrugs. “It was my parents’ idea,” she says. But it’s clear she’s running the place, setting up distributors and making runs to Milwaukee for special ingredients.

She and her parents just opened Taqueria El Zebas at 316 Sherman St. in Wausau, in the location that had long been an Asian grocery and restaurant. The family is aiming for basic Mexican fare during the week and more complicated dishes on the weekends. They offer variations of those basics to appeal to Americanized tastes on one end and “just like in Mexico” on the other.

Rodriguez-Nieto says the weekday menu usually will be limited to tacos, tortas, flautas, burritos and quesadillas. The variety comes with the choice of meats that include: carne asada (flavored steak), lengua (cow’s tongue), cecina (thin-cut steak), breaded chicken strips, and cabeza (cow’s head), which, not to be confused with brain, is so popular that it sold out last week. “Once people get used to our menu, they’ll try different things,” she says. “It’s exciting.”

More time-consuming to prepare items such as tamales and ceviche will show up on weekends. The dining room only covers half the space; the other half is a Mexican grocery store.

Rodriguez-Nieto’s family moved from California to Wausau when she was 11. She’s a graduate of Wausau West High School and earned certified nursing assistant status through Northcentral Technical College. She continues to work as a CNA, and is thankful for her parents’ role in the restaurant. “I know how to cook,” she says, “but I get nervous if I have to cook for a lot of people.”

Open 10:30 am–9:00 pm, closed on Wednesdays. 715-841-0105.