In a city with a dining scene that has been dominated by restaurants, bars, and coffee shops opening in huge developments, El Tesoro offers an alternative. The taqueria-cafe combo sits in an unassuming little building on Arkwright Avenue, an unassuming little street in Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood. What El Tesoro lacks in glitz and PR buzz, it makes up for with espresso beverages that complement comida de Mexico.
Co-owner Alan Raines has operated a nearby rental property for nearly two decades, and he says he’s been eyeing the building that El Tesoro calls home for years. He took the plunge in 2018, convincing the building’s landlord his business idea would be a good fit. These days, the typical new Atlanta restaurant boasts an address that is marketed as “right off the BeltLine,” a public works project that is in the process of converting miles of abandoned railroad tracks into a walking trail. The East Side portion of the trail was the first to open, and it has spurred an explosion of mixed-use projects popping up all over this part of town. Dining has been the anchor for most of these developments, but with high rent prices leaving little opportunity to gamble on innovation or outside-the-box thinking in the kitchen, these establishments, more often than not, offer style over substance, Instagram-worthy dining rooms, and forgettable food.
Raines has taken inspiration from his business and pleasures and poured it into El Tesoro. On the dining side of things, he wants to serve dishes that might be found at roadside restaurants he encountered during his travels in Mexico. Cristina Lugo Soto, a native of Guerrero, runs a kitchen that turns out breakfast tacos, burritos, tamales, and mulitas for breakfast and lunch. The coffee menu features a variety of Counter Culture beans because Raines had positive interactions with the Durham, North Carolina, outfit during his time selling packaging to roasteries. Clover James, an eight-year veteran of Java Monkey a few miles away in Decatur, oversees the beverage service, experimenting with new drinks on a daily basis. Yes, there are cortados and lattes, but there are also horchatas and Mexican hot chocolates.
“I wanted to do Mexican flavors,” James tells Sprudge. “And so the cafe de olla is orange and brown sugar and cinnamon. We do a cinnamon simple syrup instead of a hazelnut or caramel.”
El Tesoro’s design, like its location, does not lean into modern trends. Raines describes it as “pharmacy or apothecary-turned-taco stand.” Upon entering, patrons are greeted by a bright yellow wall with dark-wood shelves displaying assorted tchotchkes. A speckled marble counter displays pastries and fruit for sale, and there is a La Marzocco FB80 espresso machine cradling a rainbow of colorful cups, mugs, and saucers. On one side of the seating area are more yellow paint and black-and-white photos. Opposite that is a cinderblock wall decorated with old layers of faded paint and a big, bold El Tesoro logo.
Dinner service is in the works, as is a full bar. But, no matter how the business evolves, breakfast tacos and espresso will be key components. Arkwright Avenue is a cut-through between larger thoroughfares and Interstate 20, and Raines estimates 200 to 300 cars pass by his front door each morning. The morning clientele is built in.
There’s not much room for commercial growth at this location. Only a few buildings sit in the area, housing a dog boutique, an auto shop, and a currently vacant storefront. The remaining neighbors are residential. So while the rest of Atlanta is swallowed by development, El Tesoro may continue to be a treasure for coffee drinkers and diners wary of the overblown hype that comes with BeltLine-adjacent restaurants.
Chris Fuhrmeister is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta whose work has appeared previously in Eater. This is Chris Fuhrmeister’s first feature for Sprudge.