Longtime South Austin favorite Maria’s Taco Xpress will close in the coming months. Owner Maria Corbalan is under contract with an unnamed buyer to sell the property at 2529 S. Lamar Blvd.
Corbalan cites high property taxes and a slowing of business in recent years as reasons for shutting down. The taxes were about $50,000 last year, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, with the property appraised at more than $2.2 million in 2016, up from about $760,000 in 2012.
“All of my employees make quite a great salary,” said Corbalan, who added that she has not been able to pay herself a salary since April of last year. “Every day that I am open costs me money. The water is to my neck.”
Corbalan says that while she doesn’t know the new owner’s plans, she is not selling the business she established in 1996, instead choosing to allow her employees, some of whom who have been with her for more than 15 years, to possibly carry on under the same name in a new and unannounced location.
“I’m not selling the name because perhaps my employees will be able to continue the business. That would be my gift to them,” Corbalan said. “I could not have done this without my guys. I keep a tight relationship with all of my guys, and I am really going to miss them.”
Though the unannounced sale price will far exceed the $250,000 Corbalan paid for the property in 2006, the gregarious owner, who affectionately calls many of her customers “honey,” would prefer not to sell.
“I’m sad. I don’t want to say goodbye to my baby,” Corbalan said. “The appreciation for my guys and customers, and the sadness are beyond belief.”
Corbalan said that she is eyeing a potential April 1 closure and that, in true Taco Xpress fashion, the restaurant will throw a huge party with live music following South by Southwest.
“We’re not just going to go away and close the doors,” Corbalan said.
Maria’s has always been more than a taco stand, serving as something of a de facto community center, a home for fundraisers, live music, political meet-ups and the groovy, music-filled “Hippie Church” on Sundays. Corbalan told the Statesman’s John Kelso in 2014 that her business had slowed considerably that year, pushing her to add live music at nights and extend weekend hours.
The restaurant is one of the few remaining pieces of “Old South Austin” (along with businesses like Saxon Pub, Matt’s El Rancho and the Broken Spoke), and it drew the support of the community when a wave of change hit South Lamar a decade ago. Corbalan closed the original Taco Xpress in 2005 to make way for a Walgreen’s, but the pharmacy ponied up for a new space, allowing Taco Xpress to move about 100 feet to its current building in 2006.
The art-loving restaurant, known for its migas, eccentric style and personable owner, features a massive statue of Corbalan that was constructed by local artist Michael Peschka. The statue of Corbalan was vandalized in 2005, drawing the ire of the community and Statesman columnist Kelso.
Given Corbalan’s stature in the community and Taco Xpress’ role in nurturing an Old Austin culture that seems to be disappearing from that part of South Lamar, there is little doubt that there will be many sad to see Corbalan shutter her funky restaurant. The feeling is mutual.
“I want to thank everybody for this beautiful 20 years,” said Corbalan, who intends to continue her artwork while pursuing her next career as an interior designer.