When Edgar Alvarez Aguilar prepares your order at his taco stand in Pittsburgh's Strip District, he is using the recipes his mother taught him when he was a boy in Mexico. While she worked in her sister's restaurant in Mexico City, Edgar was taking care of and cooking for his younger siblings.
His mother, who was born Concepcion Aguilar in Chinantla de Puebla, Mexico, died Thursday at age 86. She had lived with her son in Mount Washington.
Mr. Aguilar is one of her seven children, six of whom survive her and all but one of whom lives in the United States.
"My family followed family who followed family" from Mexico to New Jersey and Pittsburgh, he said. "Many years ago, many people in my family emigrated. I came to Pittsburgh from New Jersey, and my mother and sister followed me."
Mrs. Aguilar was widowed when Edgar was a little boy and supported her children by working in restaurants.
"She gave me money to buy food for my little brothers and she taught me how to make stuff. I had to do it, but I ended up liking it."
Mr. Aguilar, who owned and operated Taco Loco on the South Side for 10 years, opened his sidewalk taco stand outside Reyna Foods on Penn Avenue five years ago this summer. One recent day at his stand, he referred to the glass case that advertises churros, a pastry popular in Spain and Mexico, and said his mother "never made them because to have sweets cost a lot of money."
He makes the recipes she taught him with some improvisation. Her specialties were chicharron, enchiladas and mole de olla, but the one recipe other restaurants coveted was her chilis in vinegar.
"She never gave that recipe away except to me," he said. "There is more in it than chilis and vinegar."
Mrs. Aguilar completed the sixth grade before ending her formal education to help raise her eight younger siblings. After a hard childhood, she moved to Mexico City, where she married and raised her own children.
"She liked gardening," Mr. Aguilar said. "She planted flowers and herbs. She would talk to the flowers like I'm talking to you."
A bad knee kept her from getting about much, and after knee surgery several years ago she began having respiratory problems, Mr. Aguilar said. "She never came to the taco stand. By then it was too hard for her to walk."
Besides Edgar, she is survived by a daughter, Gladys Alvarez of Mount Washington; and sons Ignacio of New Jersey, Hector of Mexico City, Marcos of Philadelphia and Enrique of New Jersey.
Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Mary of the Mount Church, 403 Grandview Ave., Mount Washington.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.