While a firm date hasn’t been set for its grand opening, Rio Plano Taqueria is just about ready to begin serving up tacos and margaritas to Lowell residents.
The long-awaited restaurant was hampered by pandemic-related delays followed by supply chain issues, but renovation of the historic building at 101 W. Main Street is complete, the menu has been finalized and staff has been hired.
“The one good thing about the delay is that Sarah and I have toured the state trying different tacos and margaritas,” says Brent Slagell, one of the restaurant’s owners. He and operations director Sarah Schofield have been focused on sourcing the highest quality ingredients and note that drinks at Rio Plano Taqueria will be made from fresh juice and not concentrates or purees.
Meanwhile, Chef Marc Pena has been perfecting the menu while he currently works at Big Boiler Brewing, another restaurant owned by Slagell. Among the authentic fare to be sold at the taqueria is arroz con gandules, which is Pena’s family recipe for rice. Low-carb tortillas will be available, and there will be vegan choices on the menu.
“Marc makes a quesabirria taco,” Slagell notes. It features braised beef and chihuahua cheese on a corn tortilla. “That’s what I can’t wait for.”
Beyond the food, the drinks at Rio Plano Taqueria are expected to be a significant draw. Modelo and Dos Equis will be on tap while a variety of other bottled Mexican beer will be available for purchase. Schofield adds that the bar will have more than 50 tequila options that can be purchased as a taste, shot or in a margarita.
Restaurant Downstairs, Apartments Upstairs
Converting the historic building on the Flat River – which was originally home to Lowell’s Post Office – into a restaurant brought a number of challenges, not the least of which was the space constraint.
Slagell says that the original goal was to have seats for 65 people inside, and they ended up with 62. They also received permission from the state to add balconies with additional seating, and that should bring the total occupancy for Rio Plano Taqueria to 94 during the warmer months.
The name of the restaurant wasn’t selected by happenstance either. “It’s not a Mexican restaurant, per se,” Slagell explains. You won’t find wet burritos, enchiladas or other Mexican entrees on the menu. “It’s a taqueria.”
In other words, the main attraction here is a limited menu of specialty tacos. The decision to go that route was partly because of the small kitchen space and partly because of a desire to create a niche dining experience.
All items on the menu will be sold a la carte and will be offered for dine-in or to-go orders. Rio Plano – which means Flat River in Spanish – will also be part of the city’s social district so customers can take their drinks to the Riverwalk for the Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series or other downtown events.
Above the restaurant are two apartments which feature their own balconies overlooking the Flat River. “They are both rented already,” Slagell says. “We never even advertised.”
Currently, Slagell and Schofield are ironing out the final details before they open the doors to the public. While a date hasn’t been set, the hope is that by early February, you’ll be able to stop by to try their authentic tacos and margaritas for yourself.
To be notified of the restaurant opening date, you can follow Rio Plano Taqueria on Facebook.