TASTEMAKER: Two-time James Beard nominee Rafael Rios.Novo Studio

The face of Yeyo’s Mexican street tacos was born to migrant farmers in California, raised in Michoacán, Mexico, and is now happy at home in Northwest Arkansas. The 52-year-old father of three is farming with family and wowing people with tastes tied to his deeply held heritage.

Chef Rafael Rios has grown to prominence since moving to the area 16 years ago. He and his family started farming in Northwest Arkansas in 2006. They were selling produce at local farmers markets, but didn’t open their first food truck until 2012. Just a few years down the road, Rios has been nominated for two James Beard Awards for best chef in the south region. Talk about a rising star!

“The yellow food truck in downtown Bentonville is the beginning of our story,” Rios told me during a recent interview. “It’s how the restaurant business started for us. It’s the truck that put us on the map.”

He holds that truck dear, but those first few years were hard. Rios said tears were shed daily. He and his wife weren’t sure the business would survive. “Nobody knew us back then,” he said. “Then people started seeing us at the farmers markets and figured out what we were trying to do with our food. It got better quickly.”

What were they doing with their food? What was the magic behind those delightful tacos and beautiful burritos? It was simple, really. The Rios family was using old world techniques and locally grown produce and meats to create a premium product that their customers found delicious.

From humble beginning a Mexican food empire is emerging 


 Brian Sorensen