Chances are, every Corpus Christi resident knows Kiko’s Mexican Restaurant. But what they may not know is that the iconic restaurant has deep family roots that go back several generations.
Kiko’s Mexican Food Restaurant & Cantina is owned and operated today by Marcus Barrera, but its history began more than 60 years ago with his grandparents. They owned a Mexican restaurant off Morgan Avenue called Mi Terra from the 1960s to the 1980s. Amid those years, Marcus’ grandfather told his son-in-law, Kiko, that he should open a restaurant on the Southside. That vision and foresight paved the way for one of the most popular restaurants in the Coastal Bend.
Kiko and his wife Grace Barrera opened Kiko’s Mexican Restaurant in 1977. It began with a dozen tables in a building of the shopping center next door to Kiko’s current location. By 1980, it had taken over the shopping center complex, and the Barreras were turning their attention to purchasing property around it. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Kiko bought and began construction of the area that would become Kiko’s today.
Marcus grew up in the restaurant, and recalls having a clarity about his future even in those childhood years. “I was around 10 or 11 years old thinking, ‘This is what I’m going to do. This is going to be my life.’”
And he did. Marcus purchased the restaurant and took over in 2012, alongside his wife, Amanda, who manages its social media.
He is carrying on an incredible legacy. From humble beginnings with 12 tables, Kiko’s grew to have a capacity for 750 people, has multiple banquet rooms, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers both dine-in and take-out. Its success comes as no surprise — the flavors of Kiko’s are as delicious as they are unique. There’s a reason for that.
The recipes are heirlooms from Marcus’ grandmother, who gave them to Grace Barrera. She worked with the recipes, adding herbs and spices to some recipes such as the famous chili gravy that tops Kiko’s iconic enchiladas. Another aspect that differentiates Kiko’s dishes is that everything is made in-house. “Everything is made from scratch. We are cooking all day; the kitchen is firing from the time we open to the time we close,” said Marcus.
The food and the warm, friendly space where people enjoy it are a familiar backdrop to many locals, who have celebrated countless memories and special occasions here. “We hear from customers every day, their stories about growing up remembering coming to the restaurant, coming with friends and families. I’m honored and I’m blessed, but my parents deserve all the credit,” said Marcus.
His parents are still connected to the restaurant, even in their retirement. Kiko and Grace visit frequently. “My dad retired 10 years ago, but he still comes in every day and helps out. My mother stops in, too, sometimes sitting down and visiting with patrons,” said Marcus. “With them coming in, it’s still so family-oriented.”
The decision to stay local ran in the family; Marcus’ older brother and younger brother, who became an attorney and dentist, respectively, also live in Corpus Christi. “Our roots are here, our history is here. I think Corpus is a hidden gem, but as we grow, people will see how wonderful and unique it is — and they’ll fall in love with it as we have,” he said.
Looking ahead to the future, Marcus is focused on continuing to deliver the high-quality taste and experience of Kiko’s Mexican Food. “First and foremost, we’re dedicated to maintaining our consistency and quality. Beyond that? Sky’s the limit. It really is.”