HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — This week ValleyCentral takes you to Harlingen, Texas. Located between La Feria and Brownsville it is often recognized as one of the principal cities in the Rio Grande Valley earning the nickname the “Capital City”. Founded in 1904, it is home to more than 70,000 people and the location of the Marine Military Academy. Known for its attention to the fine arts, Harlingen has events focusing on music and theatre and also features the annual “Bird Bowl” between its two high schools, the Harlingen Cardinals and Harlingen South Hawks.
Entering Harlingen from the West one of the first things visitors will notice is the KVEO station. Putting “Local First” and “Working for You”, the station serves as the home to the CBS and NBC affiliates. Opening its doors as KGBT in 1953, both stations merged in January 2020 to become KVEO. As one of the older cities in the RGV, Harlingen has seen many changes over time but continues to focus on its roots. Historic Downtown Harlingen also known as Jackson Street is one of the few areas that pay homage to the ever-changing landscape. Market Days, held on the first Saturday of the month, is home to many local vendors and stores where visitors can get handcrafted items enjoy live music, antiques, and food. Harlingen is also home to the Iowa Jima monument, a direct copy of the original. It is located near the Valley International Airport and is one of the first or last things visible in the city for visitors. Those who enjoy the outdoors will enjoy Pendleton Park. From enjoying a walk on its trials to playing on the baseball field or tennis courts, the park has something that everyone can enjoy.
Pizza love – Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza
From its humble beginnings of serving food out of a gas station, Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, owner Mustafa “Steve” Shehada has been serving food for seven years out of its current location in Harlingen. Started by Shehada, the restaurant is one of Harlingen’s success stories that continues to grow. Home to the 30-inch pizza and other delicious food choices there is something for everybody to try. Helped by his chef and general manager Graham Smith, who has been with Shehada since the restaurant moved from the gas station. Using recipes from one of their chefs they have been committed to serving the same flavor and style of pizza from when they first started. Both are grateful for the love and support the community has shown them. As a way to pay back the support, the business has hosted many donations and charity events giving back to the community. New ideas and renovations to the building are coming with more outside seating to host larger crowds, parties, and events.
Mexican influence – Pit Stop Smokehouse BBQ
A venture into the restaurant business gave owner Jair Ramirez a chance to open up the “Pit Stop Smokehouse BBQ”. Being his first journey into owning a restaurant it allowed Ramirez to live out his dream. Building the restaurant from scratch he was able to put his own designs and style into the location. Having contractor skills gave Ramirez the opportunity to build the restaurant and give it its distinctive rustic look. Located in one of the busiest sections and before the train tracks in Harlingen, Ramirez said they are in the perfect place. Ramirez said when the train is going it gives drivers a chance to visit the restaurant when they smell the food. Mesquite-style BBQ is just one of the many options Ramirez has been serving for 3 and a half years. Unlike most places, his pit-master is a woman who has been with Ramirez since the start of the restaurant. Ramirez said the tough beginnings and wondering if the business would work has all paid off. This is due to the loyal customers and word of mouth that has spread through the community. His plans are to expand across the RGV and open more restaurants. “We’re not here to get rich off BBQ, I don’t think anybody has ever gotten rich off BBQ but we do it because we love it and because we want people to walk away with a pleasant experience”, said Ramirez.
Food truck to restaurant – Juan More Taco
Starting off as a food truck in Harlingen, “Juan More Taco” has expanded to host two locations in the city. A dream of Alejandra Garza who once worked as a waitress, the goal was to always have her own business which became true after marrying her husband Juan. Influenced by his nephew is how the Garza’s got the name of the restaurant because it was clever word play. Both locations have been offering the same taste and experience by providing the highest quality of food for six years. According to Juan the early days of the food truck saw them not bringing home any money and wondered if it was even worth it. Through his wife’s urging and coming up with multiple ideas like Taco Tuesday it eventually allowed them to succeed. Famous for their tacos, they also serve, lunchas, and breakfast-style Mexican food. Unlike the food truck, the second location features Mexican-style culture and colors like sombreros on the walls. Decorated and painted by Juan, the restaurant is a symbol of the hard work and love they have put in. “Cooking, your cooking for mom, and that’s what I think we do. Everybody put their love in the food,” said Garza. Grateful for all the support and love it’s the dream that Alejandra had always envisioned. The Garza’s hope to eventually grow more by placing a third restaurant and have no plans to close the food truck.
Unique Experience – China Star
Operating for nearly 40 years, China Star has been providing Chinese-style food to the Harlingen community since the. Coming to the United States in 1978, owner Han Su has been running the restaurant as both chef and owner when he took over in 1984. Turning 70 soon, he has not slowed down and continues to serve the local community. Instead of being open seven days a week like it once was, Su has decided to close on Tuesdays to give himself a chance to rest. Being the chef, he has come to know many of the locals and regulars simply by reading their food orders. From Border Patrol agents to police officers all kinds of guests have come to the restaurant. According to Su, it’s the perfect place to have parties, gatherings and enjoying some quality food. With seafood, Mongolian beef, and spicy options, the restaurant has something for everybody to try. Not knowing when retirement might come, Su continues to provide the best experience and food for his customers. The restaurant is decorated in designs and architecture that honor Chinese culture. Calling it unique Su says the restaurant is one of kind and not many can offer the same experience. Having the support of the community has allowed China Star to stay open and that is something Su is very grateful for. He said the reason the community keeps coming back is because of the food. “The food’s good and we nice too, and we know the locals almost everybody and that keeps continuing,” said Su.