Miguel's Jr.: What You Need To Know About This Mexican Chain

There is a lot of competition out there when it comes to tacos, especially in a place like Southern California that is so close to the Mexican border. Fast food tacos alone are far too numerous to count on one — or even two! — hands. (And you need at least one hand free for the taco, are we right?)

One popular Mexican quick service restaurant based in California's Inland Empire is Miguel's Jr. The largely residential and commercial Inland Empire is located east of Los Angeles and is often ignored by tourists. This makes Miguel's Jr. a real hidden treasure. Miguel's Jr. is the fast food off-shoot of Miguel's California Mexican Cocina Restaurant in Corona, California. From burritos to taquitos, Miguel's Jr. promises to deliver fresh Mexican favorites based on genuine family recipes.

What precisely makes Miguel's Jr. stand out against the competition is what we are here to uncover. But be warned: This journey will definitely leave you craving tacos.

Miguel's Jr. is a family business

Miguel's Jr. is owned and operated by the Vasquez family. Mike and Mary Vasquez purchased what is now Miguel's California Mexican Cocina Restaurant in 1973. They named it Miguel's after Mike's grandfather. The quick service Miguel's Jr. was born two years later and has continued growing ever since. Mary Vasquez grew up in Central Mexico, and the menus are based on recipes that she made growing up with her mother and grandmother.

Today, Miguel's Jr.'s CEO is Javier Vasquez, Mike and Mary's youngest son. He told "The C-Life" that he was born a year after his parents opened Miguel's. "We have customers that remember me in a bassinet," he said. "My mom, while I was younger, used to put me under the cash register, or she would have me in the back." Javier began working as a dishwasher at the age of 13. For three months when he was 14, he acted as a store manager when the regular manager quit. Talk about growing up in the family business!

They use fresh, quality ingredients

One of the things that makes Miguel's Jr. a cut above the rest is that they insist on cooking with fresh ingredients that are never frozen, using traditional recipes and cooking methods. Mary Vasquez told QSR magazine, "We love sharing these recipes that have been in my family since I was a little girl in Mexico more than 50 years ago."

Vasquez believes that freezing and reheating food in a microwave destroys its flavor. The pinto beans, sauces, and tortillas are all handmade. This hands-on approach also keeps the chain small and local. Vasquez said, "We find ourselves as a big reflection of Southern California culture. It's all about distinctive flavors, cultures, and tastes here. People know when something's not real. Miguel's Jr.'s food is as real as it gets — I wouldn't serve it otherwise."

The team's hard work seems to have paid off. A fan from Anaheim, California said on Tripadvisor, "Homemade Horchata is made with 100% all natural pure cane sugar. ... This version hit all of my expectations and even got a refill for the road." And a reviewer for the Newport Beach Independent shared, "This chicken taco salad is terrific — a very generous portion, fresh-tasting ingredients, great dressing."

The authentic stone-ground corn tortillas are made fresh and have a real crunch

Without the crunch, is there even a point to frying a corn tortilla? While hard-shell tacos might be a U.S. innovation, there is no denying they are a staple on Mexican-American restaurant menus. Miguel's Jr. is no exception and takes extra care to ensure the quality and crunch of its stone-ground corn tortillas.

Each hard-shell taco is "grilled to order" (per Miguel's Jr.), While this may take a little more time than competitors' tacos, it ensures the freshness that is a Miguel's Jr. signature. A review on Tripadvisor called Miguel's Jr. "probably the best Mexican fast-food in Riverside county" with "tacos [that] are crispy and delicious." The same corn tortillas, which are made according to cofounder Mary Vasquez's family recipe and traditions from Central Mexico (via LA-Story.com), can also be enjoyed in taquitos and nachos.

If you prefer a soft corn tortilla to the hard-shell, those are available, too. And if you really need that hard crunch, take this Yelp review's advice and order your tacos extra crispy.

The flour tortillas might be mushy

Many reviewers are fans of the crunchy tacos, but they seem less than thrilled with the all-natural flour tortillas used in the burritos. One review that ate at a location in Anaheim, California said on Yelp that Miguel's Jr's "flour tortilla is almost not cooked" and "it's always so chalky and cold." Similar to ordering the tacos extra crispy, this review suggests customers request that their burritos are made "well done." Another Yelp reviewer, this time for a location in Irvine, California, said their order was "utterly disappointing." They claimed to have ordered a $4 burrito made of beans and cheese and instead got "an inedible mess of beans in a cheap soggy tortilla with no cheese!"

Miguel's Jr., however, stands behind their burritos and flour tortillas. As part of its Eat Better campaign in 2015, during which they promoted eating authentically made Mexican food over cheap fast food, select locations of the quick service chain gave free burritos to every customer who showed a receipt from a competing restaurant. Then-director of marketing Steve Rezner said in The Orange County Register, "We're not afraid of the competition — let's see whose burrito is best. I like our chances."

You can only find Miguel's Jr. around Los Angeles

We already said that Miguel's Jr. is headquartered in California's Inland Empire. It also has locations in neighboring Orange County (located south of Los Angeles). And that's it. Over 20 locations are clustered in this one region of Southern California. There is a reason for this. Cofounder Mary Vasquez worries that expanding the family business beyond its home base will compromise freshness and therefore the quality of the food, something the Vasquez family prides itself on (via QSR magazine).

CEO Javier Vasquez shared on "The C-Life" that his parents' goal with running their restaurants was to pay for their children to go to college. Once that was met, they intended to hand over a restaurant to each child and retire. But Javier and his siblings wanted to keep going together as a family. It was Javier's idea to grow the business beyond the six locations that existed at that time. While he has big plans to expand Miguel's Jr. over the course of the 2020s, Javier has no intention of getting into franchising or moving out of California any time soon. Quality is still Miguel's Jr.'s No. 1 concern.

Gluten-free friends, approach with caution

Generally speaking, Mexican cuisine is pretty friendly toward a gluten-free diet. But depending on one's sensitivity to gluten, even the slightest amount of gluten may be a huge concern. Unfortunately, Miguel's Jr. does not offer a gluten-free menu. But that hasn't stopped customers from undertaking their own investigations.

One review on Find Me Gluten Free said, "I did Nima test the beans, rice (no red sauce), crispy chicken taco, taquitos and guacamole, and red hot sauce, which all tested gluten free." According to Beyond Celiac, a Nima Sensor is a portable device that tests food for gluten, though it is not always 100% accurate. Knowing that Miguel's Jr. serves both corn and flour tortillas, the chance of cross-contamination is likely high.

Asking questions to the employees is important to verify safety. However, the same reviewer said that the employees at the Miguel's Jr. location they visited would not answer their questions about gluten-free menu items, and Find Me Gluten Free lists Miguel's Jr. as not celiac-friendly.

You can have Miguel's Jr. for breakfast

After being in business for about 40 years, Miguel's Jr. finally introduced a breakfast menu at the beginning of 2016. According to Miguel's Jr.'s website, breakfast can be ordered daily until 11 a.m. at certain locations. Steve Rezner, the director of marketing, said at the time in QSR magazine, "Our customers have been asking us to serve breakfast for years, but we knew we couldn't open for the morning until we were able to offer a menu that rivaled what we serve the rest of the day."

The menu is simple, offering four breakfast burrito options and two choices of beverage. There is freshly brewed coffee, of course, and a unique drink called coffeechata, a blend of Miguel's Jr. homemade horchata and coffee. Said Rezner in 2016, "Our new Miguel's Jr. breakfast menu is unlike anything else on the market, and we offer our loyal fans a traditional, home-style way to start the morning."

Order from the secret menu

One of the thrills of quick service and fast food dining is that so many of the restaurants have a secret menu. Miguel's Jr. is no exception. In fact, the employees seem to have as much fun as the customers do with these unique items.

In 2020, Miguel's Jr. posted three secret items on their Facebook page, along with a photo. The Pop's burrito is a protein plus tomatoes, guacamole, and hot sauce. Not unusual enough for you? How about a taquito in a burrito? You can also order a quesadilla made with corn tortillas instead of a flour tortilla, which is called a mulita. Not a bad option for someone who is wheat-free or gluten-free.

According to The Press-Enterprise, Miguel's Jr.'s secret menu launched in April of 2020. Other "secret" items included in the article are a quesadilla made with beans and cheese and root beer mixed with Orange Bang. Another secret menu item popped up on Instagram. It's a California Chile Burrito with chile verde pork substituted for the traditional rice and beans. Miguel's Jr.'s Twitter account suggested ordering the relleno burrito with potatoes.

The employees seem pretty happy

It is the employees that make or break the service industry. As reported in Inc., customers are far more likely to share a bad experience than a good one, and even more likely to never patronize that business again. So happy employees are vital to keeping a restaurant's doors open.

If employee reviews are anything to judge by, Miguel's Jr. seems to be doing a good job in that department. One former employee of over three years said on Glassdoor that there were "no cons" about their job and that it was "absolutely wonderful to work." A current employee had even more praise. "Everything is amazing here," they said. "Nothing is wrong at Miguel's."

Indeed reports that 76% of Miguel's Jr. employees believe they meet the majority of their work goals, and 75% find that they learn something new on the job. The Work Happiness Score is 61, which Indeed rates as average, but the individual reviews seem to be overall on the positive side.

If you like it hot, Miguel's Jr. might be a must

While it isn't true that all Mexican food is spicy, it is true that chiles are an integral part of Mexican cuisine. For those who prefer a spicier flavor, a great way of increasing the heat level of a food is through the use of hot sauce. True to form, Miguel's Jr. makes its own signature hot sauce. According to The Press-Enterprise, 3,600 gallons of its popular original hot sauce is made every week.

But fans demanded more. So, in 2020, Miguel's Jr. launched an even hotter hot sauce: the Fiery Habanero Hot Sauce. Javier Vasquez told The Press-Enterprise, "Growing up, my parents didn't really eat a lot of spicy foods, but after listening [to our customers] and talking we said this is a great opportunity."

To help promote the new hot sauce, the chain also launched a new taco to go with it: the Fiery Carnitas Taco. They also ran a contest (per Patch). Customers who posted a picture or video to Facebook or Instagram of themselves eating the new taco or trying the sauce would be entered into a drawing to win a $20 gift card and Fiery Carnitas Taco Combo. Restaurant News reported in 2022 that the special hot sauce was back for a limited time, so if you love habanero, this is one to keep an eye out for.

Miguel's Jr. gives back to their community

Miguel's Jr. gives back to its communities in multiple ways. They participate in fundraisers for local schools and charitable organizations, deliver free food to police and fire stations, and sponsor athletic teams.

One way is Miguel's Jr. raised money is by donating 25% of customers' pretax meal purchases on certain dates to specific organizations, such as in November of 2020 when they worked with Orange County Pit Bull Rescue. GroupRaise estimated the average order to be $8, which would make for $2 in donations per meal. Miguel's Jr. also has a Youth Achievement Awards program available to children aged 12 and younger. There is a certificate of recognition and a coupon for a free kid's meal.

In October of 2022, Miguel's Jr. held its Leadership Conference and, in partnership with nonprofit Together We Rise, built 13 bicycles that were then donated to local foster children at Community Access Network. Happily, each of the children who received a bicycle was later adopted.