By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Add tacos to your morning commute: This restaurant, drive-thru open now in Gainesville
01062023 CARRETON 1.jpg
Gainesville businessman Angel Retana is opening a new restaurant in Gainesville at the former site of the Sonic Drive-In at the corner of Pearl Nix Parkway and Shallowford Road. The restaurant will be the second El Carreton in Gainesville with this one boasting both a dining room and a drive-thru. - photo by Scott Rogers

Update: El Carreton 2.0 opened for business Monday, Jan. 30.

Commuters’ morning route may soon include a stop for breakfast tacos.

El Carreton is on pace to open by the end of the month, owner Angel Retana said, reviving the abandoned brick-and-mortar bones once occupied by Sonic Drive-In at 400 Pearl Nix Parkway in Gainesville.

Unlike its Atlanta Highway counterpart — which will continue conducting business as usual — the new restaurant boasts a dining room, drive-thru and breakfast offerings, but the most notable feature may be its handmade flour tortillas, which will be exclusive to the brick-and-mortar location and available by the dozen.

The decision was largely inspired by Retana’s five children, whose individual tastes and preferences, particularly where fresh flour tortillas are concerned, proffer “good feedback at home.”

“Street tacos in Mexico (are) only corn; you don’t get flour,” Retana said. “I’m not in Mexico; here, you get flour. There’s nothing better than a handmade flour tortilla and scrambled eggs for a taco in the morning.”

The restaurant’s hours will be 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with the drive-thru operating around the clock on Fridays and Saturdays.

“El Carreton is known for being open late — the Mexican Waffle House of Atlanta Highway,” Retana said. “We’re staying here late as well.”

The drive-thru drove a lot of Retana’s decision-making for the restaurant, he said.

“We understand with our culture that everything’s go, go, go, go. We had to decide, ‘How can we make a great product in a speed of time where customers will have to be in and out as they’re used to when there’s a drive-thru?’ We want to make sure that experience is what customers expect: fast, good, consistent.”

01062023 CARRETON 5.jpg
Gainesville businessman Angel Retana is opening a second El Carreton restaurant in Gainesville this time at the former site of the Sonic Drive-In at the corner of Pearl Nix Parkway and Shallowford Road. The new restaurant will boast both a dining room and a drive-thru. - photo by Scott Rogers

The same standards for speed and efficiency apply inside as well.

According to Retana, customers will move through a line much like they would at Chipotle, assembling and customizing their taco, burrito or quesadilla as they go. 

Tortas, Retana’s personal favorite, will take a bit longer, he said, because some things simply can’t be rushed.

“You can’t pre-make tortas,” he said. “If you don’t want to wait and you’re in a rush, we can have a great taco with a homemade tortilla — Option B.”

The new restaurant’s menu will include a limited selection of the staples offered on Atlanta Highway, and will likely evolve based on “what the market dictates.”

“I’m not in love with anything; I’m always changing,” Retana said. “So if it doesn’t work, we’ll change. But I’m not going to go and say, ‘I didn’t try it.’ Our focus is what the market is telling us to do.”

With El Carreton opening, progress will resume on Retana’s other project, Soco, a coastal seafood restaurant with Mexican flair.

Named for his mother, who died when he was very young, Retana would like to have Soco ready to open during the first quarter of this year, but he’s not putting a deadline on it.

“We’ll be open when we open,” he said. “I don’t want to rush it. Soco, to me, is super special. The meaning and the closure is more valuable to me than just being open. When we start putting pressure on things, a lot of times it doesn’t come out very well. I don’t want to put pressure on it.”

In the meantime, Retana has been developing the menu with the help of chef Ronal Bautista of Bolichera 21, a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Mexico City. Among the offerings will be raw oysters and leche tigre, a Peruvian take on ceviche.

“Soco is simple,” Retana said. “It doesn’t matter if you come with overalls or if you’re dressed up. It just matters that you’re here and enjoying the atmosphere.”