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Hispanic Heritage Month: Bridging the cultural gap through food

When Edgar Alvarez cooks tacos, he's pouring his heart and soul into every meal. But his journey is about more than just food.

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There's no shortage of ethnic food options in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but Edgar Alvarez says that wasn't the case when he first went there.

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Alvarez brought something to Pittsburgh that he said was missing: authentic Mexican food. Now he has the best tacos in the city — but his journey is about more than just food.

When Alvarez cooks tacos, he's pouring his heart and soul into every meal.

"You have to put a lot of love in what you are doing," he said. "If you don't do your stuff with love, it's not going to work."

In a city known for its hundreds of bridges, Edgar's Best Tacos definitely works.

Alvarez bridged a cultural gap through his cuisine, introducing authentic Mexican food to people who were used to Americanized tacos.

"When I came to Pittsburgh, there was like nothing, nothing at all," he said. "There was Chi-Chi's."

That was about 30 years ago. Other business owners have followed in his footsteps by selling tacos, but Alvarez holds the title of best in the city and takes pride in knowing he was the first taqueria.

Alvarez uses food to showcase his Hispanic heritage and bring joy to others.

"Some people told me 'you not only sell tacos, you make people happy. You are always smiling, you always talk to the people, you are very kind with the people,'" he said. "Well, that's the way I am. What can I say?"

It wasn't the smoothest journey from Mexico City. Alvarez ran into some bumps along the way.

"When I decided to get into this business, I said I want to do the real stuff. I don't know if people are going to like it or not, but I want to give it a try," he said. "It wasn't that easy because some people at the beginning, they were like, 'Um, street tacos?' and making faces."

Alvarez said people just didn't understand, but he was true to himself and owed it to his mother and grandmother who taught him to make real Mexican food for his siblings as a teenager.

"When we were kids, my mom used to work, and she used to work all day long from morning to night," he said. "So before she leaves the house, she gave me some money and said, 'OK, you got to cook for your brothers.'"

With hard work and an electric personality, it didn't take long for people to begin to crave his food.

Alvarez said he hopes to keep inspiring people to enjoy his culture through great cuisine, and he wants to pass along a message of encouragement to others.

"Just follow your dreams. Do whatever you want to do," he said. "Whatever you feel to do, just do it."