Mario's Mexican Restaurant owner has watched Hutto grow, eyes growth of his own

Mario Perez opened Mario's Mexican Restaurant in 2004. (Carson Ganong/Community Impact newspaper)
Mario Perez opened Mario's Mexican Restaurant in 2004. (Carson Ganong/Community Impact newspaper)

Mario Perez opened Mario's Mexican Restaurant in 2004. (Carson Ganong/Community Impact newspaper)

When Mario Perez opened Mario’s Mexican Restaurant in 2004, the population of Hutto was just around 1,200.

In the 18 years since, Perez has watched the city grow to nearly 28,000 residents, and as other businesses have come and gone, Mario’s has remained one of downtown Hutto’s dining staples.

Before opening Mario’s, Perez worked in international sales for IBM for 23 years. When he decided to open a restaurant, he landed on Hutto because he could tell the city had growth ahead of it.

“[Hutto] was all farm—all four quarters—and several little businesses and stuff like that,” Perez said. “Well, here is your future growth now. It took that long, but it takes a while.”

One of the most rewarding parts of running Mario’s for so long, Perez said, is getting to play a part in the lives of his employees as well as his customers.

“We’ve had kids that started here with us, they get married, [and] now they have kids, and I’m thinking, ‘How old am I?’” Perez said. “It’s really, really neat to see them grow, and it’s all been a part of it here.”

Perez’s involvement in the community extends beyond his ownership of Mario’s, however. For 16 years, Perez served on the Hutto Economic Development Corp. as board president.

“They chose me right away because of the IBM background that I had, and it worked out well,” Perez said. “I was very involved—still am—with the community, council, mayors, city managers and so forth as they come and go.”

Mario’s is best known for its repertoire of Mexican food, from migas and breakfast tacos to enchiladas and fajitas.

However, the restaurant’s menu also includes burgers, sandwiches and Texas-style barbecue, which Perez said he has been working to perfect for years.

Customers are even free to explore beyond items on the menu, he said.

“If you don’t find anything on the menu, just ask,” Perez said. “If you feel like eating something and we have it in the fridge, we fix it for you.”

Perez said his favorite example of this happened once when a customer came into the restaurant and asked for stir-fry.

“We knew we had bean sprouts, red cabbage and all that kind of stuff, so we chopped up everything [and] fixed it on the grill,” Perez said. “We take it out and the guy says, ‘I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I came to a Mexican restaurant and you’re serving me a stir-fry.’”

Though Mario’s has occupied the same small building on East Street since opening, Perez has aspirations to expand the space.

“I’d like to see us have a new building twice the size—maybe an outside venue with music and that kind of stuff, and maybe make Mario’s a cornerstone of entertainment in the downtown area,” Perez said. “That’s my vision.”

Perez has had his eye on expansion for years, but he said he was waiting on Hutto to reach a population of 25,000 before getting started. The city reached that milestone a few years ago, but recent hurdles including the COVID-19 pandemic and an eight-month closing last year to repair damage from Winter Storm Uri delayed the plan.

Mario’s reopened last October to a warm reception from its customers, and with the restaurant more or less in full swing again, Perez said he hopes to get moving on expansion in 2022 or 2023.

In expanding the restaurant, Perez said he aims to preserve the atmosphere that has helped turn his eatery into what he describes as a Hutto favorite.

“[Mario’s] is like home—you come in, sit down, and I greet everybody,” Perez said. “That’s what I love, and I’m looking forward to a few more years.”

Mario's Mexican Restaurant

209 East St., Hutto


Hours: Sat.-Wed. 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
By Carson Ganong

Reporter, Pflugerville/Hutto

Carson became the reporter for the Pflugerville-Hutto edition of Community Impact Newspaper in August 2021. Before joining CI, Carson studied journalism at Texas State University, where he covered San Marcos as a reporter for Texas State's student newspaper, The University Star.