Perfecto's Mexican Grill Express

Perfecto Leon’s second family restaurant, in a former Sonic Drive-In at 1055 E. Irvington Road, is gone, but his restaurant on South 12th Avenue is still going strong.

Perfecto’s Mexican Grill Express, the fast-casual spinoff of Perfecto’s Mexican Restaurant on South 12th Avenue, quietly closed in early summer, a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restaurant, owned by the León family, was open just shy of three years.

“Everything was fine, but the pandemic hit them very hard,” Judith de la Rosa, the youngest daughter of family patriarch and the restaurant’s namesake Perfecto León, said Monday as news of the closing started to spread on social media.

Perfecto’s Express, in a former Sonic Drive-In at 1055 E. Irvington Road, was set up similar to Chipotle, where diners could customize burritos or bowls with different meats, vegetables, beans, rice and other toppings. The restaurant also featured León’s popular tamales, the cornerstone of his 11-year-old restaurant at 5404 S. 12th Ave.

De la Rosa said business at Perfecto’s Express had been holding its own early this year. But then the pandemic happened and the family decided early on when the state ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms in March and offer takeout only, to temporarily shutter both their restaurants.

They reopened weeks later, but Perfecto’s Express was not the same, she said.

“Things were a little slow with everything with the pandemic, so they had to take the drastic decision to close it down,” de la Rosa said.

Perfecto’s on South 12th, meanwhile, is still going strong, driven in part by the popularity of León’s tamales, which he has been selling to customers on the south side long before opening the restaurant in 2009.

León, nicknamed “The Tamale Man” by his devoted fans, used to sell between 150 and 200 dozen tamales a week from a grocery cart he parked outside the doors of an area supermarket. His tamale business supported his family and helped him put his five children through college.

Perfecto’s Express is the latest Tucson restaurant to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Other casualties include Bianchi’s Italian and Village Inn, both in Marana, and the historic Athens on Fourth Greek restaurant on North Fourth Avenue.

Watch: Walk through disinfectant portal before dining at Texas restaurant:

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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch