Mexican Restaurants Thrive in Port Chester

David Dolores, owner of Salsa Picante Restaurant. (Photo by Guadalupe Ramos via Diario de México)

David Dolores, owner of Salsa Picante Restaurant. (Photo by Guadalupe Ramos via Diario de México)

Thanks to its low rents, its borderline location between New York and Connecticut and the friendly attitude of its authorities, local restaurateurs have set up shop in Port Chester, a city deemed a gastronomic mecca where 14 Mexican establishments operate.

Some entrepreneurs – aged between 29- and 42-years-old – agree that Port Chester has the largest variety of traditional food. They say that the quality, service and welcoming environment they offer their clientele are the key to staying in business.

Apart from the younger ones, there are also the pioneers who opened the first Mexican restaurants – such as Tacos Luis and Las Brisas – 30 years ago. These started out serving a mostly non-Latino clientele, and slowly began offering traditional dishes to the growing Latino community.

Los Gemelos Restaurant

Los Gemelos (“the twins”) opened in 2000. “We were the fourth Mexican restaurant in the area. Only two of us were catering to Mexicans,” says owner Adelo Ramírez, who adds that they are the only ones selling head, brains, pork stomach, beef tripe and tongue tacos. “You don’t find those anywhere else. Gringos request them, and Hispanics know that they will find them here.”

He says that his customers are currently 50 percent non-Latino and 50 percent Latino. Back in 2005, he used to serve a 90 percent Latino clientele.

The Puebla native, who came to the U.S. when he was 5 years old and was raised here, believes that the reason the restaurant business has seen such growth in the last 20 years is that Port Chester’s Hispanic community has always been large.

“We have Greenwich nearby, the city with the most millionaires in the country; Rye, which is the 10th; Rye Brook, which ranks 25th; and then Cos Cob, Riverside and Harrison, where a lot of rich people live,” says Ramírez. The entrepreneur points out that many Port Chester residents work in those neighborhoods.

According to Ramírez, when Mexicans first arrived in the city to work, they came alone and were trying to figure out where to eat. That is how they began opening Latino restaurants, taking advantage of the low rents.

The restaurant owner started out working in kitchens when he was 14 years old. In 2013, he opened a new restaurant and called it Pollos al Carbón Los Gemelos. They roast their rotisserie chicken in wood ovens.

Taquería La Picardía

“The reason we moved here four years ago is that we are bringing a new idea: We make 100 percent Mexican tacos, but we add a very personal touch. Our idea is to change the concept of Mexican food without changing the original ingredients of our cuisine, the plating of the dishes… You can eat a taco, but we want to make it a luxurious experience,” says Pedro Nájera, one of the owners of La Picardía (“mischief”).

The restaurant’s name refers to the warm Mexican character. Nájera describes his culture as “loquacious, we talk a lot, joke a lot… [The name] has more to do with our personality than with the look of the restaurant,” says the Guerrero native, as he points out that the decoration was inspired by 1960s rock ‘n’ roll.

Another one of the owners, Azael Vargas, says that the name hints at Mexicans’ playful naughtiness, their double-entendres, and that the décor is made out of gifts that customers have brought them. (…)

Salsa Picante Restaurant

David Dolores, another Puebla-native and the owner of Salsa Picante, says that Port Chester is considered a restaurant mecca because of the diverse gastronomic offerings served in such a small area, including food from Latin America, the U.S., Italy and France.

“In 2014 alone, six new restaurants opened,” says Dolores, who opened his business 15 months ago, and says that each location has its own identity. In the case of Salsa Picante, he says that the tacos are a big hit – 80 percent of his customers buy them – and, on the weekends, they offer chilaquiles, mole de panza, huevos rancheros, pozole and enchiladas. “Our non-Latino customers identify with the dishes and say [the flavors] take them back to when they visited Mexico.”

Las Brisas Restaurant

Las Brisas opened its doors 30 years ago, and those who still work there remember that it was an uphill battle. The owner, also hailing from Puebla, has kept his business open by changing the menu to accommodate the growing Latino community. Today, they serve rice and beans instead of the traditional North American breakfast that he used to serve years ago.

Numbers:

  • 14 Mexican businesses have been established in the restaurant mecca
  • 45 percent of the population is of Mexican origin, according to the authorities
  • 75 percent of the population is Hispanic; Mexicans are the largest group

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