Mexican restaurant provides authentic dining experience

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published November 29, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 28, 2012 at 9:51 a.m.
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ADRIENNE FREEMAN

Beef fajitas like these help sizzle up the menu at San Diego Mexican Restaurant in Searcy.

— Once upon a time, diners were willing to trade less-than-excellent service for something different or exotic, such as Mexican food, but today’s consumers aren’t so forgiving, according to the National Restaurant Association.

San Diego Mexican Restaurant in Searcy got the message loud and clear. Owned by Nora Ortega-Walle and Alfonso Walle, the couple expanded their Mexican-restaurant business into White County in May, with a keen attention to the entire eating-out experience — friendly and attentive service, flavorful food and a good atmosphere.

“We wanted everything to be authentic — not just the food, but the furnishings,” Ortega-Walle said. “We want all our customers to feel like they are ‘crossing the border.’”

Imported from Guadalajara, the lively, colorful décor includes murals painted on the stucco-textured walls; senoritas sporting sombreros in the alcoves; and chair and booth backs blooming with flowers, pottery and Mexican maidens. The couple hope the distinctive décor adds an inviting twist to customers enjoying the authentic items on the menu, along with some of the more innovative items offered.

One unique menu item at San Diego Mexican Restaurant is Volcano Fajitas, topped with authentic Mexican cheese and served in a lava-rock pig, with the spicy aroma of peppers and exotic ingredients such as chipotle and chili sauce steaming the senses. Served alongside traditional rice and refried beans, the dish makes for a memorable meal. In addition to the extensive menu options, the restaurant will accommodate any allergies or dietary issues as much as possible.

“Vegetarian dishes are always available on the menu. Any customer request will be handled by the kitchen happily,” Ortega-Walle said. “Just let us know.”

Although the Searcy restaurant is relatively new to the area, Ortega-Walle is no novice to the business. With the couple’s other restaurants already established — Ortega’s in Morrilton and El Rancho in Vilonia — they capitalized on the opportunity they saw in Searcy.

“We learned from close friends and other customers that Searcy was a nice town with friendly people, a growing population and a sizable Hispanic community,” Ortega-Walle said enthusiastically. “It seemed like a good fit.”

While her husband manages the White County location, Ortega-Walle juggles staff, vendor and customer issues for all three restaurants, commuting between locations and making efficient use of her mobile phone. Many times, the whole family is involved: daughter Becky, 2 1/2, is usually with her mom, while son Joseph, 17, can be found helping out in one of the restaurants.

“My recipe for success is a simple one: a strong work ethic and emphasis on customer satisfaction,” Ortega-Walle said. “We want to give them a pleasant experience so they come back again and again.”

San Diego Mexican Restaurant is at 1610 W. Beebe-Capps Expressway in Searcy. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The phone number is (501) 268-4018.

Mexican Fajitas

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 pound fajita meat (chicken or steak)

6 ounces bell peppers

6 ounces tomatoes

9 ounces onions

1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon meat-tenderizer seasoning (optional)

5 tablespoons cooking oil

Directions:

Slice the peppers, tomatoes and onions into strips. Mix them together in a plastic bowl; set aside. Prepare the meat by cutting into thin strips.

Heat the skillet on medium-high. Add the oil and wait 1 to 2 minutes or until the oil is hot. Add the meat to the skillet. Caution: the oil may splash. Cook the meat, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes. When the meat is halfway done, add all the vegetables, salt, garlic and seasoning. Keep cooking until onions are sweated (look clear) or as preferred. Serve with Mexican rice, refried beans and soft flour or corn tortillas.

White Cheese Dip

Serves up to 4

Ingredients:

1 pound white American cheese (preferred brand — Land O’ Lakes Extra Melt), shredded

2 cups whole milk

1 cup jalapeno peppers, diced

Directions:

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, bring the milk to a boil.

Put the shredded cheese and diced jalapenos in a medium bowl, adding hot milk and stirring as the cheese melts. Using a hand mixer on a low setting, mix until creamy.

Enjoy with tortilla chips or corn-chip scoops.

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