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ISSUE 120 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/22/2006

Can Maria's break the curse?

By Claire Butcha
Contributing Writer
and David Henke
Variety Editor

Friday, September 22, 2006

When it comes to success, the establishments at the corner of Highway 19 and 2nd street have had worse luck than Wal-Mart's public relations department. Upperclassmen will recall the Quizno's that used to occupy the building, followed by last year's ill-fated Wiggles and Wok. Each September brings a new restaurant our way, but none have succeeded in breaking the curse that seems to haunt the property. Is Maria's Mexican Grill and Taquería up to the challenge?

The quaint Mexican-themed restaurant has been open for business since Sept. 12, and it has already generated quite a following in the community. Within the past week, lines extended out the door on at least two occasions, and many faithful customers seem intent on making sure that the taquería is here to stay.

Maria's Mexican Grill and Taquería advertises fresh, authentic Mexican food made in an environment that leans more towards fast food than fine dining. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., serving breakfast burritos to the early risers.

The menu is solid with the usual array of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and nachos, yet it also contains more uncommon dishes such as taco salad and tortas (a Mexican sandwich). On Sundays, restaurant goers also have the option of breakfast burritos, tamales or menudo, a beef tripe soup.

The menu is rounded out by traditional Mexican drinks such as non-alcoholic sangria, apple soda and tamarind flavored Jarritos, but it also offer Pepsi products for the less adventurous diner.

Dessert options consist of tropical fruit cheesecakes in flavors such as guava or piña colada with raspberry or cherry toppings.

Patrons fill out an order slip at the counter with their choice of entrée, salsa strength and meat. Grilled steak, chicken, pork and shredded or ground beef are all options for many of the dishes, but many can be made without meat to accommodate vegetarians.

Maria's is comparable in many respects to the Chipotle restaurant chain. The food is made fresh with only a short wait, and many entrées are enclosed in similar foil wrappings.

Maria's also advertises its “Mega Burrito,” made from a 13-inch flour tortilla enveloping many of the same ingredients that Chipotle uses.

The tortillas are fresh, chewy and delicious, and at $5.50, the price will accommodate many people looking for something different than typical Taco Bell fare. The nachos entrée is a generous serving of chips, shredded cheese, tomatoes, onions, sour cream,and jalapeno peppers for $4.50.

Maria Estrada is the owner, manager and cook of the family-oriented fast food grill. She and her husband, Rafael, began renting the building earlier this spring. The Estradas hope that traditional Mexican ingredients and quick service in the style of a Mexican taquería will attract a regular customer base.

“We were missing a taquería [in Northfield],” Maria said.

Prior to the opening of Maria's, the Estradas owned and operated the Taco Hut, a mobile food concession stand. Over the last three years the husband and wife team have made appearances at the Defeat of Jesse James Days, a number of county fairs and the Wisconsin Cheese Curd Festival. During this time, Maria was able to perfect her own culinary skills, and eventually she and Rafael decided to take the business a step further and open a restaurant.

Maria admits that she was a little intimidated when faced with the idea of running her own restaurant, but she said that the positive feedback and support she received while she operated Taco Hut was influential in her decision to open a restaurant.

“People kept saying that we should open up our own restaurant,” Maria said.

The Estradas hope that the taquería will appeal to the all of the ethnic communities in Northfield. Their menus are printed in both English and Spanish, traditional Mexican maracas and sarapes hang from the walls, and a sign in the window says “Welcome to Maria's! ¡Que Rico!”

“I just hope we can make a good impression,” Maria said. “I want to fulfill the needs of the community.”

Even though the portions at Maria's may not be as large as those found at El Tequila, a sit-down Mexican restaurant south on Highway 3, Maria's is much more convenient, especially for the majority of students on campus without transportation.

With their extended weekday hours, close proximity to campus, and reasonable prices, Maria's Mexican Grill and Taquería is an excellent place to go grab a snack or meet a study group. Hopefully Maria's will be able to establish itself as a permanent force here in Northfield.

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