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LAS CRUCES - A new Mexican restaurant recently opened in Las Cruces in a somewhat unexpected location.
Sharing a building with Baskin-Robins, Mari Boquitas Café and More, 1494 Missouri Ave., opened in what was formerly a real estate office in late June. And while the small restaurant might be easy to miss at first, it has already received a big reaction from customers who have discovered it.
“Everybody who’s eaten here has been unbelievably complimentary about everything,” said Michael Vento, who owns the restaurant with his wife Maria Chavez Vento. “A couple people have said that our salsa is the best in town.”
While there are numerous Mexican restaurants in Las Cruces, Vento said Mari Boquitas is unique for a few reasons, including the fact that it offers Italian dishes as specials two to three times a week. Past Italian specials have included eggplant parmesan and even an Italian/Mexican sandwich with Italian sausage and chile con queso.
“I cook Italian/Sicilian dishes, and (my wife) cooks all the Mexican dishes,” said Vento, who formerly owned an Italian restaurant, which sat about 125 people, in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He moved to Las Cruces to retire in 2008, the same year he met his wife, who is originally from Mexico and has a background in cooking.
While the main menu is Mexican cuisine, including enchiladas, burritos and tacos, the restaurant regularly offers Italian items like homemade cannoli and an olive salad, which customers can order as a side. They can also opt for chips or a small fruit cup as a side.
Vento said another unique aspect of the restaurant is that almost everything is made fresh.
“The thing that I think sets us apart is we have a steam table, but the only thing that hits that steam table is our beans, rice and the two chiles,” he said. “Everything is made fresh. In other words, if you order a carne asada, we cook that carne asada fresh for you. At [some] other places, it’s already on the steam table.”
Even the fruit for the restaurant’s fresh-squeezed juices is not cut until the customer orders it, Vento said.
“Fresh squeezed juices, they’re done at the time you order it; all the tortas are done at the time you order it, so nothing is done ahead of time,” he said. “It may take few minutes longer, but everybody seems to relish the idea that they’re getting (the food) fresh on the spot.”
Menu items at the restaurant are affordable, with prices ranging from $2.50 for Loaded Fritos or Doritos to $8 for the Shrimp Cocktail.
Mari Boquitas also offers extra servings of salsa and free refills, Vento said.
“Some places charge you for refills,” he said. “We think that’s ridiculous. Those are things that kind of turn us off in the restaurant business.”
Other items on the menu include: a 12-inch tortilla pizza, Fruta with Limon y Chilito, Elote con Crema, smoothies made with fresh fruit and/or vegetables, salads, chips with salsa and chile con queso, Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Soup) and menudo (offered Saturdays and Sundays only).
Sandwich (torta) options include: steak and queso; vegetarian; chorizo, huevo and papas; hamburger with cheese; brisket and more. Filling options for burritos, gurritos bañado and tacos include: beans and cheese, papas con chile, carne asada, chicharron, carnitas, red and green chile and picadillo.
“If you want something that we don’t have here, we can make it for you,” Maria Chavez Vento said.
While many people call in ahead of time and place orders to go from Mari Boquitas, there is also a small space for seating inside the restaurant, as well as an outdoor area with tables.
Michael Vento said he has no plans to expand the restaurant but that he hopes to eventually cater to people going to and from the bar (formerly The Warehouse), located just across the parking lot from Mari Boquitas, when it reopens as a new establishment.
Alexia Severson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.