Monday, December 7, 2009

Morenita's


Published in the Post Register December, 2009.

In 1957, Jesus Sanchez brought his wife and seven children from Michoacan, Mexico to southern California, where he picked strawberries and beets, worked in restaurants and otherwise did what he had to do to support his family.

By 1991 that had included moving to eastern Idaho, where the family began operating a catering truck. By the following year, Sanchez’ daughter, Bertha Morena, had opened Morenita’s on Whittier Street in Idaho Falls, and that’s where they’ve been dishing up home-cooked Mexican food ever since.

“You know, they call it the American dream because you’re always dreaming because you’re so tired," says Morena, acknowledging that running a restaurant doesn’t leave time for much else.

It’s a family operation that includes Morena’s brothers, sisters, father and daughter (and a son when he’s home from school), and the recipes have the same family roots, evolving over the years. They’re always looking to introduce something new.

Don’t go looking for a lot of ground beef mixed with packet spices or tortillas from a box. Nope, the beans start in a big pot and the tortillas are hand-pressed and grilled right before serving.

“One thing my dad always told me was the taste in the food is in the salt – not too much, not too little. We don’t take anything from the can.

“I remember when we started a lot people expected ground beef,” She continues. “A lot of them have learned about real Mexican food.”

Caucasians tend to order burritos, while the sizable Latino clientele leans toward tacos, Morena says. On weekdays the crowds are mostly Caucasian, while Latinos tend to come in on weekends.

It comes as a surprise to some that 10 percent of Bonneville County’s population is Latino, and some of the surrounding counties have higher populations still. Look around – Mexican may be the single most popular type of restaurant in eastern Idaho nowadays.

Jesus Sanchez, now 81, still works at the restaurant, clearing and cleaning dishes and keeping an eye on things. When asked, he offers that his favorite Mexican beer is Superior – it figures, you can’t get it in this part of the U.S.

It’s a small matter to Morena and her family, as the second lunch rush starts coming through the door – mostly high school students.

“I’m just grateful that I’m here and I have a job,” she says. The smile that never goes away makes it clear that she means it.

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