Friday, January 25, 2008

Clayton to experience a taste of Oaxaca

Clayton News Star

Azalea Villalobos doesn’t want people to describe her soon-to-be-open restaurant as “authentic.”

That buzzword’s meaning, she says, has become as diluted as the food served up in most of the Tex-Mex restaurants in the United States. Instead, she promises diners gastronomic pleasures rooted in “traditional” Mexican cuisine – specifically, the cuisine of her native Oaxaca state, located in southern Mexico. “People here need to know what traditional flavor is,” Villalobos said.

She and her husband, Rodolfo San Juan, hope to open their new restaurant, El Sabor de Oaxaca (“The Taste of Oaxaca”), by the end of the month. The eatery will be in the storefront at 226 E. Main St., formerly the location of El Michoacano, also a Mexican restaurant. Villalobos said she expects El Sabor to be open seven days a week from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but “customers will dictate our hours.”

The couple draws on a family tradition of restaurant ownership. Villalobos and San Juan owned a restaurant in Oaxaca, and San Juan’s mother and grandmother both ran restaurants, as well. “It’s a tradition with his family going back 70 or 80 years,” Villalobos said. One of the traditional tastes El Sabor will serve up is mole, a complex sauce containing chocolate, tomato, chile peppers and a variety of other ingredients, depending on the particular recipe. Oaxaca is famous among Mexicans for its moles. Villalobos said she intends to serve enchiladas with mole sauce and a side of black beans for about $8.

Another traditional Oaxacan food that will be featured at El Sabor will be tlayudas – large, semi-toasted corn tortillas made by hand and topped with a variety of items, such as beans, tomatoes, avacado, meat, cheese and salsa (think Mexican pizza). They are a popular street vendor food in Oaxaca.

The restaurant also will offer set meals in the $8-$9 range. The meals will include a soup or consume, rice or pasta, a main dish with meat and a small dessert.
There also will be the taco and enchilada options with which American diners are more familiar. Red or green sauce will be available with the enchiladas.

El Sabor will be open for breakfast, with breads, tamales (wrapped in banana leaves, Oaxaca style), tacos ($1.50-$1.75) and burritos available. One treat that will be new to some diners will be champurrado, a hot, chocolate-based drink thickened with corn flour. Try it with a couple of tamales for just $4.50.

Takeout will be available, and San Juan said they will try to offer delivery.
Villalobos and San Juan may have a strong background in operating restaurants, but they know more than just restaurant work.

Villalobos earned a degree in business from a prestigious university in Mexico City and managed an information technology firm in Mexico. San Juan received a law degree in Oaxaca and was a practicing lawyer with the Mexican government.But they emigrated to the United States in search of greater opportunity and now live in Angier. They are expecting a child next month.

Villalobos and San Juan speak highly of Clayton and hope eventually to move here. “It’s a traditional town,” San Juan said. “It’s a cute place,” Villalobos added.

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