By Michelle Talsma Everson
During a time where many businesses are shutting down or pausing operations, brother and sister duo Jorge Cota and Meliza Miranda both say that they have a lot to be thankful for. The two are the co-owners of Mochilero Kitchen, a new local restaurant that takes patrons on a flavorful journey through the “various distinct regions of Mexico.”
While plans for the restaurant have been in the works for years, their original grand opening had to be changed drastically due to COVID-19 and the order for restaurants to offer take out, delivery partners and curbside pick-up. A trendy and elevated Mexican restaurant concept, the management staff at Mochilero Kitchen had to think quickly and still decided to go through with a grand opening last month—even though they couldn’t showcase the restaurant’s original dine-in menu in its entirety.
“The grand opening was not exactly how we planned it,” Cota says. “But my family and the team members we’ve hired have worked too hard for us not to give it our all.”
“It was scary there for a moment,” he continues. “But at the grand opening on April 8 we had a great turnout and it gave us the confidence to bring our full staff back, which is important to us as they have families to support. We are excited though for when the restrictions lift and we can show off our skills and show our patrons the type of service and ambiance we’re capable of.”
“Mochilero” in Spanish means backpacker. Cota says the family-owned and operated restaurant aspires to take its guests on a culinary adventure exploring the various distinct regions of Mexico. The original menu features a savory weekend brunch and a wide selection of dinner entrées with local flavors celebrating specific regions of Mexico. Signature hand-crafted cocktails, along with a select wine and spirits list were, to also to make its debut at the restaurant’s trendy 17-seat bar. For the moment, the original expansive menu has been adapted to a condensed online selection of dishes that travel well from restaurant to home.
“Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the online menu. The complexity and rich favors aren’t anything you’ll find in the Northwest Valley,” says Director of Culinary Justin Baunach. “We are excited for the day when we get to open our dining room and patio so guests can relax and enjoy the full menu, our great staff, the lively décor and warm energy.”
Once they are able to open their doors up, Miranda assures that the entire staff will continue to adhere to all guidelines placed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other entities. “Every restaurant should be committed to those guidelines anyway. I know we are. ”
“Just like a backpacker, or a mochilero, we have had to adapt to this new terrain in the restaurant industry,” Cota says. “But like all small business owners right now, we believe in our vision and are committed to giving our very best to our customers.”
One perk about the changed operations is that both Cota and Miranda have connected with new customers and community members in ways that they might not otherwise have. “Because we’ve taken the leap and opening during the pandemic, we think that helps our customers really connect with us, and it’s been almost a blessing in disguise,” Cota shares.
Cota and Miranda share that the vision for their restaurant has been in the works for years.
“It’s been about two years from the start of construction until now,” Miranda says. “But we had started envisioning the concept two years before that. I used to work for a supplier in the spirits industry, so I’m very familiar with the business end of the restaurant business.”
Cota adds that he used to be a chef, creating dishes and menus for high end resorts. He took a trip to Mexico, exploring 22 Mexican states, to explore the flavors and culinary intricacies to help elevate the restaurant concept they were planning.
“Initially, we were thinking about featuring street tacos from the various regions of Mexico,” Miranda shares. But, as they began to look in their own backyard, they realized that there wasn’t a truly Mexican dining concept in the area.
“My family loves Peoria, we live and play here, but chain restaurants seem to dominate every corner,” Miranda adds. “So when we couldn’t find a true made-from-scratch Mexican restaurant, we decided to build one.”
Both siblings note that they cherish memories of family gatherings that centered around home-cooked feasts where quality ingredients and care in kitchen were never compromised. The restaurant’s chef boasts having one of the smallest commercial refrigerators in town as it ensures guests that all ingredients are delivered almost daily from the premium, fresh cut meats (never frozen) and all the fresh-harvested produce. There is one small freezer with the sole purpose of storing the gelato that compliments the homemade dessert, churros. The kitchen is void of a microwave oven, canned or processed foods, vegetable oil or lard. All dishes are prepared with organic rice oil or extra virgin olive oil, they assure.
With both siblings being local residents and employing staff from the area, they both feel a distinct connection and responsibility to the local community.
“We want to thank the community for their support and trust in us,” Miranda says. “We look forward to serving the community in many ways, including supporting local charities.”
“We also want to thank our staff,” Cota adds. “They’ve been great accommodating the changes and showing up to help us offer delicious food to our new customers.”
Both Cota and Miranda reassure locals that they will have an official grand opening as soon as it is safe to do so. They will also have ongoing sales and specials throughout the month and recommend that community members keep in touch with them on social media and by visiting their website on a regular basis.
“Peoria is home for us and we opened Mochilero Kitchen right in our backyard, which is special to us,” Cota says.
“There’s nothing else like this here in this part of town,” Miranda adds. “We hope community members come out and give us a try so they can see and taste what we’re so excited about.”
Mochilero Kitchen is located at 6791 W. Happy Valley in Peoria. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. for carry out orders. Customers can order online at mochilerokitchen.com or by phone at 623-440-5588. Find them on Instagram and Facebook at @MochileroKitchenAZ.