Restaurants are frowned upon if they don't have menus online. I've got friends who have said they will not eat at a place that doesn't have a website. Discovering where you want to eat by browsing online is natural for people circa 2010, but there are still some folks -- in South Florida, even -- who promote their restaurant the old-fashioned way: by opening their mouths.
Fernando Alejandre, general manager of Taqueria Dona Raquel, doesn't have a website for his 5-year-old restaurant in Pompano. No Facebook fan page, no Twitter account, no online menu for guests to drool over when reading. They didn't even know they won Best Mexican Restaurant in Broward in 2007. The secret to their success is simply speaking to others about where to get authentic Mexican food.
What's authentic? Alejandre says most chain Mexican restaurants, especially in South Florida, market American-Mexican food: meals that have been Americanized. Due to lack of funding, he says, it's difficult to publicize authentic Mexican meals, everything from quesadillas to burritos. However, that's not stopping visitors from promoting the restaurant by simply talking about it, and it actually works.
Clean Plate Charlie: As general manager, do you get in the kitchen a lot?
Alejandre: Not nearly as much as I used to, mostly because I like being around the customers and listening to how they feel about the food. I was in the kitchen a lot when we opened, but now my aunt runs it, and she's good at it.
Were you always cooking? What did you do before working for the restaurant?
My family also owns the meat market next door, where I worked before my parents decided to open up a restaurant. Customers who came to the store told us we should open up a restaurant, and my mom is a great cook, so that's how we started. My family still owns both stores.
How much say did you have in the menu? Does it change often?
This is a family restaurant. My brother-in-law and I are managers, my aunt runs the kitchen, and my mother comes in every day to taste the food to make sure it's perfect. The menu was created by my mother, and when we opened, we didn't have more than one page [of menu items]. But when more people came in requesting things, we added a lot because that is what the customers wanted. It's only changed once or twice since we opened.
It's the middle of a Sunday afternoon and your restaurant is practically full. You don't have a website or any promotions out there. How do people find out about this place?
People who know what authentic Mexican food is come here, and then they tell their friends. What some people don't get is that a lot of "Mexican" restaurants have taken the food and put an American spin on it. Burritos don't even exist anywhere but in America. We serve them only because customers asked for them. And take quesadillas: Most places take a large flour tortilla, put it on a [flat-top grill], fill it with cheese and maybe chicken, then fold it in half and cut into pieces. A real quesadilla is a small corn tortilla filled with any kind of meat, then fried, and served with lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. [See above for example]
Have you thought about expanding your restaurant?
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If we had the money, yes. It's not in the budget, and we like where we are, but we wish more people knew about us. We're not in an area where lots of cars can see us.
What can people expect out of your restaurant that is different from other Mexican restaurants that claim to be "authentic"?
Our cooks get here at 7 a.m. daily to start prep. We open at 9 a.m. and serve breakfast, which is also served all day. We have pork for our al pastor taco that is marinated for two days in a pineapple, onion, lemon, and spices marinade. Rice and beans are made every day and served with everything. And people really enjoy our open kitchen. We show them how it's really made, and we've got nothing to hide. We can't. It's all made like Grandma used to do it.
Taqueria Dona Raquel
793 S. Dixie Highway