Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall in Lacey, surrounded by a nail salon, a pho restaurant, a mobile phone store and other establishments typically found in such locales is Mi Pueblo, a Mexican restaurant with some serious Guadalajaran flavors.
Open 18 months, Mi Pueblo has been building quite a fan base, through word of mouth. Oscar Alvarez, the restaurant’s owner, counts on his excellent services and authentic dishes to keep customers coming back for more. “I don’t really have recipes. All these dishes, I learned from my mother, grandmother or my mother-in-law. I never wrote them down. I just learned them over the phone,” he said.
Alvarez hails from the Guadalajara region of Mexico. He came to the United States at age 14. When he was old enough, he began working at a Mexican restaurant in California as a busboy. During the two-to-three hour breaks between lunch and dinner, Alvarez could have left the restaurant to get some rest, but instead, he opted to spend the time training in the kitchen. While he was doing prep work, the owner of the restaurant noticed his deft skills at chopping vegetables and the incredible care Alvarez took in completing the task. “He told me, ‘Oscar, I want you to start working in the kitchen from now on.’ And then from there I just worked my way up the line. By the end of that same year, they called me ‘cook.’ Not chef, but cook,” he said.
After three years at that restaurant, he moved to Washington, where he began working at Puerto Vallarta in Gig Harbor. The problem with moving? Alvarez had to start over in the kitchen as a dishwasher. But once again he made his way up the line. Years later, after a stint in Mexico for his wedding, he helped open Puerto Vallarta in Yelm, where he was no longer the “cook,” but the chef. As he grew with the restaurant, his boss encouraged him to start his own business and his American dream came true in March 2012.
Alvarez is in the process of updating and expanding his menu. You’ll find some standard fare you’d typically find on other Mexican restaurant menus — tacos, burritos, nachos and more. But dig a little deeper and you find gold in the carnes (meats) page of the menu. Authentic goodness like birria de chivo, which the menu calls a “poor man’s stew” of juicy roasted goat, served in a bowl with rice and beans. And beef tongue, or lengua, served with red or green sauce and the standard beans and rice. Or guilotas, or quail, that’s prepared with a rich, spicy sauce. Other enticing offerings include chicharron (pork rinds) and the costillas de puerco, or pork ribs with nopales (cactus leaves).
Mi Pueblo has vegetarian options (Alvarez claims his chile relleno is the best), but the carnes menu seems to be where the restaurant excels. Oh, and ordering an entrée here isn’t for the faint of appetite — the plates at Mi Pueblo are literally larger than the tray the server used to bring the drinks. Speaking of drinks, Mi Pueblo also sports a full bar, with a nice Mexican beer selection, an array of tequilas and specialty margaritas.
When Alvarez was asked what he was most proud of, he beamed: “My health report. My latest one was a perfect score. I am going to frame it and put it in the window.”
Alvarez said one of his biggest challenges has been staying close with his family. “In 18 months since we’ve been open, I have had four days off. We work really hard, but this is our dream.”
Despite the difficult hours, Alvarez believes his dedication to tradition is worth it.
“Our food is all homemade. These traditions are important because people see the difference. People know it’s authentic.”
When You Go
7839 Martin Way East, Lacey
Open Monday through Friday, 11am to 9pm and on weekends, 11am to 10pm