In a village as quaint as Riverside, any new business that comes to town must be inviting and friendly in order to succeed.
In the case of new restaurant La Estancia, owner Claudia Reyes makes sure any customer who walks through the door is met with a warm greeting and served the authentic, high-quality Mexican cuisine.
While Reyes has operated and managed different businesses throughout her life, the seed for opening a restaurant is something that was planted in her mind for years.
"You could say that cooking is my first love," Reyes said.
When deciding where to launch her restaurant, Reyes considered her hometown of Cicero, but decided the cozy feel of Riverside and chance to stand out as a Mexican eatery would prove more successful.
And, after seeing the vacancy left behind from the former Erika's Deli at 25 Forest Ave., Reyes decided to give the downtown Riverside corner spot a chance.
La Estancia opened to the public on Jan. 3.
The inspiration behind La Estancia came straight from Reyes working in a botanera in Cuernavaca, Mexico — a hybrid-type restaurant brought to Mexico from Spain which operates as a restaurant by day, cafe by evening, and overnight, converts into a lively cocktail and music lounge.
In keeping with familial history, Reyes chose the name La Estancia for her restaurant in honor of the ranch in Mexico where her husband is from.
"I checked around to see if there were other names like La Estancia, but there were none and that's how we decided to keep the name," she said.
As for the menu, Reyes offers traditional Mexican fare including quesadillas, tortas, tacos and tamales, and doesn't forget sweet favorites like horchata and tres leches cakes.
But, most importantly to Reyes is keeping the menu as fresh as possible.
She is meticulous about how she prepares her meat, ensuring all chicken and beef is trimmed of all fat. While that means customers may have to wait a few extra minutes for their plates, Reyes says, it's worth the time and effort.
"I won't serve people food that I wouldn't eat," she said. "There's always going to be a bit of a wait because I cook everything to order. It's not like my meat is pre-made — everything is fresh. But, the people have been very understanding and patient, and because of their patience, I am deeply grateful."
Even the dinnerware is authentic, with plates and service ware coming from Puebla, Mexico, providing a Mexican vibe not seen at many other Mexican restaurants.
Thus far, Reyes says local residents and word of mouth have been driving the success of the restaurant.
"They love the food," she said. "People will always know they're getting quality."
When asked about her hopes for the restaurant, Reyes said she tries not to worry much about what lies ahead.
"Always with my businesses, I never looked too far into the future," she said. "I've always looked at my businesses in lateral steps."
To kick things up a notch, La Estancia will be adding beer and wine to their menu by May, and diners are always welcome to join the restaurant for their viernes de carnival celebrations on Friday evenings, featuring live Mexican folk dancing.
Overall, Reyes is enjoying the journey thus far.
"My priority was that the town would recognize our Mexican food," she said, "that the people of Riverside would take notice of the restaurant and our presence."