SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Maria Hernandez and her daughter Andrea Villagrana-Hernandez found the perfect spot to open their new Mexican restaurant, Maria’s, in South Lake Tahoe.
They signed a lease in early March and started preparing for an early April opening celebration that included family, friends and the community.
But everything changed in mid-march due to the coronavirus. Their opening was postponed.
“COVID-19 was the factor that deviated our plan,” said Maria’s oldest son Diego Villagrana-Hernandez who helps with the restaurant.
While residents were quarantined, restaurants were allowed to open with takeout, delivery and curbside pickup so the family had an idea.
“We had to adapt, we needed to open,” said Villagrana.
The family had to come up with the money to pay the lease on the new property. They decided to move forward experimenting with togo orders and delivery through DoorDash. “The community responded really well, they love our food,” Villagrana said.
They have had success with DoorDash, take-out orders and had great reviews through the pandemic.
COVID-19 altered their plan to start the restaurant, but they continue to have a positive outlook on the situation.
“The good thing is that we have nothing to compare it to,” Villagrana said and added that the situation helped them learn to adapt. “It is only going to get better from here. They have been so passionate about having a restaurant since I could remember,” said Villagrana. “They’ve always wanted one, they were just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.”
In looking for their restaurant, Hernandez and Villagrana weren’t looking for anything “over the top” but they wanted something cozy and something that reflected the “Tahoe-vibe.”
As a family, they made the decision to lease the property and make their dream come true.
Maria Hernandez has lived in the Tahoe area for 28 years. Before, she lived in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, South Lake Tahoe’s sister city, where she had her own home business of cooking family recipes.
“My mother has always been very passionate about cooking,” Diego Villagrana said. “We have a huge tradition in Mexico where all our family comes from a culinary background.”
He explained how his mother always dreamed about having a restaurant. When the opportunity presented itself, she and Villagrana’s sister opened Maria’s.
“They believe their flavor and the amount of love they put into all their creation is something unique,” he said.
Since Maria’s restaurant started on the basis of family, they wanted to create a restaurant where families could eat together even with unique diets.
“We wanted to offer the community an all-inclusive Mexican restaurant,” he said.
Maria’s offers vegetarian options and specialty vegan options. Villagrana explained that there aren’t very many Mexican restaurants that offer dietary alternatives in Tahoe.
“We have options that aren’t your standard guacamole and veggies,” he said.
A popular dish they serve is called ‘Papas y Soyrizo’ which is potatoes and Soyrizo, a vegan alternative to chorizo.
Villagrana says they want to give everybody a voice at the table and make sure families can all eat no matter what their dietary needs are.
“Our food is made fresh every single day including all of our salsas,” said Villagrana.
Maria’s also serves unique handmade tortillas that are inspired by Jalisco.
“We wanted to bring a little bit of that passion and feel to the Tahoe area so you don’t have to book a flight to Mexico to get that same experience.”
Maria’s has both traditional dishes and dishes infused with the modern trends to incorporate everyone. They are in the process of getting their liquor license and will be offering their authentic version of a Micheladas.
“We are super grateful for the community for giving us an opportunity,” he said.
Villagrana explained at first that they were nervous about the implications of the coronavirus and they weren’t sure if they were even going to be able to open their doors.
“This has been such a difficult time for the restaurant industry,” he said. “It impacts everyone: servers, cooks, dishwashers because we are all one big team.”
The family is optimistic after receiving positive community feedback.
“All of our food is made with alot of love and passion.”
Maria’s Mexican Restaurant is open for dining in, takeout and delivery through DoorDash. They are at restricted capacity and are following social distancing guidelines. Maria’s is located at 2494 Lake Tahoe Blvd.