Rather than entering a restaurant, you feel like you’re entering the home of a friend – exactly what owners Alie and Rafael Medina want their guests to experience.
“People have asked what our secret is to creating this inviting atmosphere, but there’s no secret – it’s common sense,” Alie said. “There are two rules in the food service business: quality food and customer service. It gives us an enormous sense of pride that we can provide both to our customers. We’re proud that we’ve accomplished this.”
When Alie married Rafael, she knew two of his goals were to open a restaurant and win the lottery. The first goal was achieved in 2007, when they opened Cocina Medina at the Lone Tree Landing shopping center. While Rafael manages the kitchen, Alie serves as the self-proclaimed entertainer.
“This is our home away from home, and when people come here, I treat them like guests in my home,” Alie said. “I know from the outside – since we’re in a strip mall – we look like just another taqueria, but I’m here just as much as I am at home, and I want people to feel comfortable here. We’re very family oriented.”
A collage of pictures at the back of the restaurant captures special moments in the life of the Medina family during the year and a half since Cocina opened. There is a photo of their first customers, the first margarita served, the first father-daughter dinner, the first set of twins who came for dinner, and even the first $100 tip. The collage of memories, along with the doll collection in the waiting area and the line of plump mariachi figurines along the wall, create the warm, family-friendly atmosphere the Medinas strive to share with their customers.
If you aren’t convinced the restaurant is family-oriented, just look behind the hostess booth and take a look at the library of coloring books. When young patrons come in to eat, Alie gives each customer a coloring book. At the end of the meal, the kids write their names in the books, and Alie files them away for the next time the kids come in.
“It’s so cute how kids come in and ask for their coloring book,” Alie said. “It started by accident. We had only one type of kids’ menu printed and I thought they might get bored, so I got some coloring books. I had the kids write their names in the book and I told them it’d be here the next time they came in. They told their friends, and it caught on. I’ve got about 300 coloring books now.”
Another tradition that started as a fluke was the creation of the Medina-sized margarita. Alie bought a 60-ounce margarita glass for decoration and Rafael filled it with a pseudo margarita one day to add some color. When a customer came in to order a margarita, she pointed to the decoration and said that was the glass she wanted. Her choice is immortalized on the wall of pictures, and the Medinas bought more 60-ounce glasses for the impressive beverage.
When it comes to food, Alie said the most popular meals are the fajitas, but she recommends everything on the menu, as it is all made fresh daily, from the taco shells to the salsa. She said while their regulars tend to stick to their favorite meals, one ambitious customer, a Deer Valley student, is on a quest to try everything on the menu.
Alie said that she and her husband have no plans to open a second restaurant. She said their children Sabrina, 13, and Jonathan, 11, might take over the business one day if they work hard for it.
“We’re not going to just hand it over to them,” Alie said. “This is a family business. Half of our employees are family, but we’ve worked hard to get here. If this is what they want to do when they’re older, they’ll have to prove that they are ready to take over.”
So until that day comes, what is left to do?
“I guess now all we have to do is win the lottery,” Alie said with a smile.
Cocina Medina, located at 5005 Lone Tree Way in Antioch, is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call 925-753-1968.