“I love the holidays, so I decorate every year,” Alvarez said. “I like to make the restaurant really festive. It puts a smile on the customers’ faces when they come and see all the decorations. We go all out for Halloween. All of the employees dress up and we have a lot of fun. I have them wear Santa hats during Christmas time, but I don’t like to rush into Christmas. There will be time for that later. Right now, the turkeys get their turn.”
Alvarez said customers have come to appreciate her for her festive décor, but the food is what keeps them coming back. She opened Mia’s Mexican Restaurant, named after her granddaughter, seven years ago in Brentwood. When Alvarez was growing up in Brentwood, her family was in the restaurant business, but she never thought she’d follow in those footsteps. But once her children were grown, opening a restaurant seemed like a fun and challenging way to spend her time.
“People told me it wouldn’t be easy, but they told me if I could keep my restaurant open for five years, I could say I am successful,” Alvarez said. “Oh, and I was so excited after that fifth year. I was so glad that I made it. My husband and I were thrilled to make it past that five-year mark – but no one told us about the recession.”
She maintains a smile as she acknowledges that business has slowed down, but bolstered by the support of her loyal customers, she has faith that she’ll survive.
To help make it easier for her customers, Alvarez recently began offering specials Monday through Thursday. On Monday, enchilada dinners are $7.95 and Tuesday’s special is soft pastor tacos for $2 each. Wednesday is Ladies Night and all regular margaritas are $3.50.
Margaritas are one of Mia’s specialties, as Alvarez spent three weeks perfecting her own mix: “I tried the premade mix, and I just didn’t like it, so I decided to come up with my own. I didn’t want it too sweet or too sour, so I kept experimenting. It took a lot of drinking, but I got it to where I want it.”
Thursday is Kid’s Night, when cheese and bean burritos are $1 each. Alvarez said she added French fries and chicken nuggets to the menu early on so that families didn’t need to sneak in fast food for their younger, pickier eaters, but children have come to love her food.
“I’m really surprised how much children like the food here,” Alvarez admits. “They just love the enchiladas. I can’t believe it. My own kids wouldn’t even eat enchiladas when they were little. And they clear their plates, too. And they eat the rice and beans. It’s a great compliment when kids like your food, since they aren’t easy to please.”
For the adults, the pollo borracho, chicken marinated in tequila – also known as drunk chicken – is a favorite. Seafood specialties such as ceviche – citrus-marinated fish – are also popular.
Alvarez said one of her favorite parts of the job is placing meals in front of customers and watching their reaction to the size of the portions. “It’s so funny when they gasp after I set the plate down. Sometimes they just sit there in disbelief because there’s so much food. It’s like they don’t know where to start.
“I don’t mean to shock them. I want them to have a good time. I know people are more careful spending their money right now, and I’m honored that they’ve decided to spend their hard-earned money at my restaurant. It makes me happy to see them happy.”
Mia’s Mexican Restaurant, located at 71 Sand Creek Road in Brentwood, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 925-634-8434.