Mijitas: blending cultures in the kitchen

Lisa and Raul Rios have opened Mijitas restaurant in Eastsound.

Lisa and Raul Rios have opened Mijitas restaurant in Eastsound.

When Raul Rios moved to the U.S. from his native Mexico, he was surprised to see how Americans prepared Mexican food: there was a lot of cheese and meat.

In his tiny hometown near Mexico City, Rios was used to a cleaner diet with less meat and more vegetables.

“We love American-Mexican food too, though,” said his wife Lisa. “We like our cheesy enchiladas.”

At their new restaurant Mijitas in Eastsound, Raul has created a menu that is a blend of family recipes (chile verde made with cactus) and Mexican-American classics.

Raul and Lisa opened their doors on March 1 in the North Beach Road building that used to house Chiladas restaurant.

Mijitas means “My Darlings.” It is named for their daughters Lucy, who is four and Emilia, who is three. Both girls can’t wait to work in their parents’ restaurant. Lucy wants to “pass the food” and Emilia would like to be a chef.

Lisa moved to Orcas in middle school, and after graduating from high school, went to college in California. Her mom, Ronda Greenawalt, still lives on the island.

Lisa met Raul at La Cantina restaurant, where they both worked, in San Francisco. They were married in 2006.

Raul has cooked for years and worked for Bon Appetit Management Company after coming to the U.S. Opening Mijitas marks his first professional chef endeavor.

The couple and their children moved back to Orcas in 2011. They had aspirations to open Mijitas after working at Chiladas, so the family spent six months in Mexico with Raul’s family. He cooked with his aunts and women in his town and they shopped for decorations and linens.

“His family felt like they were part of the restaurants from far away,” Lisa said.

The Rios family lives next to Black Dog Farm, so they try to incorporate their produce into the restaurant’s offerings. Raul’s mom, who lives in Mexico, is moving to the island in a year. She will be making hand-made tortillas outside in the taqueria, which will be available in the summer months.

Mijitas is open Wednesday through Sunday, 3 to 8 p.m. and happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m.