WELLSBURG - Area residents hungry for something different for breakfast or lunch will want to try Spicy Gringo's, a new restaurant at 1420 Commerce St., that offers authentic Mexican food to eat in or take out.
Alan Huffman, who owns the restaurant with his wife Michelle, said there's a common misconception that all Mexican food is spicy.
But while assorted seasonings give Spicy Gringo's food a distinctive flavor, it's the sauces that provide the real spice, and the restaurant offers a variety of sauces of varying degree of spiciness, he said.
That's why the word 'gringo,' a Latin American term for a non-Hispanic person, is in the restaurant's name, because the Huffmans know most of their patrons are not Hispanic and some may desire a milder taste.
Alan added, "Having grown up in West Virginia, I'm the gringo."
A native of New Cumberland, Alan met Michelle, a native of Northern California, in San Diego while working in commercial real estate. When the housing market crashed, he was a victim of downsizing and turned to restaurant management.
Michelle also had been a restaurant manager and the two enjoyed entertaining friends, preparing meals of various styles for their guests.
Alan had talked about the slower pace of life back home, and the two decided to try operating their own restaurant in the Mountain State.
"I said we can't open a pizza place because there's one on every corner, just like there's a taco stand on every corner here," he said.
That's when it occurred to the Huffmans to bring the flavor of Mexican-style food to the Northern Panhandle.
Alan said a key difference in traditional Mexican food from that found in many Mexican-style restaurant chains is the meat, whether beef or chicken, is shreded before being simmered in assorted seasonings.
And since he would be coming in early each day to prepare the meat, Alan decided Spicy Gringo's would offer breakfast also.
Opening at 7 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and at 8 a.m. Saturday, the restaurant offers breakfast burritos with customers' choice of eggs, potatoes, ham, bacon, sausage and cheese with a side of rice and beans, if desired.
For those who desire an American-style breakfast, it offers a Non-burrito, which is simply any of the same ingredients piled on a flat, hot burrito on a plate.
Michelle said she has incorporated some recipes her Mexican-American grandmother taught her her into the lunch menu.
In addition to several beef and chicken tacos and burritos, the restaurant offers quesadillas with beef, chicken or just cheese; tortilla soup, and as frequent specials, white chili with chicken served with cornbread and a Mexican burger with pepperjack cheese and jalapenos on a home-made Mexican roll.
"Everything we sell we make," said Alan, who noted the restaurant's chips and salsa, complimentary to all patrons who eat-in, are made from scratch and sold in bags and jars.
The restaurant offers bottled water and soft drinks, bottled or from the fountain, and a children's menu that includes hot dogs for the less adventurous eater.
Michelle said they have priced their food low to appeal to families and their overall goal is to provide "real food at a reasonable cost and fast delivery."
The restaurant's sunny decor includes a tropical mural painted by Alan's aunt, Sharon Kirk; pinatas and other reminders of the eatery's South American inspiration, and the colorful barstools and raised tables that were added when the location was operated as a 50s-style diner by a previous owner.
Alan said he plans to approach the art departments at Brooke High School and Bethany College about displaying students' art there.
Spicy Gringo's is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday but could expand hours if there's sufficient demand, Alan said.
The Huffmans added the restaurant is available for parties for adults or children on Sundays and Mondays.
The pair held a grand opening on New Year's Eve and plan to hold an anniversary celebration then each year.
Michelle said they and the restaurant have received positive response, and several local businesses have become regular take-out customers.
She said the restaurant has donated unused food to Feed the Need, a Weirton charity, after closing time.
The pair, who live in New Cumberland in the former home of Alan's grandmother, with their two dogs, said they are happy to be in the Ohio Valley.
"We consider this our home and want to be part of the community," said Michelle.
"We really appreciate the community and the way they've accepted us into their lives," Alan said, adding, "We feel really blessed."
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