El Tepeyac: Made-from-scratch Goodness

Posted on March 4, 2013 by

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el tepeyac charlottesville

For about the past three months I’ve had to put up with posts by a good friend of mine on the social network Path. In all honesty, my friend hasn’t done anything wrong. The real problem was that every time he went to the restaurant El Tepeyac, he had to post pictures of his meal, which only made me look on in wonderment at the food. And, with my busy job and absent-mindedness, I would usually end up forgetting to look up the restaurant later on, dooming myself to repeat this pattern one or two weeks later when another picture was posted.

Luckily, I was finally able to try out the food and sit down with Maria Gracia, one of El Tepeyac’s co-owners, to get a little more info on the relatively new establishment.

The Back-Story

Although the restaurant itself is only about 4 months old, El Tepeyac has been around Charlottesville for more than 3 years. The business originally began back in 2010 when Maria’s parents moved to Charlottesville, opening El Tepeyac as a Latin American grocery store on Greenbrier Drive. In addition to groceries, the business also had a small take-out area near the back of the store that sold homemade and traditional basics. The move to update the grocery store to a restaurant was precipitated in the fall of 2012 by Maria leaving her management consulting job in Chicago.

Maria and her husband moved shortly afterwards to Charlottesville to partner up with her parents. The restaurant now resides in part of the old grocery store, with the take-out spot being replaced by the new kitchen. [Don’t worry, the grocery store is still open, and can be found around the corner.] The restaurant may be small at the moment, but Maria believes that their size is more of an advantage.

Even though they are still new to Charlottesville, Maria and her husband both enjoy the beautiful outdoors, especially with their 2 dogs. In their words, Charlottesville is a healthy and charming little town. (We couldn’t agree more!)

What’s in a name?

One question I was curious to ask Maria was about the name—why “El Tepeyac”? However, in order to explain this answer, I will need to jump into a quick background lesson. Tepeyac (roughly translated as “hill”) is a historical and well-known area located in Mexico. It is the site where Saint Juan Diego [Cuauhtlatoatzin] was greeted by an apparition of the Virgin Mother (now known as the Virgin of Guadalupe) in 1531. The apparition of the Virgin Mary not only led to the construction of the basilica in the region, but also resulted in a significant impact on the spread of the Catholic faith within Mexico. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was a 16th century indigenous Native American from Mexico who converted to Catholicism.

To those that know of the region, especially around the church itself, Tepeyac represents an iconic & historical site, a place where peoples & cultures mix, such as the Mexican & Indian peoples that were brought together. For the Gracia family, El Tepeyac represents a specific gathering of the Mexican & Salvadorian cuisines.

El Tepeyac: In a league of its own

Ok, so some of you might be thinking, “Another Mexican restaurant? So what? What makes this restaurant different from some of the other Mexican restaurants around the area?” A whole lot!

From talking to Maria, the primary difference is the food. All of the food at El Tepeyac is made from scratch; they do not cut any corners.

The ambiance of the restaurant is also a noticeable difference. If you walk in, you’ll be greeted with an atmosphere that is better defined as earthy or even rustic (simple wooden tables, orange accent walls, & dark metal chairs). There are also some unique touches, such as a chandelier made of empty, clear glass bottles and a chalk wall with a map drawing of Mexico on it—however, Maria adds that the chalk wall will have something more to offer in the coming months.

El Tepeyac also offers an expanded menu, including vegetarian options along with the classics. Among the different meat choices with your dishes you might be surprised to see additional options, such as beef tongue, tripe, & even pork rinds.

A Menu must-have

Although Maria essentially recommended everything on the menu, she did highlight a few items that people should try, such as their Carne Azada Con Camarones (Rib eye steak with shrimp) and their homemade, fresh guacamole.

What’s next for El Tepeyac

Although the restaurant is barely 4 months old, the business is hopeful to expand in the future. In addition, the restaurant is also potentially looking at having its homemade tortilla chips sold at the Charlottesville Whole Foods Market. Regardless of how their next months and years turn out, Maria and her family will continue to make the quality of their food a constant goal. Avoiding comprising and cutting corners will always be the first goal on their list.

el tepeyac facebook cover photo

A menu must-have: homemade guacamole and tortilla chips

I asked Maria to describe El Tepeyac in 7 words or less, and, simply put, Maria said:

“Truly authentic, natural, made-from-scratch goodness.”

The food will speak for itself. All we have to do is sit down and try it.

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Posted in: food, New to Cville