STAMFORD — A few years ago, customers waiting in line at Casa Villa’s tiny take-out business on West Main Street started asking for a place to sit.
It was then that owner Alvino Villa decided to give them one. In early 2011, he opened a larger restaurant, with a more pleasing atmosphere, on East Main Street.
“The owner wanted to have a place for customers to come and sit down,” assistant manager Gabriela Betancourt said. “People kept asking.”
Now, the East Main Street location is a bustling restaurant, where people can come and get authentic Mexican food from the “House of Villa.” The move across town has only grown their loyal following, apparently.
On a recent afternoon, the 60-seat restaurant was packed, and the outside seating area was full, too.
The new location is several times larger than the original, which opened 10 years ago with just a few tables and a counter. It still does a brisk self-service dining, delivery and take-away business.
Villa was born and raised in Puebla, Mexico, Betancourt said, which greatly influences the dishes served in his restaurants. Many of them are recipes that have been passed in his family.
“Most of the menu is based on central Mexican cuisine,” she manager said.
Betancourt said tacos are the most popular item on the menu and everyone comes back for another serving of them.
The other biggest sellers are enchiladas and quesadillas. Additional popular items include chiles rellenos (two roasted peppers stuffed with chicken and Oaxaca cheese in tomato sauce), fajitas and vegetarian quesadillas and burritos.
Customers also go loco for desserts like flan and tres leches cake, she said.
They make all of their own sauces, including the popular mole sauce, as well as making their own tortilla chips and salsa.
The owner recently opened a third restaurant in Bridgeport, called Hacienda Villa. Betancourt says he’s a hard worker and puts his personal touch on each restaurant.
“Every time he opens a restaurant — like this third place — he’s there day and night and teaches the cooks his recipes,” she said.
The flavor of the food is augmented by the ambiance.
The interior has orange walls filled with paintings of the homeland, shelves of Mexican dishes and pottery, brick archways and an open kitchen.
Then there’s the Spanish music in the background and plenty of specialty mixed drinks, including an extensive menu of margaritas. Pointing to the drink menu, Betancourt said they offer lemon, peach, strawberry, mango, tamarind, maracuya and cranberry flavors.
The tamarind drinks are made from scratch by boiling the exotic fruit and extracting the flavor, she said.
Most of the employees are from Mexico, including Betancourt herself. She said she’s from the northern part of the country, where the food and salsa recipes are different from the central region.
In general, she said Latin American food is becoming more popular in this country, as evidenced by the growing number of restaurants. She said people are busy and they need fast, healthy food.
“It’s fast, healthy, tasty, easy,” Betancourt said. “You just come here and it’s three tacos on your table in a minute.”
Betancourt sometimes serves the customers, but mostly works in the back office, keeping the books, along with doing the grocery shopping and delivering ingredients to the three locations.
She said many of the products are straight from Mexico, including the tortillas and some Coke beverages, still served in old-fashioned glass bottles.
Recently, her family gave their stamp of approval to the place.
“My family visited me from Mexico and said, `That’s why you don’t miss Mexico,'” she said.
Casa Villa’s East Side location with full restaurant and bar is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, and is located at 866 E. Main St. The West Side take-away location is open Sunday through Wednesday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight. It is at 182 W. Main St.