Fruit featured prominently, hot food coming
COVID-19 may have postponed the dreams of some young people, but not so for the owners of the new Las Peñitas restaurant in Twisp. Owners Jaqueline Pacheco and Alfredo Peña say that opening the restaurant is the fulfillment of a childhood ambition.
Pacheco is a familiar face around the Methow Valley. A recent Liberty Bell High School graduate, Pacheco and her mother have been selling tamales at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp for the past couple of years, as well as cooking for the Eagles scholarship dinner fundraisers.
“My mother taught me how to make tortillas when I was 7,” Pacheco says. “And I cooked for my little brothers.”
Peña grew up helping his father, who caters to big events like quinceañera celebrations. “My dad is a very good cook,” Peña says. “It has always been my dream to have a restaurant, to have a business of my own, to be my own boss.”
Both Pacheco and Peña are familiar with the street foods of Mexico, which feature fresh fruit, homemade salsas and tortillas, and antojitos — little snacks that satisfy a craving.
“We love that combination of spicy and sweet in Fruta en vaso,” Pacheco says, referring to the classic Mexican fruit cup, with mango, jicama, cucumber, watermelon, and papaya, topped with a savory blend of lime, salt, chamoy (pickled fruit sauce), and tajin (chili lime seasoning).
Range of offerings
Fruit offerings dominate the Las Peñitas menu: jugos, natural fresh juices; batidos, shakes; and Las Peñitas’ most popular offering, the fresa con crema, strawberries with fresh cream. “We offer shakes in the morning with protein powder,” Pacheco says. “Banana strawberry, or apple papaya, or banana yogurt.”
Pacheco and Peña, whose plans to marry this year were postponed due to COVID-19, initially applied only for a cold foods permit for Las Peñitas, deciding to start very simply and expand offerings according to demand. But in the month that Las Peñitas has been open, the couple has learned that customers crave tamales, homemade tortillas, and other hot foods that they can make from scratch. They have since applied for a hot foods permit.
“We want to offer banana leaf tamales, chile relleno, other fresh hot foods to eat in our restaurant or in the outdoor courtyard, as well as to go,” Peña says. “It’s important to us to cook with fresh, natural ingredients. We like to make our salsas with fresh tomato, our rasparados — our snowcones — with fresh fruit.”
Pacheco and Peña located their venue, across from North Cascades National Bank on Second Avenue in Twisp, when Peña was helping the building’s owner, Albertano Dominguez, remodel. The space has a long history of restaurant occupancy and is equipped with a small commercial kitchen. It’s intimate yet airy, painted in soothing verdant hues inside and bright colors outside. A brick-lined courtyard in the back features a shady grape arbor and a quiet place to eat.
When asked about the restaurant’s name, Las Peñitas, Pacheco explains. “Alfredo is a Peña,” she says, “and when we get married, I will be too. Peñitas is the diminutive of his last name. We will be the Peñitas.”
For a nascent business in an unprecedented environment for public venues, Las Peñitas is off to a solid start. Valley locals who have discovered the restaurant rave about the fruta en vaso, the batidos, and the jugos. “So far so good,” Pacheco says optimistically. “Some people tell me they used to drive to Wenatchee to get some of the things we are offering here. They crave the fruits.”
Pacheco and Peña are young, but they have lots of support from both of their families. “We are learning the business skills on the job,” Pacheco says, “and we got Kim Frey to help us with our accounting.”
“We feel proud and happy,” Pacheco and Peña say. “We are just so thrilled to be pursuing our dream.”
Las Peñitas is open every day except Tuesday, from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Customers can order ahead by calling (509) 341-7933.