Neither a global pandemic nor naysayers could stop Jose Castillo from opening his dream restaurant — dedicated to his hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico.
“We were told it wasn’t the best time to open up a restaurant,” said Castillo, who owns Ruta Oaxaco, a traditional Mexican restaurant that opened in January in Astoria. “Everybody said ‘you guys are crazy, a lot of restaurants are closing down.’ But we believed in what we had.”
Castillo, alongside his partners, chefs Carlos and Filipe Arllano, only served three guests the opening day of the Queens Mexican eatery. But business improved, their dining room was allowed to open as COVID-19 restrictions eased and now, Ruta Oaxaca is opening a second location on Main Street in Patchogue.
The traditional Mexican spot takes over what Swell Taco left behind — the space at 30 E. Main St. For five years, Swell Taco shelled out Cali-style vibes and tacos. It closed in September.
“We are hoping to open before the holidays,” Castillo said. “But if not, it’s going to be right after the holidays.”
The name Ruta Oaxaca means “en route to Oaxaca,” where the three owners were born and raised.
“Let’s say you go from Mexico City, and you go all the way to Oaxaca,” Castillo said of the eatery’s name. “You’ll pass by eight different states and you get to pick the best food up at each state. And we land in Oaxaca, and that’s where, predominantly, our dishes are from.”
Among the most popular dishes are chicken bunuelos, which Castillos likens to a chicken dumpling with mashed sweet plantain puree, chori queso, boasting queso chihuahua, poblano toreados and chorizo; chicken enchiladas stuffed with Oaxaca mole, queso fresco, crema, onions and cilantro; and slow cooked ribs istmenas topped with a guava chipotle glaze.
The restaurant’s design aims to be no less authentic than what comes out of the kitchen.
“When you walk in, we want to introduce you to a traditional Mexican atmosphere,” Castillo said. “We have Ale Brijes, hand painted and carved figures that they make by hand in Oaxaca. That’s how people make a living there. They can make little things (and) sculptures bigger than human beings.
“In the inside, it’s gonna be a nice warm feeling, like you’re walking into someone’s house and someone is cooking only for you,” he added.