It sits just off Memorial Highway in west Mount Vernon — close to the center of things, but far enough away for easy parking and a little bit of breathing room. For the legion of fans it has served for more than half a century (do the math — Mexico Cafe opened its doors in 1965), the restaurant’s cheery, ranch-style facade beckons like the family room on a birthday. Never mind that Mexico Cafe gave many Skagitonians their first taste of Mexican cuisine, locals from three generations continue to come to the restaurant of Adolph and Angie Rivas because it takes them to their happy place.
For years, Mexico Cafe’s sign was as close as you could come to a community-wide inside joke. Its marquee, in failing plastic letters, was caught in a time warp of perpetual anticipation of a high school reunion already long past. When Adolph and Angie decided that the humor had grown a bit long in the tooth, they decided that their brand would be greatly enhanced with a digital display — making it possible, through the wonders of LED and computer technologies, to announce a class reunion notification with a level of pizzazz the likes of which few reunion survivors have seen. Menu specials…happy hour (from 3pm to close, mind you!)…seasonal greetings…community event promotion — the digital display we installed at Mexico Cafe gives an iconic local brand a new way to speak to its followers.
If you haven’t experienced Mexico Cafe, here are three things we think you should know:
1) Mexico Cafe has been around a very long time.
By the standards of almost any business category, half a century is a long time to survive, much less thrive. Mexico Cafe has done both. It was opened by Adolph’s parents, Jessie and Celia Rivas, who operated the restaurant from 1965 to 1970 (the year that Jessie passed away). Adolph and his wife Angie took over management of Mexico Cafe in 1981. It’s longevity is due to sound business skills, consistent marketing, and the other two more things you should know about it.
2) Mexico Cafe serves up authentic cuisine.
If you live in the Skagit Valley, you don’t have to go very far to find a Mexican restaurant, We’re blessed with a lot of them, including taco trucks. In our social media-driven foodie culture, “authentic” has long been a touchstone for what is popular. In the case of Mexico Cafe, the origins of its menu are as local as it gets: straight out of the kitchen of Celia Rivas, with recipes that originated in Durango, Mexico (where she learned to cook from her mother and sisters), filtered through influences from the family’s time in Denver, Colorado, where Adolph was born. As he explains, “Our style is not your typical Mexican food, it is more of a Mexican home cooking which was my mother’s style. A lot of our dishes, like the hamburger patty tacos (Crispy Tacos), are unique. Our chile verde is my mother’s recipe. Along with many of our signature recipes, they were passed on to me to follow the tradition of Mexico Cafe.”
If you have any doubts about just how much those recipes are loved, consider that even after serving them up for so many years, Mexico Cafe was voted the #1 Mexican restaurant for 2017 in the recent “Skagit’s Best” poll, sponsored by Skagit Publishing.
3) Mexico Cafe is an important piece of the Skagit Valley’s history.
The story of Jessie and Celia Rivas and their family is the story of so many of us: people who came to the Skagit Valley from other places because we fell in love with its beauty and we believed in its future, and the part we could play in it. The Rivas Family numbered thirteen (including eight boys and three girls) when they came to the Skagit Valley to work the fields, as they had in Denver. Some of Adolph’s brothers found work outside of farm labor, but those who continued helped their parents save enough money to open a restaurant in 1965. “We were the only Mexican restaurant in the valley at that time,” Adolph recalls. “Our best customers were the farmers who had employed my family in the past. We have had three locations. Our first location was on the corner of Avon Allen and Hwy 20. This building is no longer there. Our second location was on State Hwy 536. Our third and current location is just a mile down the road at 1320 Memorial Highway (State Hwy. 536).”
While Meyer Sign & Advertising gains a lot of street cred in our industry for the work we do for national accounts, which include well known financial institutions, gasoline stations, and restaurant chains, it’s the local businesses we’ve served that give us our best bragging rights. We’re proud to work for a locally-owned business that has not only done well, but done a lot of good. We think Celia Rivas would be proud to know that her kitchen continues to feed the hearts and stomachs of so many people in the town she called home…and future class reunions will be pleased to know that Mexico Cafe’s new digital display will do them proud as well.