By Mike Pound
JOPLIN, Mo. —
David Amayo calls the margarita served at his Casa Montez Restaurant, 2324 S. Range Line Road, the “perfect margarita.” But you don’t run a successful Joplin restaurant for 47 years by giving away trade secrets.
So Amayo just smiled and shook his head when a visitor asked him if he would be willing to share his recipe for the “perfect margarita.” But Amayo did say making a good margarita requires more than just great ingredients.
“The tequila is important and so are the limes, but the real secret is to have the correct portions. Everything has to be just right -- even the salt,” Amayo said.
On Saturday Amayo figures to serve up quite a few perfect margaritas, as well as more than a few bottles of Corona beer, as Casa Montez helps Joplin celebrate Cinco de Mayo. During a typical Cinco de Mayo celebration Amayo estimates some 500 people pass through his restaurant.
“We usually go through 185 cases of Corona,” Amayo said.
This year, Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May) holds a special meaning for Amayo, his wife Cindy and the restaurant’s loyal customers. On May 22, The Amayo’s restaurant, which has been a Joplin favorite since 1965, was severely damaged during the tornado that ripped through Joplin. As she stood in the pouring rain that night and looked at the ruins of the restaurant, Cindy said she thought back to the 1996 fire that damaged the building and wondered if she had the strength to undertake a second rebuilding project.
“If the walls hadn’t been still standing it might have made a difference. But they were and for some reason that made it easier,” she said.
David Amayo, who began working at Casa Montez the day it opened when he was 19 and eventually purchased the restaurant from his father-in-law, George Montez, said the thought of not rebuilding never occurred to him.
“So many people have told me that they grew up on our food. They will say, ‘I met my husband there’ or ‘We had our first date at your restaurant.’ We are going on our third and fourth generation (of customers),” he said.
Casa Montez reopened in November and people immediately started pouring into the restaurant.
When Casa Montez first opened Mexican restaurants were a rarity in Joplin. In 1965 Amayo said there was only one other Mexican restaurant in town. He said, in those early days, he and his father-in-law had to educate their customers about Mexican food.
“And we carried a few mainstays (on the menu) like Salisbury steak, pork chops and a strip steak,” he said.
Of course it wasn’t too long before folks came to Casa Montez for the tacos, the fajitas, the chips, salsa, cheese deep, guacamole and a host of other traditional Mexican fare. Amayo said the consistency has been the key to the restaurant’s appeal. In fact, one of Amayo’s favorite things is when a longtime customer comes to him and says, “The food tastes just like it did when I was 10 years old.”
That’s not to say the Amayos are afraid to add things to their menu. Amayo said he and Cindy
occasionally will visit other Mexican restaurants when they travel, and if they find something they like they might add it to their menu. “We might add, but we won’t change,” Amayo said.
If you are planning your own Cinco de Mayo celebration we have included a few recipes below to get you started.
1/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a large resealable plastic bag, mix together the lime juice, water, olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, salt and liquid smoke flavoring. Stir in cayenne and black pepper. Place desired meat in the marinade and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight. Cook as desired.
Carne asada tacos
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef top sirloin, cut into thin bite-size slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 (28 ounce) can tomatillos
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 (10.5 ounce) can beef broth
12 (6 inch) corn tortillas
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado -- peeled, pitted and sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Place sliced meat in a shallow bowl and season with salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper. Squeeze the lime juice over the meat and turn until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a blender or food processor, combine tomatillo and jalapeno. Puree for 15 to 20 seconds or until thick. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Carefully pour in tomatillo mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Stir in beef broth. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until mixture coats a spoon. Transfer mixture to a serving dish. Heat tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Stir in 1/3 of the beef and saute for 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish. Repeat with remaining beef. Meanwhile, heat tortillas in the oven or microwave, according to package instructions. To serve, place two tortillas on top of each other. Add desired amount of meat, spoon over some tomatillo mixture. Top with onions, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro. Garnish with a wedge of lemon, to be squeezed over taco before eating.
Mexican salsa verde
3 green tomatoes
2 fresh jalapeno chilies
1 large red tomato
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Place tomatoes and jalapenos in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the tomatoes and jalapenos turn light green, about 15 minutes. Drain well and place in a blender with the onion, lime juice, salt, pepper and cilantro. Puree to desired consistency and chill.