MUSCATINE — Reyna Baltazar’s father used to sell his tortas and tacos in the streets of Matamoros, Mexico. Eventually, his daughter, Reyna, would help him.
It’s from those days that Arely’s, an authentic Mexican restaurant, has essentially sprung. Open for about two years on the edge of downtown, it sits adjacent to Leo’s Car Repair and next to some major competition for the Mexican-loving palate, El Omito’s.
But husband and wife, Francisco and Reyna Baltazar, come across as a contented couple dedicated to their craft.
Top sellers at their authentic Mexican restaurant are indeed tortas, the Mexican sandwich, and tacos, Francisco said.
Arely’s tortas come with a choice of meet, (chicken, beef, steak, pastor) plus lettuce, cheese, avocado, jalapeno, cilantro, beans and onion, all served on a sizable bun.
Arely's will let you add various vegetables to your tacos. Also on the menu are things like gorditas, enchiladas and taco salad in addition to a fairly large and well stocked burrito for $7 that is dwarfed in size by Arely’s Monster Burrito, which is about 15 inches long.
The restaurant is named after the couple’s 12-year old daughter. “We wanted to try something different,” said Francisco. “Mexican restaurants are named after popular Mexican names … like ranchero or mariachi. We tried something a little bit different.”
Another thing that’s different about their quaint, almost-café style restaurant, is it gives customers a plateful of checharons. “They sell well in the streets of Mexico,” explained Francisco of the approximately one-inch by ⅓ of an inch light fare that seems like it should be called a Mexican potato chip. It’s much thicker yet lighter than a chip, and provides a nice extra for customers as they await their food.
The food is made from recipes that are a combination of the work of Reyna and her father.
It was Reyna’s idea to open the restaurant. “My wife likes to cook and sell food,” Francisco said. “Her idea.”
Though the restaurant’s décor is certainly fine with its bright pink and blue walls and small tables, Francisco hopes to remodel the interior in the future.
Reyna waits on the tables and Francisco cooks. The married couple say they enjoy working together. In fact, it’s the first thing Francisco answered when asked what he enjoys about the restaurant. Many people are a little surprised to hear that, Francisco acknowledged.
But not him. “I like to work together, me and my wife,” he said.
Another unique feature of Arely’s is that it also sells Mexican ice cream in cones or by the dish.
“We sell more food than ice cream,” Francisco said.
The restaurant started to branch out a little more last summer, selling its authentic Mexican fare at the county fair. Francisco hopes to try a little more of that type of selling, he said.
The competition so close by does not bother him. He believes it gives people a choice. “I think people decide what they like,” he said, admitting being around El Omito’s, (which is also a small grocery store and has been around many years) has plenty of clients.
Francisco used to work at West Liberty Foods, but he wanted to spend more time with his family, so he left, prior to starting the restaurant. He and Reyna have lived in Muscatine for about 15 years.
As for the car repair shop adjacent to them, it’s no relation. Just their friend, Leo, who told them about the space available next to his shop.
Two small barrels of liquid sit on the main counter up front. One features pineapple water and the other, horchata (rice water and cinnamon).
When asked who is the better cook, the couple looks at each other and laughs. But Francisco believes he is.
“I like to cook the food slowly,” he said. “My wife cooks it fast. And I like to cook.”